If Madonna, Nicole Kidman or Lady Gaga were coming to Buenos Aires to film a remake of “Evita,” they would be sure to stay at the Algodon Mansion. Until the opening of this beautiful townhouse hotel, the most palatial place to stay in the Recoleta area—or all of Buenos Aires for that matter—was a room in the palace section of the Park Hyatt or Four Seasons hotel. Now, however, the more exclusive option is to check in to this ten-suite mansion just around the corner where you will be among a much smaller group of guests and in more private circumstances. The stunning Belle Epoque-style residence was built as a family home in 1912, and its grand classical façade and proportions have been meticulously restored but now a valet in a well-cut suit greets guests outside and ushers them into salons that are sleek and modern. The check-in desk sits in a marble hallway and to its left is an elegant bar with a fireplace flanked by handsome suede club chairs. Next door is the intimate dining room of the restaurant, the Algodon Club, where French/Argentine cuisine is served to a crowd of well-heeled locals as well as hotel guests. Downstairs is a wine cellar, which includes bottles from the Algodon Estates in Mendoza.
The ten guest suites feature sleek contemporary furniture from B&B Italia and Cappellini and all have vast marble bathrooms, including major steam showers, and the latest technology from WiFi and plasma TVs to electronic window shades, iPod docks and Nespresso machines. Some of the larger suites contain separate living rooms and baby grand pianos. To ensure that all guests feel at home, each room comes with an Algodon wine-tasting set and a 24-hour butler who can assist with cars, personalized business cards, reservations, or, in our case, fresh-baked cookies as a late-night snack. Though there are no fitness facilities, guests receive complimentary membership to a large and modern gym a block away. The Algodon does have a spa as well as a small rooftop pool, really large dipping tub, which is surrounded by a teak deck, complete with loungers. Individual suites or the entire mansion can be rented.
Alvear Palace Hotel
Hermès toiletries, 500-thread-count Egyptian-cotton linens, daily fruit baskets, and fresh flowers everywhere are just a few of the amenities that make the Alvear Palace popular with traditionalists looking for a taste of Argentine opulence. A recent renovation at the hotel updated the 210 rose-, beige- and cream-hued Louis XV–style rooms and suites with marble bathrooms and LCD screens above the in-room hot tubs, though rooms still feel surprisingly dated. There are all-new accommodations on the top floors, with an ever-so-gentle veer towards a more contemporary style. Guests in these rooms have a private check-in experience on the 10th floor, and access to a club level.
Butlers will unpack for guests as well as secure reservations at the hotel’s refined French restaurant, La Bourgogne, the first Relais Gourmand restaurant in Latin America. The hotel’s spa has also been refurbished, and the gym features top-end equipment. For cocktails or high tea, don’t miss the dark and romantic lobby bar, usually busy with a local crowd. The multi-tiered rooftop bar is also a local favorite, and has some of the best views in city. Sunday brunch in the main restaurant is the best in the city, worth attending even if you’re staying elsewhere.
Casa de Uco
Family-owned and -operated, Casa de Uco occupies a lush 800-acre property—nearly 200 of which are vineyards—in the Uco Valley, in the foothills of the Andes Mountains. Set among bucolic lagoons, the resort is a architectural marvel; the eco-friendly hotel makes use of natural materials and even boasts a rooftop garden, which doubles as an open-air observatory. The hotel restaurant is helmed by a local chef from Mendoza, who takes great care in the sourcing, preparation and presentation of the hotel’s farm-to-table dishes.
The 16 rooms and suites feature the same clean aesthetic as the rest of the hotel, with crisp white linens and sand-colored wood walls. All of the suites boast a wall made entirely from glass, which provides a breathtaking panoramic of the region’s landscape. Currently, all rooms are situated in the main hotel building, but plans are underway to construct stand-alone villas scattered throughout the vineyards.
Although it is wine country, Casa de Uco has many activities for those who don’t want to spend the day going from tasting to tasting. Guests can play tennis, enjoy the pool, spend an afternoon in the spa or hike or go horseback riding in the surrounding terrain. Those looking to experience the best vintages and some adventure can embark on a horseback wine tasting.
