WHY ARGENTINA SHOULD BE ON EVERY TRAVELLERS' WISH LIST
Be it tango,soccer, family gatherings over asado and empanadas or friends simply savouring a glass of Malbec or enjoying some mate, Argentineans do everything with immense zest.
By Farzana Contractor
Be it tango, soccer, family gatherings over asado and empanadas or friends simply savouring a glass of Malbec or enjoying some mate, Argentineans do everything with immense zest.
I have been pretty much of an international vagabond and in all my travels far and wide, if I were asked to pick a land which filled me with excitement and a sense of adventure, I’d say, without doubt, “Argentina!”
Passion is the thread that holds this nation. Be it tango, soccer, family gatherings over asado and empanadas or friends simply savouring a glass of Malbec or enjoying some mate, Argentineans do everything with immense zest. The country is as massive as it is diverse. Its terrain encompasses the Andes Mountains, glacial lakes and the Pampas grasslands – the traditional grazing ground of its famed beef cattle. Between Iguazu Falls in the north and Patagonia in the south, Argentina’s natural beauty is awe-inspiring.
Buenos Aires, the capital, is a bustling, cosmopolitan city with beautiful architecture; streets that are lined with innumerable cafes and restaurants, and a thriving nightlife. Milongas, being de rigeur, are where locals and tourists alike end up for a bit of tango, wining and dining. The city that never sleeps is also counted among the great theatre capitals, rating Teatro Colon, as a global landmark for opera and classical performances, with its acoustics considered to be among the world’s top five.
The one visit that remains etched in my memory is the one I made to the Cementario de la Recoleta and to Eva Peron’s tomb. This has to be among the world’s finest walled ‘city of the dead’, all of 14 acres, solemnly beautiful and artistically moving. The bronze statues looking down on you tell you stories of love, pain and separation from loved ones.
You can’t be in Buenos Aires and not drive down to an estancia- an Argentinean ranch house where I met a cowboy, also known as a gaucho, for the first time and we went riding through the vast estate. Later, I was introduced to delicious meat-stuffed empanadas and some Argentinean barbeque that went well with the world famous Argentinean wine, Malbec, which hails from the wine region of Mendoza.
Argentina’s vineyards, stretching from Salta in the north to Chubut in the south forms a web of fascinating landscapes, offering a great variety of wines. I visited many wineries and even tasted an umpteen number of wines, of which I have to recommend the winery of Bodega Cecchin. It is an endearing and organic place, to start with. A fact that is reflected in every aspect, right from the cultivation of the grape fruit to the labeling of the bottles. I enjoyed a meal as I sat on a rustic wooden table under the ancient walnut tree and watched children playing on the grass while a house cat frolicked nearby. What a complete picture of charm and ease!
Nestling in the northwest corner of Argentina, is Salta a hidden gem, picturesque with a rich colonial heritage. What may first appear as a charming little town is actually a fairly large city. After walking around in the old square with beautiful buildings adorned by some outstanding wrought iron works, you can take a cable car from San Martin Park to San Bernado Hill for a bird’s eye view of the city.
Cafayate, the neighbouring town, which is a wine region and dubbed the Tuscany of Argentina, is truly intriguing. It was here that I had my first encounter with a llama, the wise old beast. In this place, you see handicrafts, which seem to have come from another time and space. I learnt about Pachamama, the Inca (indigenous people of the Andes) Goddess, who protects you, as you drive through this rough terrain. The tradition is to offer sweets to the Goddess before you embark on your journey. As for the beauty of the place, it is a combination of Colorado’s Grand Canyon and the topography of India’s Leh Ladakh.
My next destination was Grandes Salinas. Bet you’ve never heard of this place, that’s because it feels like it is on the edge of the earth. It is a massive salt desert. The area used to be a lake (probably thousands of years ago). When it dried up it left these salt deposits, the crust being half a meter thick. It’s simply jaw-dropping. I spent that night at a place called Purmamarca, right in the middle of the Andes. It was quaint as most of Argentina is. As I stood there in front of Cerro de los Siete Colores (Hill of Seven Colours), it seemed like I was looking at God’s best piece of art.
The quality of experiences in a new land is what makes you arrive at an opinion. Mine were personal, warm and interactive thus for me, Argentina is easy, hospitable and so much fun. It is a place I could visit again and one that should be on every traveller’s wish list.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Farzana Contractor, publisher and editor of UpperCrust, is an intrepid traveller, partial to food and wine, people and photography.