We're a little vino-obsessed here at The Vines of Mendoza, but the truth is that there's much more than world-class wine to draw you to Argentina.
In this article K. Jill Rigby, writing for Canada's www.MORE.ca, explores some of the best that Argentina has to offer: tango, fashion, and cuisine. Some activities to keep you going between glasses of Malbec and Torrontes...
Argentina: Easy and affordable.
Soak up the sun, bargain shop, sample world class wines.... why not? A solo trip to Argentina has never been so easy
Updated: 2008-06-17 Published: Tuesday, April 08, 2008. By: K. Jill Rigby
They say it takes two to tango. I disagree.
My proof? A recent trip to Argentina where I happily soaked up the South American sun, bargain shopped for designer fashions, sampled world-class wines and glided to the regionâ€™s signature dance in two-four time. To my delight, I discovered that Argentina is one of the easiest and most friendly destinations to navigate; with a little savvy planning, the country becomes a solo travelerâ€™s dream.
To facilitate my shop-dance-and-drink agenda, I met up with local guide Silvie Gonzalez Verocay, who spirited me around Buenos Aires faster than I ever could on my own. From the start, it was a good match. Not only was Silvie conversant with every historical detail of the city, her coat was so stylish I offered to buy it off her back. She didnâ€™t want to part with her Prada-inspired trench, but promised to escort me to the appropriate boutique after I had sampled some of what â€œThe Paris of South Americaâ€ had to offer.
On Sundays, San Telmo, the barrio (neighbourhood) where Buenos Aires was born in 1536, bustles with antique booths selling century-old heirlooms. The prices reminded me of shopping days before the rocketing euro, when Canadians could comb France, Italy and England for treasures and buy to their heartsâ€™ content. After a cursory stroll through the market (I asked Silvie to make sure I didnâ€™t purchase anything that wasnâ€™t a bargain), I spied 10 silver-plated forks and soupspoons engraved with a lovely curling family crest. The knives had already gone missing, but I didnâ€™t care. Silvie nodded in approval and we haggled till our throats hurt, settling on $20 for the lot. I hate to think what I would have paid without her.
Having cut my shopping teeth in San Telmo, we headed to La Boca, as I was eager to take photographs of iconic Caminito Street with its colonial tenement buildings painted a riot of primary colours. It was here that an extraordinary cowhide carpet seemed to call my name. Normally I wouldnâ€™t have given the rug a second glance â€” it would cost a fortune at home. But once again, Silvieâ€™s superior negotiating skills resulted in a $75 steal. Although I was beginning to worry about heavy suitcases, customs officers and the like, the sheer joy of seeing the city with Silvie â€” and of unearthing such extraordinary finds â€” outweighed my concerns.
Silvie insisted I couldnâ€™t leave town without a foray to Palermo, a woodsy barrio characterized by embassies and ambassadorsâ€™ residences. I sensed Europe yet again and no wonder â€” during the second half of the 1800s, the French landscape architect Charles Thays planned all the gardens according to Parisâ€™s Bois de Boulogne and Londonâ€™s Hyde Park. Palermo is also home to some of the cityâ€™s most trendy bars, restaurants and cafÃ©s. Look for outdoor seating and staples such as lomito (thinly cut steak sandwich), media luna (ham croissant) and Argentinaâ€™s divine Malbec wine. Donâ€™t miss Cecilia Gadea, an airy, light-hearted space with the most irresistible clothes I saw in Argentina. I picked up a pair of denim and slate-grey patent-leather tango shoes along with a black dress with loose panels made for dancing. Unfortunately, Silvieâ€™s coat was sold out.
Capping off my tour of Buenos Airesâ€™ markets and boutiques was an outing to Celedonio, the store for designer Celedonio Lohidoy. His much-coveted jewellery is fashioned with semi-precious stones, pearls and crystals that are threaded and formed into necklaces, brooches and rings. Made by a small group of craftsmen in a nearby atelier, Celedonioâ€™s accessories were a fixture on Sex and the City â€” and now in my jewellery box.
I had also come to Argentina to tango. I longed to feel the passionate tremor of the moves born in Buenos Airesâ€™ brothels at the end of the 19th century. PorteÃ±os, the natives of Buenos Aires, are so devoted to the dance, they stage an annual â€œTango Dayâ€ on Dec. 11. Unable to attend that, I settled for new dancing shoes and a tango lesson. With his signature auburn ponytail, Fabrizio Forti is renowned as one of the cityâ€™s best teachers and performers. In his tiny private studio in San Telmo, students from all over the world learn to implement his playful style and trademark embrace. Passion is free.
My final excursion in Buenos Aires was to the cityâ€™s famous 13-acre La Recoleta Cemetery. Rivalled only by Parisâ€™s PÃ¨re-Lachaise, the elegance of its mausoleums is more reminiscent of palaces than tombs. I was mesmerized by the lifelike statues, and stone plaques, each carved with the name of one of the more than 6,400 Argentinians entombed there. And, like everyone else, I got lost. No matter, all paths eventually flow to the final resting place of Eva PerÃ³n. Although she died more than a half century ago, her tomb remains one of the most popular places in Argentina. Bidding adiÃ³s to Buenos Aires wasnâ€™t easy (and not just because of the overweight baggage). The city had fanned the flames of a romance I had once had with Europe. As with all memorable long-distance affairs, I vowed to return.
Mendoza is perfectly situated at the epicentre of the Argentinian wine-growing region. Perfect because Argentinian wine is among the finest in the world, and some of the best vintages never make it out of the country. After much quaffing at home, I was ready to visit some favourite vineyards, but needed help. I contacted Laura Yofe, a guide who equals Silvie not only in her knowledge of everything oenophilic but of fashion too. Laura set up tastings, ferried me to the vineyards and spirited me back to the hotel, all the while filling my head with wine miscellany. And, like Silvie, she was an expert when it came to buying; I thus added a couple of bottles of Malbec to the purchases accumulating in my suitcase.
After I arrived home, it wasnâ€™t long before my husband mentioned how much he would like to join me next time, hinting he might make an excellent tango partner. I promised to take his proposal under consideration, explaining that every once in a while, a girl simply has to head out on her own. Argentina just makes it so easy. Just one last suggestion: Pack an extra duffle. For the inside goods on travelling, dancing and shopping in Argentina, check out The insider's Argentina
This article originally appeared in the February 2008 issue of More