Cavas Wine Lodge
The last leg of the 40-minute journey from the airport to Cavas Wine Lodge is an unpaved country road into the heart of viticultural Luján de Cuyo. Thick curls of dust and the steady crack of gravel signal the approach, and upon arrival, guests are welcomed inside a whitewashed Spanish-colonial style building.
They will sleep in freestanding adobe villas between rows of Bonarda, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. From the main building's terrace, only their distinctive triangular chimneys are visible above the vineyard canopy—like so many sunlit fins above water. The villas are linked to it and to each other by trails through twisting vines and dangling grapes. Founders Cecilia Díaz Chuit and Martín Rigal wanted the vineyards to blend seamlessly into both the property's design and the experience of their guests; when Cavas opened in 2005, there was simply nothing like it.
Since it opened, other hotels have popped up, especially further south in the Valley de Uco. But Cavas remains the most soulful of Mendoza's wine country properties. Its staff knows all guests by name and can recommend (and arrange) all sorts of adventures in and around wine country: Tastings at the area's best vineyards, of course, but also hiking, biking and horseback riding in the nearby Andes mountains, including to Aconcagua, the world's tallest peak outside of the Himalayas.
The villa interiors feel relaxed and contemporary, with natural tones, eclectic décor and colorful touches, but on Mendoza's golden afternoons, it's outdoor space that matters most. In addition to plunge pools and ivy-covered garden showers, all 17 villas have finished rooftops with wood-burning fireplaces and rapturous 360-degree views of wine country. This is where siesta-hour often finds guests reading or sun-worshipping with a bottle of Cecilia's Becquignol rosé; after dark they'll be back for fireside stargazing (if they haven't stayed to watch the sun melt into the mountainscape). For an evening off from the restaurant commute, the hotel will even set up a rooftop dinner table for two.
The main building itself houses a handsome library, the lodge's namesake "cava" or wine cellar, its restaurant (the kitchen packs a decadent picnic basket) and a Moorish-style "vinotherapy" spa, where guests can book Torrontés wraps, Bonarda baths and crushed Malbec seed scrubs.
El Casco Art
The Swiss family that purchased the 20-acre plot of land about 15 miles outside the city center built the hotel, hammam and spa amid a vineyard that now produces the house Malbec. Holistic living is a key concept here, though one aligned with a sybaritic lifestyle. The hotel restaurant, Katharina, is noted for its haute cuisine, there is a six-circuit hammam to detoxify from a day (or two or three) of wine drinking, and the manicured gardens and art-filled grounds are among the loveliest you’ll amble through in all of Mendoza.
Each room is unique in its design, with a mix of contemporary, brightly colored furnishings against a backdrop of wood and stone. There are six room categories denoted by wine vintages, starting with Young and going up to Grand Cru. A Limited Edition loft is, appropriately, the only one of its kind –a honeymoon suite set in a white capsule above the vines, and some distance away from the main building. While it has a cool location and an outdoor hot tub with unobstructed mountain views, the loft itself is small and not as luxurious as the lesser room categories. Ask for a pool-facing room, as the alternative view is of a parking lot.
There are some caveats – first, the hotel only takes children over the age of 12, which shouldn’t be a problem if one is even considering Mendoza as a destination, as wine country is not the most family-friendly destination. Second, the room design has a few quirks that, while not a deal-breaker, diminish its luxury quality. The disparity in the two possible views is one example. Another is the duplex categories whose bathroom windows face other duplex bathroom windows – a jarring misstep for anyone who isn’t an exhibitionist. More than anything, it feels like the rooms were designed with form over function.
Still, the hotel is clearly a labor of love and it is the best luxury option close to Mendoza.
When you land in Calafate, the dusty plains and jagged peaks that puncture the horizon look like something from another world –not an entirely hospitable one. Eolo, however, is as warm and welcoming as Patagonia is beautifully forlorn. Opened in 2004 and privately owned, the lodge is constructed in a traditional Patagonian style that looks like a utilitarian version of a Tudor manor, with sheet metal siding overlaid with wooden timbers. Built around a central courtyard, all of the rooms face outwards with views of the grandiose landscape and Andean mountains in the distance. Furnishings are simple and comfortable, with a smattering of antiques that blend with well-worn leather sofas and locally woven rugs to create an elegant, unfussy look ideal for a country home. Each of the spacious guest rooms are named after local fauna, and artistic black and white photos (taken by a German expat turned Patagonian wildlife photographer) adorn the walls. The lodge is so private that there are even windows in the large marble bathrooms, allowing bathers to enjoy the rain showers while gazing out at the mountains.
