Saturday, January 10, 2015

Does Gold Always Glitter? Plus, More on Buenos Aires Wines

In a lifetime of travel, mostly in Latin America, I’ve usually considered accommodations as a utilitarian service that permitted proximity to the sights I was interested in seeing. A quiet and tidy place with a reasonably firm bed, clean toilets and a hot shower usually satisfies me although, during nearly a quarter-century of writing and updating guidebooks, I’ve felt the need – the obligation, actually – to provide information about more elaborate options.
Even though my own tastes may have evolved as I’ve gotten older – for purely practical reasons, it’s hard to imagine a place without WiFi – I rarely stay at truly upscale places such as those mentioned annually in Condé Nast Traveler’s Gold List (full disclosure: though I subscribe to Condé Nast, I have never written for them, and I would never consider purchasing the magazine at its over-the-counter price). That provides me occasional pleasures – I was agreeably surprised by their article on El Bolsón a couple years ago – and some insight on where the one percent stay when they travel to the Southern Cone countries.

From My Point of View
This year Condé Nast is doing something slightly different. Instead of a routine summary for each hotel – barely varying from one year to the next in what is already a repetitive list – they’ve chosen to focus on distinctive features of those hotels. Of one classic, for instance, they say that “The most glamorous place to get a drink in Buenos Aires is the Lobby Bar at the Alvear Palace” (pictured above and below).
I’m not so sure of that. While there’s no denying the Alvear’s elegance, its Francophile ambience recalls Argentina’s old guard conservatism rather than the glamor of a star-struck contemporary society. I’ve never stayed at the Alvear (though I’ve had tea and attended events there) and I would suggest that Condé Nast has overstated its case to justify a safe choice.
On the other hand, its endorsement of Home Hotel Buenos Aires (pictured above and below) is a more daring inclusion and, arguably, more glamorous – here, you might get invited to U2’s pool party. The article describes Home as “a small boutique outpost in Palermo Hollywood that was doing mismatched wallpaper and slightly ironic shag rugs long before design duo Roman and Williams.”
Since I own an apartment in Palermo, I rarely stay in Buenos Aires hotels, but I have spent a night at Home, and have occasionally eaten or had a drink in the bar/restaurant (full disclosure: co-owner Patricia O’Shea was my unpaid “shopping consultant” on an article I wrote for National Geographic Traveler a few years ago). Though the hotel gets celebrity guests, informality is also a strong selling point – there are several truly affordable rooms for guests of modest means - and it even provides guests its own mini-guidebook of the neighborhood.
Condé Nast’s only other Argentine entry is the House of Jasmines (pictured above and below), on the outskirts of the northwestern city of Salta, gateway to the Andean highlands and the wine country of Cafayate. According to the magazine’s description, “Everything smells deliciously of, yes, flowering jasmine, and there are roses in every room.”
I stayed here several years ago, before the famous actor and noted Argentinophile Robert Duvall sold it, but I’ve not been able to return since it reopened under new ownership. From the photographs on the website, it hasn’t changed dramatically – that’s probably a good thing – but it’s now affiliated with the Relais & Chateaux group of luxury accommodations. Other things being equal, I would probably choose to stay in Salta itself, a walkable city with interesting architecture, excellent museums, and very good restaurants. The House of Jasmines isn’t that far away, though, and is undoubtedly more peaceful.

Argentine Coastal Wines?

And now for something completely different: my longtime Argentine friend Nicolás Kugler and Pablo (a commentator on my previous post) have provided some additional information on vineyards and wines near Buenos Aires. As it happens, the county of Berisso, only 57 km southeast of Buenos Aires on the route to provincial capital of La Plata, holds an annual Vinos de la Costa festival. In the middle decades of the 20th century, this area produced up to a million liters of wine per annum, but now it’s only about 50,000 liters from 25 hectares of vineyards. Nobody suggests the quality comes close to matching that of Mendoza or Cafayate, though.

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