Beautiful frescos painted onto the side of the Carlos Paez Vilaro's studio-turned-hotel in Punta Ballena.
Brazilian hotelier Rogerio Fasano took a gamble when he built Fasano Punta del Este 12 miles inland from Uruguay’s popular beaches. When guests enter the gates to the 1,200-acre property, they see cattle and horses grazing on expanses of pastureland. For the reception area, modernist architect Isay Weinfeld reinterpreted a Uruguayan chacra (ranch). Scattered throughout the property are 32 concrete bunker-style bungalows. The gaucho-meets-Mad Men interiors are furnished with vintage leather chairs and sheepskin area rugs. At day’s end, the infinity pool at the spa is the best place to take in the otherworldly sunsets. Doubles from $600. 598/(0) 4-267-0000. This appeared in the October 2013 issue.
The UNESCO World Heritage town of Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay, is just a one-hour ferry ride from Buenos Aires. From the ferry landing, drive another hour to Carmelo, where the lodge at Finca Narbona makes a great base for exploring the wine region. Or you might prefer to just stay put: The excellent restaurant serves rustic cuisine, and the lodge hosts wine and cheese tastings in its cellar, which dates to 1909. You can also shadow a winemaker for a day, learn to make grappa, or simply enjoy a glass of tannat rosé by the pool. From $250. This appeared in the March/April 2014 issue.
La Huella may be the world's best beach restaurant. Tucked amidst the dunes of Playa Brava, the laidback restaurant is one of the few that stays open year-round in Jose Ignacio. Since opening 11 years ago, La Huella has attracted both locals and travelers with its chill vibe and stellar food. I showed up for a late night meal with a crew of American and Argentinean chefs who'd heard rumors of how great the food was and our mission was well rewarded. The chef, Alejandro Morales, cooks exactly the type of food you want to eat when staring out at the crashing waves and dining in flip flops and a sun dress. We feasted on plancha-style shrimp, fried smelts, Peruvian-style shrimp and potatoes, and paccheri and clams. The perfect, crusty bread is from the famous recipe of San Francisco's Bar Tartine. I think the highlight of my meal was the killer dessert. If you like dulce de leche then the molten dulce de leche cakes will blow your mind. La Huella also serves an excellent breakfast and some of the best coffee in town.
The Ciudad Viejo neighborhood of Montevideo, Uruguay is a veritable ghost town on weekends--making a stroll through its streets an enchantment that recalls bits of Havana, Paris and New Orleans, and is so unknown by most travelers that it makes it seem that much more special. Amid the crumbling and restored Colonial, French and modern buildings sits the Don Boutique Hotel--a spanking new jewel that couldn't be friendlier or more accommodating. From its rooftop bar and pool one gets a thrilling panorama of this Spanish medina, reeking of mystery, danger and adventure. Across the street, the city's meat market thrives during the week,with one popular stand offering two dozen varieties of empenadas. But the Don serves the best free breakfast I had in all of South America. I traveled alone and this was one of the best times I ever had in a strange city.
Punta del Este has long been a European hotspot for beach time during the winter in the northern hemisphere (seasons are reversed of course), but it has it's charm in the fall and winter as well (spring and summer in the northern hemisphere). We found ourselves visiting Argentina and Uruguay in May. The boat ride from Buenos Aires to Colonia is magnificent and it is a nice bus ride along the coast from Colonia to Punta del Este. Prices here are much cheaper during the down season (it can be quite expensive other times of year) and there are no crowds. Temperatures are too chilli to get in the water (although we did see some surfers catching waves in wet suits) but still perfect for walks along the beach. We rented a scooter to explore the all of Punta del Este and the surrounding areas. We found a beachfront condo on the cheap. It was an amazing first trip to Uruguay!
Punta del Este is the go-to summer vacation spot for the elite from Buenos Aires and beyond. In addition to casinos and mega yachts, you’ll find distinctive architecture, secluded beaches, and a thriving local art scene. Sculptor and painter Carlos Páez Vilaró built his Casa Pueblo retreat in the 1960s. Visitors can spend a night in the Gaudí-esque complex (its design is inspired by the nests of native ovenbirds), buy art, and sip drinks at the bar—a quintessential Punta experience. —Michael Luongo This appeared in the January/ February 2011 issue.
