Sunday, May 15, 2016

Whitewater and Wineries? The "Fu" Has Both

The Plaza de Armas of Futaleufú
In northern Chilean Patagonia, surrounded by mountains near the Argentine border, the scenic village of Futaleufú has become a world-class adventure destination – primarily because of the Class 5 wild whitewater of its namesake riverwhich has led several international operators to set up operations here for weeklong (or longer) rafting and kayaking holidays. Chilean operators have followed suit, and all of them also offer day trips on the “Fu” and other nearby rivers. It’s even possible to paddle over lakes and rivers all the way to the Pacific Ocean – a genuine Patagonia expedition.
A kayaker on the "Fu"
Futaleufú is a couple hours east of the Carretera AustralChile’s emblematic adventure highway – but is well worth the detour. I’ve been down the river – hiked parts of the valley and rafted the “between the bridges” segment that’s suitable for less experienced folks like myself – and always look forward to my nearly annual visits. In a thinly populated region, the town itself has a youthful vigor, and improving accommodations and food in a setting comparable to the Rockies or the Alps, but without the crowds. There’s also horseback riding and, to a lesser extent, hiking (because the surrounding mountains have, as yet, relatively few foot trails).
A calmer segment of the Futaleufú
The area’s latest surprise, though, is the appearance of a new wine district just across the border (where the river’s headwaters are). Most of Patagonia’s wineries are farther north on the Argentine side, where warmer weather and the rain shadow effect of the Andes make the climate more suitable for vineyards. Here, though, Viñas del Nant y Fall is probably the world’s southernmost winery, though the property also provides soft fruits and preserves.
The gates of Viñas del Nant y Fall
Over the past few years, I’ve made brief stopovers at Nant y Fall – which owes its name to the Welsh immigrants who arrived in Chubut province in the late 19th century – and I’ve just learned that they held their first harvest festival this year. Planted six years ago, this season’s yield from hardy Pinot Noir vines - pictured below in the early spring - will become a sparkling wine.
The sprouting vines at Viñas del Nant y Fall
Sergio Rodríguez, the property’s owner, acknowledges that this is a marginal area for wine – the growing season is relatively short and unexpected frosts can be a challenge - but seems committed to the project. But, at a time when climate change is testing the limitations of traditional wine grape cultivation – you can’t transplant mature vines north or south to maintain or improve production – perhaps the area has more potential than first glances might suggest. I look forward to my next visit, probably in November, and soon enough rafters and kayakers may enjoy cross-border excursions to sample the wines.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Ice, or Ice Cream? Or Both?

Almost everyone who visits Patagonia looks forward to seeing the great glaciers of Chile’s Fuegian fjords or the massive southern icefields that culminate in Argentina’s Moreno Glacier (pictured below). There are other cool treats that await visitors, though - on their palates, in the form of ice cream (or gelato, if you prefer). Some of it is found in Patagonia itself, but it’s also popular in gateway cities like Buenos Aires.
Most but not all of those treats are from Argentina, stemming from the Italian tradition that has spread throughout the country. I’d like to recommend a sample of ice creameries and flavors, though I’ll acknowledge a personal prejudice at the beginning: I do not share the adoration for dulce de leche, made from caramelized milk (which Chileans call manjar) that all Argentines and many Chileans drool over. Personally, I find it sickly sweet and, if you choose to try it, don’t say I didn’t warn you. I will not mention it further.
For more than three decades, my personal favorite has been Cadore (pictured above) in the Congreso district of downtown Buenos Aires (one of the gateway cities for many a Patagonia itinerary). In the same family since it opened in the 1950s. it’s won awards in Italy itself. The roster of flavors may be less diverse than some more contemporary heladerías, but the quality is extraordinary. My recommendations: chocolate amargo (bittersweet chocolate) and mousse de limón (lemon mousse) are an unbeatable combination.
In northern Argentine Patagonia, at the base of the Andes, the town of El Bolsón is the cradle of Helados Jauja (pictured above), which produces many standard flavors but specializes in local fruit flavors, among them the wild calafate berry (according to legend, whoever eats the berry will come back to Patagonia for more). In recent years, this one-of-a-kind ice creamery has opened branches in Buenos Aires and elsewhere, but still produces everything at its home base. My recommendation: calafate con leche de oveja (calafate berries with sheep’s milk) and mate cocido con tres de azúcar (Argentines’ favorite infusion, roughly comparable to green tea, is also popular in parts of Chile).
Meanwhile, in the Chilean ferry port of Puerto Natales – the gateway to Torres del PaineMesita Grande (pictured above) is a pizzeria that takes its name from the single long table that its diners necessarily share. That said, it prepares its own ice cream and, when I offhandedly mentioned Jauja’s calafate flavor, Mesita’s Argentine manager went out of her way to track down berries and sheep’s milk to try to duplicate it. A couple days later, she phoned me to come try it, and the result was a promising experiment that’s not on the regular menu. Still, in its absence, here are my recommendations: chocolate and ruibarbo (rhubarb). There’s also a branch in Punta Arenas, the gateway to the glacial fjords of Tierra del Fuego (pictured below).

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