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You say romance.  I say Buenos Aires.  That could be because the highlight of our trip was a proposal (to me from my now fiance!), but I’m quite sure it runs deeper than that.  Though Buenos Aires is a city all its own, hints of Paris and NYC shine through in the best ways.  Diverse neighborhoods easily accessible by foot, historic architecture and plentiful restaurants and cafes are easy parallels to these aforementioned cities and the romantic connection that people feel when visiting.

We spent a week in Buenos Aires at the end of August, at the tail end of their winter.  Quite similar to San Francisco’s summer ironically.  Our trip was much about relaxing, sleeping in, hitting the jacuzzi & pool at our hotel and simply spending time together (and getting engaged!!).  However, seeing the sites, taking in the culture, walking, shopping, eating and drinking wine were just as important in our 6 days on the ground.  The value of accommodations, food and drink was fabulous.  The wine especially was a tremendous value and some of the best that we’ve had in some time! If you’re thinking about Buenos Aires, GO!  Here are some things not to miss!

Where to stay:  We loved Fierro Hotel, a boutique hotel in the heart of hip Palermo Hollywood.  The hotel staff is super friendly and really helped to make our trip special, often going above and beyond. Our room, the penthouse, was like our own little apartment, complete with private, outdoor jacuzzi and view, plus a very comfortable bed.  The hotel pool is also a treat as they keep the temperature just right for a winter dip.  If I haven’t sold you yet, the hotel restaurant is not your run of the mill hotel afterthought.  A well-regarded chef is in charge and it was some of the best food that we had on the trip (see below for lunch/dinner recommendations). Everyday a three-course breakfast was prepared for us including coffee, juice, fruit, yogurt, bread basket, and some of the best scrambled eggs (with serrano ham toast point) that we’ve had!  Oh yeah, that’s included in the already reasonable room rate.  As you can tell, I’d highly recommend this as your home base!

Our Activity Highlights:

Cooking with Teresita – Though an hour and a half from Palermo Hollywood where we stayed, this 3.5 hour empanadas class was well worth the trip to the suburbs of Buenos Aires.  Teresita welcomes you into her home for a very intimate lesson with 8 people total in her traditional kitchen.  Though we certainly got our hands dirty, it was also quite relaxing with plenty of wine and chatting time, plus lots of delicious empanadas to eat!  We met some great people from LA and Guatemala and have a wonderful recipe to use at home.  Hint: take the bus that Teresita suggests as it is cheap and a direct route to her home. We took a cab on the way there which was a mistake.  It was expensive, the driver didn’t know where he was going and we wound up in some really sketchy areas.

Ballet at Teatro Colon – this theatre is amazing.  The stat is something like one of the top four theatres in the world and I believe it!  Reopening in the last year after years of rehabilitation has paid off.  I’ve never seen a theatre that has been restored to a seemingly painstaking level.  It’s a must see and if you can actually accomplish seeing it while seeing a performance (the ballet, opera and other shows are performed here), it’s a bonus.  We saw “Onegin” which was the best ballet that I’ve seen!

We knew that we had to see some tango while in Argentina, but we really didn’t want to go to a tourist trap.  We made that mistake in Paris going to the Lido for a cabaret and were really disappointed.  After getting much advice from our lovely hotel staff, we ended up at Carlos Gardel, supposedly one of the more traditional renditions as opposed to a hollywood rendition.  While the venue itself is touristy and they try to sell you on everything they can (and the drinks were highly overrated), the show itself was quite enjoyable.  We opted out of dinner which was the right call and ate before we went.  For tango shows which are bound to be tourist traps, I would recommend seeing this one.  They showcased a number of different styles of tango and the dancers were amazing!

For an escape from city life, the Palermo Woods are beautiful.  It was a refreshing destination with a rose garden, little lakes and a quaint art museum.  We had some fun and exercise renting peddle boats on the lake and roamed around the gardens for the afternoon.  This also happens to be where we got engaged, so it, of course, holds a special place in our hearts :).  For a true escape and some definite romance (no proposal required!), put a few hours aside for this outdoor adventure.

To see the entire city in one go, the Buenos Aires bus, operated by the city, is the way to go.  We covered a lot of ground in a few hours and could have hopped on and off as much as we liked.  A recorded guide allows you to gain some historical knowledge in any language as you ride the double decker bus.  One week is too short of a time to see all that the city has to offer, so this condensed city-wide tour was perfect.