A 150-year-old general store is the unlikely setting for a five-room guesthouse owned by Argentina’s premier chef. Francis Mallmann grills his signature butterfly brotola whitefish on an open-flame infiernillo (“little hell”) stove. Savor it while surrounded by poetry-stuffed bookshelves in the candlelit restaurant or near potted herbs on the poolside patio. From $480. 598/(0) 4-410-2811
On February 2, residents of eastern South America celebrate Yemanjá, the African goddess of the sea. By late afternoon Punta’s beaches are crammed with thousands of worshippers dressed in white and blue. Some burn candles in the sand as others wade into the water with offerings of miniature boats filled with food, money, and sculptures of the goddess. —Michael Luongo This appeared in the January/February 2011 issue.
Cabo Polonio is a backpackers heaven. A small town with minimal electricity and no roads that requires a full adventure in jeep to arrive, this tiny Uruguayan town in picture perfect. Houses covered in colorful murals. Horses and chickens strolling through a rocky hillside. An isolated island feel located on the Uruguayan coast. Tourists come to see the beauty in the simple isolation, and once they've found that magical tranquility, it will be hard to leave. A fifteen minute walk along the Cabo Polonio beach though and you'll be transported into an entirely different isolated world, one filled with high and perfect sand dunes reminiscent of a desert in the far east. Take a walk out to those dunes and for a moment, you'll be transported into a world of sand and sky and the sea in the distance. Go ahead, pretend that you're lost and wandering the desert - the magic of the sand dunes will undoubtedly transform you into feeling like the first explorer in an unknown land.
A day or overnight trip to Colonia Del Sacramento in Uruguay is a great way to spend your time, if you have some free when you are in Buenos Aires. The boat ride over was quick and entertaining, as there were a group of musicians travelling as well and they had an impromptu concert on board. A short walk at the other end will bring you to the historical town with its old cars, colourful buildings, cobblestones and tiny museums. I spent 2 days there, wandering round, eating meat, drinking wine, watching the sun set from rooftops and soaking up the sun in the park.
The place is not easy to find as there are no signs directing you to it. I came upon the cheese shop while driving from Montevideo to Colonia. You can sample, buy and take home packed queso/ cheese, honey, wine, dulce de leche & more. The owner, Hugo speaks only Spanish but loves to show his home & traditional ways of making cheese to all the visitors. It's as fresh and earthly as it can be!
Careful if you're claustrophobic: the spiral staircase of Colonia's historic lighthouse is narrow, indeed, and you have to climb through a hatch door at the top before emerging onto a tiny circular platform. But the views - the views. You'll look down at the still waters of the Rio de la Plata, the ferry boats coming and going from Buenos Aires, the historic settlement of Colonia del Sacramento below, the fishermen sitting on the rocks with their lines dangling in the water. Come at sunset, if you can swing it (and make sure your camera has batteries.)
Modern design defines Playa Vik José Ignacio, a new beachfront retreat 12 miles northeast of Punta del Este. Six casas surround a central glass-and-titanium building designed by Uruguayan architect Carlos Ott. Enjoy soaking tubs made of beech wood and a swimming pool that seems to extend into the horizon. —Michael Luongo From $800, Calle Los Cisnes, 598/94-605212, vikretreats.com.
Finca Narbona is a bit hidden, but then most great restaurants are. To arrive, you must take the gravel road that locals use during the high-season instead of the congested seaside highway. A small wooden area directs drivers down another dirt road and through the gates of Narbona. Located in a 19th-century estancia, Finca Narbona is the brainchild of Pacha Canton, the owner of Puerto Carmelo. In addition to a restaurant, there is also a small art gallery that shows the work of Uruguay artists as well as a boutique grocery shop that sells Narbona’s excellent cheeses and other artisanal goods. Narbona’s wines (they have vineyards in Carmelo) can be sampled in the wine bar or paired with dinner. When I visited we started with wine in the enormous wine cellar and then moved outside to the illuminated courtyard where the chef had prepared a grand asado and served roasted lamb, goat and pig. Nearly all of the vegetables in the salads and sides were harvested from the Narbona farm. Camino del Golf, Km Punta del Este, La Barra, 598-9664-8664
The coastal town of Colonia, Uruguay, is a ferry ride away from Buenos Aires, Argentina, and an easy day trip for travelers. It is the oldest town in Uruguay and settled by the Portuguese in 1680. Enjoy a stroll through the town to visit local artisan shops or climb the steps to the top of the light house and experience a beautiful view of the port and the Río de la Plata.
