Buenos Aires is often called the ‘Paris of the South,’ and while there are elements of the Parisian about it, that comparison is limiting. It is the globalized modern metropolis of the future, housed in the architecture and history of the past. During a two week holiday last November, I had the chance to explore the various barrios (neighborhoods) of this spectacular city. The following is an itinerary by barrio showcasing some of the highlights of our visit.
We began our exploration of BA in the Centre barrio at the Plaza de Mayo, the famed central square that has played host to numerous revolutions since the 1500’s. Bordering the square on the east is the Casa Rosada (Pink House), home to the local government and perhaps more famously to the balcony from which Evita rallied the Argentine masses. A straight shot up the Avenue de Mayo took us to the Café Tortoni, Buenos Aires’ oldest café which has counted the likes of Einstein and Josephine Baker among its patrons since it opened in 1858. A sidra (alcoholic cider) and tango show there set the tone perfectly for our first night in the city. Looking for a more substantial meal in the Centre? Opt for the delicious gnocchi and a glass of malbec at popular Italian restaurant Filo.
The decadent lunch buffet at the Alvear Palace Hotel served as our introduction to Recoleta, BA’s ritziest barrio. Served in the hotel’s elegant L’Orangerie dining room, the famed lunch buffet includes an extensive dessert table that delights the eyes as much as the taste buds. Beyond the sheer variety of food are the little touches that set this dining experience apart—individually wrapped lemon wedges to prevent seeds from escaping into your food and end of meal coffee service with a small tiered desert tray complete with miniature macaroons and chocolate dipped fruit peels.
After lunch, a walk through nearby Recoleta Cemetery proved serene and fascinating. While Evita’s grave (in the Duarte family tomb) is unquestionably the most trafficked, check out the even more interesting mausoleum of Rufina Cambaceres’s, “the girl who died twice”. The Basílica Nuestra Señora del Pilar (with amazing views of the cemetery from its cloisters) and the Buenos Aires Design Center, an extensive emporium showcasing modern home wares, are also well worth a stop while you’re in the vicinity.
If you’re looking to break the bank, a trip down Recoleta’s Avenue Alvear (BA’s answer to Rodeo Drive) should help you make the most of the amazing exchange rate. But, for a more unique shopping experience, make your way to the Retiro barrio instead and seek out Comme Il Faut. Ring the bell for admittance to this tango shoe shop (ironically not much bigger than a shoebox itself). Give your size to one of the eager saleswomen and watch as a pile of tango shoes in every imaginable print and color accumulate at your feet. Considered the Manolo Blahnik’s of Argentina, a pair of Comme Il Faut’s thankfully won’t run you quite that much (between $125-200 a pair and do note that there is a discount for paying in cash). Once you’ve found the perfect pair, there’s no better place to show them off than at nearby Gran Bar Danzón, where a candle lit and incense perfumed staircase provides entrance to one of BA’s sexiest restaurants & wine bars.
Whimsical San Telmo is an antique shopper’s heaven. Highlights include Gil Antigüedades, with its museum worthy collection of vintage clothing and accessories and the Pasaje la Defensa (Defensa 1179), an Italianate townhouse turned shopping arcade. San Telmo is also home to a famed flea market each Sunday, but on any given day you can find craftsman selling their wares along the central Plaza Dorrego. For lunch try the classic parrilla (steakhouse) La Brigada, whose beef empanadas alone are worth the trip. Down the street at Nonna Bianca (Estados Unidos 465), a scoop of unbelievably creamy homemade dulce de leche ice cream is the perfect dessert.
The Palermo barrio is home to the Campo Argentino de Polo, where we were fortunate enough to attend the championship match of the Argentine Open (the highlight of the Argentinean polo season held each November/December). Information on polo matches can be confusing and hard to come by for non-Spanish speakers, but if you do manage to crack the code, you’ll be rewarded with a truly beautiful afternoon observing one of Argentina’s most revered pastimes. During breaks between matches, stroll the thoroughfare that separates the two fields. Here you can visit temporary, but stylishly appointed shops selling polo gear or stop off at the Moët & Chandon café for a glass of bubbly. For a lovely dinner after your sporting excursion, try Freud y Fahler (Gurruchaga 1750) in the adjacent barrio of Palermo Soho for the richest ricotta ravioli this side of Italy.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For those of you who prefer to have a group adventure with a little guidance, check out REI Adventures “Wine Roads of the Andes Cycling,” a ten day, gourmet traveler’s delight through the wine country of Argentina and Chile. Accommodations provided at boutique luxury hotels and wine lodges.
Alvear Palace Hotel Buenos Aires Buenos Aires Design Center Cafe Tortoni Campo Argentino de Polo Casa Rosada Comme Il Faut Evita Filo Restaurant Fredd y Fahler Gil Antiguedades Gran Bar Danzon L'Orangerie La Brigada Nonna Bianca Palermo Pasaje la Defensa Plaza de Mayo Plaza Dorrego Recoleta Recoleta Avenue Alvear Recoleta Cemetery Retiro Rufina Cambaceres