honeymoon in south america
Casa Rosada of Buenos Aires
A honeymoon is a way to decompress and explore an exotic, unknown destination. With a summer wedding, and a less than favorable currency exchange to the dollar, we looked toward South America with a plan that balanced city and country, fancy and rugged.
We began locally at the Windsor Court Hotel. A second day stay allowed for a poor boy lunch with out-of-town family and a languid tasting dinner at the Grill Room.
Our first destination was Chile. The upgrade from coach to business-first –
on a special promo thanks to our travel agent – made for a comfortable 10.5-hour flight with a breakfast view of the sunrise over the Andes. In Santiago, the hotel’s car deposited us at the front door before rush hour traffic began.
The Ritz-Carlton is in the El Golf area, amid modern business buildings, multi-national restaurants and colonial homes. A pianist plays in the lobby; an Olympic-size swimming pool and a heath club sit under a spectacular rooftop glass ceiling. Dining rooms share a cellar with more than 365 Chilean wines and bars mix more than 100 types of martinis.
The Club Lounge serves breakfast, snacks, cocktails, chocolates and Chilean wine. Bruno, a concierge who worked in New Orleans, arranged for a guide to show off this fascinating city where camellias and oranges trees seem oddly at home near bustling subway entrances. With more than 5 million inhabitants, Chile’s center of commerce has the advantage of being a one-hour drive to both ski resorts and beaches. South of Santiago are the rich and beautiful vineyards of the Maipo Valley, one of the world’s most esteemed wine producing regions.
Bisected by the Rio Mapocho, the Plaza de Armas – the heart of the city – lies along the Alameda, five blocks south of the river. The city’s heritage is evident in the Parque Forestal, designed by a French landscaper and modeled after Parisian parks. The Mercado Central sells fresh produce beneath mid-19th century wrought-iron ceilings.
In Adra, one of the hotel dining rooms, our tasting menu featured remarkable seafood from Chile’s 3,000 miles of coastline. Returning to our room after dinner, we found a rose petal-laced bath, votive candles and an excellent Chilean sparking wine on ice. Two nights in Chile was definitely not enough; we plan to return.
Argentina is a hot travel destination for good reason. Buenos Aires is the epicenter of music, culture, shopping and all things tango. Bariloche, the go-to for skiing, hiking and fishing, is the country’s second most popular destination. To the north, the Iguazu national park is famous for its waterfalls. Salta and Mendoza are colonial towns in wine country.
To the west, some of the world’s greatest shooting awaits upland devotees. And all along the spine of the Andes one finds serious mountaineers and equestrians.
Cordoba, Argentina’s second-largest city known for its Jesuit missions, universities, cathedrals and plazas, is an easy one-hour flight over the Andes. The beautifully preserved downtown features restaurants, art galleries and a nightlife scene where students mingle with the business elite. For us the allure was further into the countryside.
Set on 10,000 acres, Estancia Los Chanares is one of the world’s most highly acclaimed shooting lodges. Even with 18-20 million doves, the shooting is challenging: A variety of birds move quickly and sites vary. The stucco and terra terrazzo lodge features rugged décor, a welcoming fireplace, large picnic tables, a swimming pool and a fine selection of guns for rent. The food was superb; the wines delicious; the camaraderie was delightful; and a massage at day’s end was very welcome. For my Ducks Unlimited “Life Sponsor” husband, this was as close to heaven as it gets; but for me heaven waited in Buenos Aires, often referred to as the Paris of South America.
In the district of Recoleta, named for the historic cemetery where hundreds daily pay homage to Evita Peron, Neoclassical mansions, boutiques such as Hermès and Cartier, and the Alvear Palace Hotel all can be found. In the Palermo, warehouses and old haciendas have been converted into five-star hotels, trendy restaurants and edgy art spaces. La Boca, the birthplace of tango, is a colorful, gritty area with art that hangs on fences and hawkers that urge tourists to see naughty tangos.
Built in 1897, the Alvear Palace is one of the great hotels of the world, offering an astonishing level of hospitality, cuisine and service. The soaring marble halls, hand-polished brass, wall hangings, glittering chandeliers and the tinkle of crystal as champagne is poured permeate the lobby abuzz with people greeting in typical Argentine-style (a single cheek kiss) while white-gloved staff pad silently through the area. Off the lobby lays L’Orangerie, an indoor-outdoor pavilion where Argentina’s well-heeled host power breakfasts – with or without champagne – and an astonishing buffet lunch.
Above the restaurants are the 12 impeccable ball and meeting rooms, 97 guest rooms and 100 suites decorated with highly glazed and fabric-covered walls, plush sofas and chairs, and mirrors reflecting the gleam from omnipresent chandeliers. Each floor has personal butler service, amenities from Hermès and a personal shopper at one’s disposal.
Tango, shopping, dining and the arts consume Buenos Aires’ populace. Dining begins at 10 p.m. and goes on to the wee hours. Prices are gentle; At La Cabrera Norte, a popular local spot in Palermo, a 24-ounce perfectly cooked Argentine steak, huge skewers of grilled vegetables and two bottles of red wine fed three and cost less than $100 U.S.
Local destination manager, Maria Ines Bertone, scored us patron tickets to a reception at Museo National, an appointment at a custom glove maker, and Saturday night reservations at El Querandi – a dinner show tracing the history of tango with optional tango lessons after 2 a.m.; she also passed on her contact at Uru, near our hotel, where for $300, capybara, a handsome leather made from carpincho (something akin to nutria), were custom tailored into a navy coat dress for me and a caramel sporting vest for my husband, and delivered to the hotel the next day.
La Bourgogne, a Relais & Chateaux restaurant where modern art collides blissfully with haute cuisine, is conveniently located in the ground floor of the Alvear. On a roll with tasting menus we let the chef and sommelier loose, and left delighted and sated. Lagniappe was a small go-bag of pastries, which we enjoyed the next day in lieu of lunch before departing for wine country.
In Mendoza, more than 1,000 wineries produce Torrontes, Semillon, Syrah, Tempranillo and Malbec (a blend grape from Bordeaux). Here, Malbec is the star. An outstanding wine of various qualities and prices, its success lies in the hands of Nicolas Catena, a UC-Berkeley economist, who worked with Robert Mondavi.
All open their doors to visitors with reservations. Agents will create individual tours; one of the best is American-owned “Wines of Mendoza,” with a tasting room and information center downtown.
Cavas Wine Lodge, about 45 minutes from Mendoza, is set amid a vineyard with a main building housing a cellar, dining room, reception room and spa. With unfettered views of the Andes, 12 individual casitas with adobe-like fireplaces extend from the first floor to the open-air terrace above for sleeping under the stars.
A Relais & Chateau property, Cavas is the brainchild of a sophisticated, Argentinean couple; the result is a near perfect mix of elegant dining and informative wine seminars. The décor mixes folk, contemporary and religious art with concrete floors, old timbers and astonishing views of the mountains. The staff crafted visits to dining at the wineries, horseback riding and tours.
After having several bottles of wine packed for shipping, we toured downtown Mendoza before flying to Buenos Ares A for last minute shopping, a bit of tango and a leisurely lunch before returning stateside.