Although the guest rooms are lovely, you probably won’t spend a lot of time in them. A cozy library and spacious great room are popular places to take tea in the afternoon upon return from the day’s excursions. There is also a indoor pool and sauna, plus a deck that overlooks Lago Argentina and is wonderful on a warm day. All meals are served in the airy dining room, and the food is prepared exceptionally well. Because the lodge sits in a protected national reserve, almost all the ingredients ship from Buenos Aires; but they taste as fresh as if they came from an estancia down the road. For those less familiar with Argentine grapes, the helpful staff can guide newbies through their list of Cabernets, Malbecs and Pinot Noirs.
Excursions include ice trekking, horseback riding and outings to isolated estancias as well as hiking and mountain biking on Eolo’s expansive property. Keep in mind that the majority of activities are not on-property a la Chile’s Explora properties, so travelers must plan ahead to book guides and cars for excursions. Children above the age of fourteen are welcome, but the subdued and sophisticated atmosphere and physically strenuous excursions make both Eolo and Calafate in general a better fit for adults or older teens.
There’s a local legend that those who eat the berries from the Calafate bush will return to Patagonia. I think the same could also be said of the house blend tea and mini lemon tarts served each afternoon at Eolo. Kick off your boots and snack on these while watching the sun fade beyond the Andes, and I guarantee you’ll be planning your next trip by the time you get home.
Estancia Cristina has no address, no roads and to reach its location in the Los Glaciares National Park, guests must take a two-hour boat ride from a small port outside El Calafate. But for travelers who want to visit an untouched corner of Patagonia, Estancia Cristina is well worth the effort.
Englishman Joseph Masters founded Estancia Cristina in 1914 as a home for his family and a base for a lucrative sheep raising business. Named for Joseph’s young daughter, the ranch also hosted visiting explorers and scientists who used the Masters’ home as a base for investigating nearby glaciers. Supplies the family couldn’t make or raise themselves were shipped in via boat, as they are today. At the peak of its success, Joseph Masters and his workers tended 27,000 sheep along with herds of cows and horses on over 55,000 acres of land.
When the last living member of the family died, Estancia Cristina passed to the government, who transformed the ranch into an inn for travelers. The new management built twelve guest rooms that are divided among three small lodges next to the main building. The furnishings are simple but comfortable, and each room has uninterrupted views of the mountains plus a private bath with modern fixtures. Meals are served in a separate dining hall that overlooks the lake.
While some guests come only for the day, the ideal way to enjoy Cristina is by spending the night. This gives travelers a chance to choose from two of the activities offered plus spend an evening in a spectacularly remote corner of the world. Excursions include horseback riding, hiking or, for less active types, a 4×4 off-road trip through the mountains that ends overlooking the Upsala glacier and ice fields. I spent my one perfect afternoon there with the horses, fording a river, galloping through a valley and breaking for a picnic lunch by a pristine lake surrounded by the Andes. The only part I would have changed is to extend my stay overnight and spend the next day hiking to the Cañadón de los Fósiles, a canyon where deep rifts left in the rocks by the retreating glaciers reveal ancient fossils. Like everything else with Cristina, the journey would be tough but the destination worth every step.
Buenos Aires entrepreneur Alan Faena and designer Philippe Starck teamed up to produce Faena Hotel + Universe, a stunning 88-room hotel that opened its doors in late 2004. Floor-to-ceiling silk and velvet curtains line the hallway leading to the popular Sunday brunch spot (El Mercado), charmingly designed with ceramics and glassware and knick-knacks from the city’s antiques district, San Telmo, and the funky restaurant Bistro, bedecked with white unicorn heads mounted on the walls and white leather sofas with gold claw-feet. Rooms and suites (including over-the-top residence-style accommodations) are equally dramatic, with cherry wood floors, red-velvet curtains and funky glass- and mirror-clad bathrooms. The reception area, four small desks in front of the elevators, is where the hotel dispatches its “experience managers,” butlers–cum–personal assistants who attend to guests’ needs. The state-of-the-art gym, spa and hammam area is divine. Note: The hotel lies a few miles from the Recoleta area, so some guests find it a bit out of the way for many of the main sites.
