Travel: Why Buenos Aires is the vintage beauty who'll never lose her looks
[STANDFIRST] The Argentine capital is a city on the rise. Sarah Marshall finds out what’s new and exciting right now.
A belle epoch beauty whose looks have endured the ravages of time, Argentina’s capital is still a stunner several centuries after the first bricks were laid. Her bone structure remains solid, with ornate neoclassical buildings preserved in historic barrios, and a little restoration work (at some point, we all need it) has made her greatest attributes shine once more.
The Teatro Colon opera house is an elegant display of shimmering chandeliers, polished marble and plush velvet seating, while the Casa Rosada is a salmon-pink source of architectural admiration almost too glamorous to be a government house.
But although Buenos Aires revels in her past, she’s enthusiastically embracing the future. Dynamic new restaurants are a step beyond the traditional meat-sizzling parrillas, and wine bars have shifted to serving more than a selection of malbecs. Local designers tout their collections in the shopfronts of fashionable Palermo, and even the refined, sleepy Recoleta district is waking up to a daringly progressive arts scene.
While the wistful sentiments of Carlos Gardel and Astor Piazzolla still waft from tango houses, the next generation of portenos is moving to a new beat.
Last year, Norwegian, who operate a direct flight to the city, launched a series of regional routes to locations such as Salta and Bariloche – all part of a plan to transform Buenos Aires into a South American hub. Whether it’s for a stopover or a long stay, the city is destined to grow in popularity, and there’s enough here to convince tourists to stick around.
Charmingly shabby around the edges, this is a capital with architectural and cultural clout – but it’s far from being a dusty relic in an antique store. Instead, old spaces and long-standing traditions have been injected with new life to create an appealing proposal. After all, there’s nothing more attractive than a siren who’s young at heart.
These are a few of the hot spots to check out…
Corte Carniceria, Olazabal 1391/95
Meat is a staple in the Argentine diet, but few steakhouses are as sustainable as this neighbourhood restaurant and butcher’s shop – every part of the animal is used and nothing goes to waste. Cuts are reassuringly fresh (local residents shop here) and provenance is key. Look out for 15-20-day aged beef – a new concept for the city.
Facon, Nicaragua 4880
From painted wooden jaguar masks to chairs carved from cacti plants, every piece for sale in Martin Bustamante’s beautiful Palermo store has a story to tell. The eager traveller and patriot roams remote areas of his country, seeking artists with handicrafts to sell, and every piece he purchases comes with a tale of its creation. Some works are literally one of a kind and offer insight into areas of Argentine indigenous culture which are often unknown or overlooked. Clearly proud of his roots, Martin also sells a roll of Argentinian flag by the metre. Visit facon.com.ar.
Gran Dabbang, Avenida Raul Scalabrini Ortiz 1543
It’s rare a dining room with simple tables and a menu under £15 per head makes it into the hallowed Latin America’s Best 50 Best restaurants list; but this laid-back, street-food success story is an exception to the norm. Combining a hotch-potch of Latin flavours with Asian spice, Mariano Ramon’s tasting dishes are brazenly ambitious – but somehow they work. Vegetarians will find his focus on green stuff particularly refreshing.
Casa Cavia, Cavia 2985
A refined throwback to the 1920s, this exquisitely-restored property may have many functions, but it’s homely appeal remains intact. In the flower-filled courtyard, cocktails inspired by musicians are presented on vinyl menus (scan a barcode to hear the song on Spotify) – and dining is just as playful. A library is stacked with books from a publishing house based upstairs; perhaps it’s down to an appetite for reading or the absence of Amazon, but in Argentina, the printing press is still thriving. And those pretty blooms? You can buy your own bouquet from a florist on site. Visit casacavia.com.
Centro Cultural Recoleta, Junin 1930
Sandwiched between a monastery and the famous cemetery where Eva Peron was laid to rest, this protected building is now a creative hub of galleries, workshop spaces and courtyards, where people can generally hang out. Teenagers are invited to freestyle and beatbox in arenas, and in the summer, DJs play to crowds out front. Supported by the government, it’s an expression of just how progressive this country has become. Visit centroculturalrecoleta.org.
Vico Wine Bar, Gurruchaga 1149
Thought Argentine wine was just about malbec? Yes, the silky-soft ruby tipple is the most popular drink at this modern wine bar in Palermo, but with 80 bottles on the list (all served by the glass thanks to a computerised dispensing system) there are plenty more to try. And with sample serves costing less than £1, there’s really no excuse not to experiment. Top up a prepaid card at the bar and serve yourself from the machines. Visit vicowinebar.com.ar.
Mio Buenos Aires Hotel, Avenida Quintana 465
Once a quiet, refined neighbourhood, Recoleta is enjoying a bit of a buzz, and this sleek high-rise property is set right in the thick of the action. Carved oak freestanding baths give modern design-led rooms welcome warmth, and the 8th floor spa and lap pool are a mini oasis in the urban sprawl. Although small, there always seems to be space in the breakfast room – although it’s tempting to nip out and get a caffeine fix at famous heritage cafe La Biela, which is just around the corner. Doubles from £127.50 per night with breakfast. Visit miobuenosaires.com/en.
How to get there
Norwegian (norwegian.com/uk; 0330 828 0854) flies direct from London Gatwick to Buenos Aires in a Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft from £210 one-way and £420 return LowFare economy, and £550 one-way and £1,080 return in Premium, including all taxes and charges, and subject to availability.