Anuva Wines does wine tastings with food pairings a few times a day at the Rendezvous Hotel in Palermo.  It’s a great way to see Palermo if you aren’t staying in the neighborhood and it’s a wonderful way to try some delicious Argentine wines!  The pours are generous and the food a tasty snack.  Our lovely sommelier is native to the US, but has lived in Argentina for a few years.  She was quite knowledgeable and very personable.  Not only did we walk out with four bottles of wine (we could have bought a lot more – they were fantastic!!), she also sent us off with restaurant and shopping recommendations.  Most of the great Argentine wines aren’t exported to the US, so Anuva is a terrific resource for purchasing wine in the future.  The San Gimignano producer was one of our favorites!

Hungry??  Well, hop on that 14 hour flight (from SF) because the food and wine in Buenos Aires is muy bueno and easy on the old pocketbook. Word to the wise…ready yourself for cat naps before dinner because most restaurants don’t open until 8:30pm.  While all ethnicities and varieties are represented, Parillas (steakhouses) are by far the most popular.  The smell of steak wafts through the streets at any given hour.  We managed to have steak 3 times on our trip and were wanting more.  One important tidbit is that they do not salt their steaks prior to cooking or serving them.  Hence, you’ll find salt on every table and you need it!  Our first steak, though good, was surprisingly unseasoned and we were wrongly in the mindset that it was not prepared well.

Miranda was our favorite overall experience on the Parilla front. I will give some credit of that to Julian & Denise who joined us for dinner and made us feel quite at home throughout our trip (thank you!).  They also taught us the Parilla ropes here (thank you again!).  However, the restaurant itself was also fantastic with a hip, lively atmosphere and top notch food.  It’s quite NYC! While the steak was grilled to perfection and good, the desserts were to die for!  This should be on your list, though at least go for dessert if that’s all you can fit.

Other restaurant recommendations:

  • La Cabrera – a very traditional Parilla experience.  We’re talking old school (and a tad touristy), but a fun atmosphere, nonetheless, topped with an honest steak and accompaniments.  Thankfully, they encouraged us to share a steak which was the way to go as they are enorme!  Not to miss…the malbec!  One of our favorites on the trip, we had the Ciclos blend.  Dessert was so-so, but you can’t win them all.
  • Bio Restaurant – a perfect stop for lunch, this is a vegetarian spot that is diet relief after filling up on loads of beef!  The space is rustic and super cute with a very laid back, coffee house feel.  We tried a spinach pizza with vegan cheese that filled our veggie quota for the day and the cheese was surprisingly cheese-like!
  • Hernan Gipponi – Located in our boutique hotel (Fierro), this is a fit for foodies restaurant indeed.  Our breakfast every day was three courses with some of the best scrambled eggs, cooked to perfection.  For dinner, the menu is heavy on seafood, but a welcome departure from beef everywhere else!  All of the food, whether breakfast or dinner, was beautifully presented on the plate and thoughtfully prepared.  We had a most delicious scallop appetizer and halibut that melted in our mouths when we joined the restaurant for dinner.  A treat to be had!
  • Sirop Folie – another lunch find, this cafe down a quaint alley in Recoleta was a great resting point after walking through the must-see Recoleta Cemetary.  Rustic and charming, here we had the best Submarino (steamed milk with a bar of chocolate dropped in), alfajores (dulce de leche sandwich cookies) and a nice salad.  It’s known for afternoon tea (around 5pm), but it was the perfect lunch.
  • El Mirasol Campo y Mar – Our last dinner in Buenos Aires and another ribeye down, the views of the Puerto Madera waterway was worth the ride from Palermo.  We arrived on a Sunday evening around 8:15 and were the only people in the restaurant until our dessert arrived.  The waiter was attentive and slid in a few special touches that made our meal special.  The steak was the best on our trip.  It was super tender with the hint of fat that a ribeye should have and a ton of flavor (even without salt!).   The music and dining room was romantic…sigh…what a perfect ending!  We also loved yet another bottle of wine – this time only a half bottle – phew!

Well, I could go on as you may have guessed!  Our trip was dreamy and our first time in South America did not disappoint.  We came back well fed, well walked, a little more educated, bejeweled, engaged (hence the jewels), relaxed and ready for our next adventure.  A trip of a lifetime in our case, but a trip for anyone to be sure!  Enjoy!