Four Seasons Buenos Aires
While the Four Seasons’ main building and mixed-style lounge decor are less dramatic than some of the city’s more stylish properties, the hotel’s mansion, a magnificent Louis XIII–style edifice built in 1916, houses beautiful and traditional suites well-suited to high-rollers, heads of state and celebrities. The adjacent contemporary tower, which is somewhat charmless, contains the other 158 rooms and suites, all spacious and recently refurbished in a neutral color palette. The mansion view rooms are preferable over the city view as these unfortunately look over a highway.
The Cielo spa, which offers all-natural treatments, ranks among the city’s best, and the restaurant Elena and Pony Line Bar are chic destinations for well-heeled locals as well as guests. In summer the hotel now offers traditional asados, or Argentine open-fire barbecues, on a rooftop garden. Perhaps the biggest draw is the heated outdoor pool, located in the garden. Although it’s not large, it’s an appealing amenity to families and a wonderful place to take an afternoon break from touring during the summer months, from November through March.
Part of an affluent development, the Grace is surrounded by championship-level golf courses, vineyards and fields for horseback riding and polo. The hotel itself is modern, with a design scheme that features sleek leather headboards, stone fireplaces, glass coffee tables and spacious bathrooms. Guests can take advantage of the spa, the gym and such events as asado dinners in the clubhouse. A five-minute drive from the Grace Cafayate is Bodega El Provenir, a high-end winery that has vineyards all over the Salta region.
In addition to the rooms in the main building, the hotel also has several freestanding villas, all of which have two stories and a kitchen area, making them an ideal option for families.
While Grace is the best luxury option in the area, the hotel is still going through some growing pains. One of the main issues is that getting from the lobby to the clubhouse or spa requires a golf cart transfer and the hotel doesn’t currently have a system in place to coordinate this for guests. For the time being, the best bet is to call well in advance to see if a golf cart is available before making plans. Communication can also be a bit of a challenge for non-Spanish speaking visitors as few staff members knowing English. However, everyone is always eager to please and can usually find someone to assist.
House of Jasmines
With only eleven rooms, the Hub Porteño in tony Recoleta provides an intimate and quiet alternative to the larger luxury hotels in the neighborhood. It caters to those who would prefer to stay at a boutique property that feels like a stylish pied-a-terre. The rooms are spacious – the smallest at over five hundred square feet – and furnished with a mix of modern and classic design. Even entry-level rooms have large marble baths with double vanities and Jacuzzi tubs. Hub Porteño also offers a small fitness room, a leafy rooftop terrace and one of the city's most avant-garde tasting menus at Chef Dante Liporace's Tarquino restaurant.
Says Coppola: “I was interested in the boutique urban hotel as a variation on the resort theme, to use the city itself as a theme.” He imbued his new garden oasis with elements of the vivacious art and culture scene of Buenos Aires, turning it into a small boutique hotel that joins the ranks of his other two special properties in Belize (Blancaneaux Lodge and Turtle Inn). The property has three levels of gardens, a solar-heated pool, an outdoor kitchen and parrilla grill, as well as a planted terrace. The property has four master bedrooms, two double bedrooms and one single bedroom. A full-time housekeeper and an English-speaking concierge are available for guests. Tip: the home feels more like a private residence than a full-service hotel, and it’s a better choice for a buyout than for booking single rooms.
Kkala Boutique Hotel
Staying at this 10-room hotel feels a lot like being invited to a stylish friend’s home. Everything here exudes warmth, from the eccentric, mix-and-match interiors to the friendly staff. Located in a hilly residential neighborhood on the outskirts of the city’s busy downtown, Kkala provides privacy in a truly charming setting. The design features fuchsia walls, bright red chairs, oversized dream catchers and knitted hangings.
There is no restaurant on site, although the adorable breakfast nook offers made-to-order eggs, fresh juice and flaky pastries. The heated outdoor pool is perfect for warm-weather lounging with Argentine wine in hand and views of the Andes in the distance.