Walking around Montevideo, Uruguay I was amazed at the amount and creativity of the stencil bombs. As a Sta r Wars geek, I particularly enjoyed the R2D2 stencil. Living in Los Angeles, I am accustomed to seeing graffiti everywhere, but I wasn't prepared for how big the scene is in South America.
Our day started by renting mopeds at a storefront in the sleepy antique town of Colonia. We received blatant instructions, in English and Spanish, not to leave the center of town on the mopeds. After riding an hour directly out of town, not only were we lost, but we realized we had been following signs not to a tag sale, that only takes place on the first Saturday of each month, but to a Farmers Auction. The authenticity was astounding. Surrounded by dilapidated buildings, run down tractors, and beat up old fences. The people of the all nearby farms had gathered as they probably do each first Saturday of the month, laying out their best cakes and coffee for enjoyment during the auction. We watched bidding wars on items not just for farmers but household items as well; things ranging from plastic bicycles for babies to engine parts for tractors. Upon our long return to Colonia it was evident to the moped company, not just because of the odometer readings, that we had truly left town and gotten lost.
Just $2 buys a freshly made, oozy, melty, outrageously delicious "chivito" sandwich at a food truck in Uruguay. It's a kitchen-sink style concoction which includes beef, egg, cheese, and veggies, all heated together like a panini. Mmm.
One of my favorite ways to explore a new city is to street food forage my way through it. Oddly, in affluent Punta del Este, Uruguay one of the most satisfying bites I came across was the humble traditional chivito sandwich. Consisting of thinly sliced fine churrasco beef, mozzarella, tomato, mayo, olives, fried egg and ham on a bun, this heart-attack-on-a-plate that is the Uruguayan national dish is divine. A perfect balance of all things savory the chivito sandwich is the perfect meal to fuel you through Punta del Este's wild nights or to cure the unavoidable hangover that results from them.
If I were sailing into Colonia, Uruguay, I'd be okay with this being the first thing I saw. There's something about lanterns that just makes me feel like I'm home.
The last thing I expected to find in the tiny village of Garzón was a design store worthy of NYC. Big, brightly colored statues of penguins wearing water bottles strapped to their backs lured me to the door of Alium Design Studio. The owners, textile designer Carolyn Prevett and industrial designer Mariano Piñeyrúa, are graduates of Montevideo’s Center of Industrial Design and their funky little studio promotes the work of Uruguay designers and artists. Inside you’ll find a mix of vintage gaucho pants, merino wool throws and chunky sweaters, and funky leather necklaces and earrings. The couple also sells some of their own designs (Mariano is responsible for the cool, geometric leather lamps). Out back, a garden acts as an art exhibition space shaded by big palms. When I wandered out I discovered more giant red penguin statues as well as huge statues of multi-colored dogs, cats, and frogs created by eco-conscious artist William Sweetlove. Pueblo Garzon Garzon, Maldonado, 598-4410-2717, alium.com.uy
November 21st, 2012 We made our way to Estancia Tierra Santa after a couple of nights in Buenos Aires. Taking the ferry (Buquebus) to Colonia and then renting a car and driving nearly to Carmelo, Uruguay. Then it was back roads and a hand-drawn map...past farms, over arroyos and one-lane bridges...and finally you have arrived. This place is a three guest room working ranch/farm that is owned by the greatest hosts. Though they are Americans from San Francisco, they spend most of the time tending to guests, the chickens, the horses and cooking great meals. The Estancia is a great launching point for visiting the plethora of quaint towns in the region. One example is to find a vineyard and sample the remarkably fresh cuisine. ....or lounge around the grounds and catch up on your reading...
It’s hard to know where to look as every inch of this café-cum-boutique is eye-candy for the design-obsessed. The perfectly curated mix of midcentury modern furniture and quirky home accessories feels like your stylish friend’s living room. Definitely stop by when you are in Jose Ignacio.
I spent ten days on my cousin's ranch right outside of Punta del Este. It's amazing how different the center of Punta del Este and the campo are. The views were amazing and very calming.
November 24th, 2012 I am always seeking out UNSECO World Heritage sites. I also love walking and find myself drawn to trails, pedestrian zones, or any route I can do on my own two feet. The great thing about Colonia is that is is very accessible from Argentina. If visiting, you do customs in Argentina and then board the fast ferry to make the 45 min journey across the Rio de la Plata. Many people make a quick day trip of it, but I suggest coming in the late afternoon and staying overnight in one of the many quaint, cute lodging options right in the Historic Quarter. Or better yet... visit more of awesome Uruguay!
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