La Bamba de Areco
At the end of an hour's journey from the capital and a drive lined with hundred-year-old plane trees, La Bamba de Areco's arriving guests are welcomed by a receiving line of staff, including a personal host responsible for their stay. From the very beginning, one feels less like a hotel guest at La Bamba than that of a prosperous and doting uncle who knows how to entertain—the kind one might encounter in Jane Austen's novels or a South American adaptation of Downton Abbey.
Through a landscaped courtyard with wrought-iron gates and climbing vines sits the estancia's main building or casco, once a post-house on the Camino Real (the "Royal Road" that linked the port of Buenos Aires to the Viceroyalty of Peru in the 19th century). Low-slung and flame-red with neat white trim, it stands out dramatically from surrounding pastures and emerald polo fields.
The estancia's eleven guest rooms, each named for a different celebrity polo pony, were renovated—brilliantly—in 2009. White, wide-windowed interiors and plush bedding appeal to 21st-century tastes, while antique bed-frames, inlaid period dressers and lovely black-and-white-tiled bathroom floors situate them beautifully in context. Instead of TVs and telephones, there are fabulous vintage textiles, art books and soaking tubs.
Time on the Pampas is measured in meals, and La Bamba's guests dine like spoiled estancieros. Breakfast, served in the handsomely restored pulpería, whose 17th-century brick walls display contemporary equestrian photographs, is a lavish spread of warm medialunas, homemade marmalades and dulce de leche. Once a stable and informal gaucho inn, the estancia's oldest structure is also ideal for evening cocktails by the open fire. It's the midday asado, however, that's the culinary main event. Guests convene at long picnic tables in the open-plan summer pavilion for a traditional outdoor feast of rustic, flaky empanadas, steak with chimichurri, oregano-flecked provoleta and plenty of Argentine wine.
Between meals, guests can watch astonishing horse-whispering demonstrations or pick-up polo scrimmages (the estancia is home to a championship team and hosts informal "chukkas" almost everyday between the months of September and April). La Bamba's hardy criollo horses are nearly as pampered as its guests, and there is no better way to experience the estancia than on horseback. From the outdoor picnic tables or the pool deck, one often spies a parade of returning riders silhouetted against the tremendous Pampas sky, led by a poncho-clad gaucho and a troop of merry Labradors.
History buffs can also visit the heritage town of San Antonio de Areco, just thirteen kilometers from the estate. Argentina's unofficial capital of gaucho lore, Areco is home to a permanent population of legacy craftsmen—master leatherworkers and silversmiths whose trades have been handed down for generations—as well as a museum dedicated to the writer Ricardo Güiraldes, whose 1926 Don Segundo Sombra fixed the figure of the gaucho firmly in Argentina's literary imagination (San Antonio de Areco is famously the birthplace of the novel's gaucho-protagonist).
The prevailing mood at La Bamba is peaceful-pastoral; guests who have mastered the art of stylish repose will find themselves in their element. Often the best way to approach an overnight here is to channel the leisure classes of yesteryear—settle into a comfy couch with an invigorating mate and a hand-woven blanket, go for a walk through the parklands in the late afternoon when the plane trees' shadows lash the golden light, take in storybook-striated sunsets from an aptly-positioned Adirondack chair, enjoy a game of bochas (Argentine bocce) or billiards and allow yourself to ease into the seductive rhythm of country house meals.
With just 11 rooms and an elegant grey townhouse façade, Legado Mitico is the first luxury option in Salta. A traditional dark palette and amenities like an elegant book-filled library give this hotel a refined contemporary vibe. There is also a lovely outdoor terrace to relax and recharge in after excursions. While the hotel offers breakfast and small snacks, there is no restaurant so guests must explore the many culinary options in the city. Due to its convenient location in downtown Salta, a stay at Legado Mitico is as much about the hotel as it is experiencing the surrounding area.
There are two upscale options for guests visiting El Calafate: the refined Eolo, a Relais & Chateaux property that offers simple elegance in a formal setting, and Nibepo Aike, a down-home, no-frills estancia. At the latter, days are spent learning the ropes of a working sheep and horse ranch, riding through the striking wilderness with gauchos and enjoying traditional asados (outdoor grills) in the evening. Occasionally, one of the gauchos plays a guitar and brooding folk songs usher in the night.
The 10-room Nibepo Aike, with a cozy hearth and an antique stove, is not for the typical luxury traveler. It would be misleading to say that anything about the experience here is luxurious, but a stay at the home-turned-hotel is rich in tradition and authenticity, and in a way, one of the most exclusive accommodations in the region. The property attracts a specific kind of traveler: one willing to forego certain comforts (the generator only runs about 10 hours per day and WiFi is spotty) for the experience of living like a gaucho in a far-flung and beautiful part of Patagonia. The rooms are almost monastic in their simplicity, with no air-conditioning (though hardly necessary in Patagonia) and minimal heating (there is a single wood-burning stove in the hallway).
Palacio Duhau Park Hyatt
Though the palace side of the hotel, which faces Avenida Alvear, is a restored mansion built in 1934, the newly constructed adjoining building (where nearly all of the 165 rooms and suites are located) features a majestic lobby awash in Bordeaux leather and travertine marble and a soaring ceiling. The gentleman’s club–style Oak Bar (a favorite aperitivo and nightcap spot of well-heeled locals), Vinoteca wine bar and cheese room and the expansive gardens have a classical feel, yet Park Hyatt’s cool brand of minimalism kicks in at its impressive underground art gallery and exhibition area, 8,000-square-foot spa and fitness studio (with an eighty-two-foot indoor swimming pool), and within many of the rooms and suites. And while the twenty-three guest rooms of the palace boast Persian carpets, silk curtains and antique crystal chandeliers, those in the modern tower have a minimalist, Asian-inspired ambiance.
The Vines Resort & Spa
Before they dreamed of opening a hotel, Michael Evans (a California transplant) and Pablo Gimenez Riili (a Mendocino winemaker) co-founded The Vines of Mendoza—a co-operative whereby enthusiastic amateurs from around the globe could become long-distance vineyard-owners and even winemakers. Vineyard shares would include a small parcel of prime terroir on their Uco Valley estate, along with access to its state-of-the-art winemaking facility and expert team. Almost ten years later, Evans and Gimenez Riili have 135 members, many of whom fly in throughout the year to plant different varietals, participate in the harvest or develop new blends with the staff's assistance. Until recently there were few hotel choices here, but as of early 2014, co-op members can have a luxurious sleep within steps of their grapes. And so can we; The Vines Resort & Spa is open to owners and oenophiles alike.
While the villa tally at The Vines is currently only twenty-two, it is a "resort" in the truest sense—and one with an even richer profusion of amenities than the moniker typically suggests. There's a destination restaurant that draws starry-eyed epicures from hours away, a knockout pool with heart-stopping Andes views and a glass-walled fitness center that's ensconced in the vines, but also elevated, giving joggers the illusion that they are floating over a vineyard-sea. The spa offers a collection of exclusive products by niche perfumery Fueguia 1833 (villa bathrooms are already stocked with the company's sublime soaps and shampoos).
As if this resume needed any further padding, there are also possibilities of harvesting alongside the property's agronomist, private blending lessons with the in-house oenologist and networking with Mendoza's wine cognoscenti. The project's consulting winemaker, Santiago Achával of Achával-Ferrer, opened a satellite winery in "Winemakers Village", a sort of artists-in-residence program for local winemakers—a venue where they can experiment and share ideas, both with each other and the resort's guests.
Though the property's layout gives it something of the feel of a resort community, with paved sidewalks linking strands of adjacent villas, interiors offer unqualified peace and plenitude. Furnishings are plush and contemporary, done in a quiet wood and stone palette that draws the lush colors of the western skyline inside through massive floor-to-ceiling windows. The softly distressed leather sofas, draped in sumptuous textiles from the north—and the fireplaces laid with hand-cut stones found on property—could redeem the dreariest of afternoons. But cloudless days are far more likely here, and sprawling decks are equipped with every imaginable convenience for outdoor living, including enormous sunset-facing tubs and fire pits where Francis Mallmann's parrilleros can choreograph a private asado.
This is not the kind of hotel where many things get lost in translation, but just in case, the resort assigns a "gaucho" to each guest. Equal parts personal concierge, camp counselor and generous host, your gaucho will coordinate a behind-the-scenes cooking demonstration with the chefs at Siete Fuegos, teach you how to drink mate like a local, and make sure you're awake—and sufficiently bundled in ponchos—in time for your sunrise horseback ride.