Amor en Argentina
Discover the sultry allure of Buenos Aires and Mendoza
Passion. Drama. Romance. The words that best describe Argentina turn out, happily enough, to also be synonyms for love. It's not just the tango that will sweep you off your feet here—although one should be prepared for that to happen. This South American beauty will also lure you in, as it did me, with fascinating street life, effervescent glamour and a burgeoning new-world wine scene to rival Napa Valley. (Not to mention it offers excellent value thanks to the strength of the greenback against the peso.)
This is my second trip to Buenos Aires, and I'm more than ready to reacquaint myself with a city that has always stayed with me, like that proverbial first kiss. I check in to Faena, the boutique hotel in the riverfront Puerto Madero district conceived by entrepreneur Alan Faena and designer Philippe Starck. I'm not sure what Faena's brief to Starck was, but it's a pretty sure bet the word drama was involved. The foyer is a long “catwalk” covered with red carpet, the hallways are sexily low-lit, and the public spaces—like El Bistro, the all-white restaurant adorned with unicorn-head sculptures—are lavish set pieces perfectly suited to the European jet-set clientele.
In the elegant barrio, or neighborhood, known as Recoleta, an equally memorable scene awaits. The Alvear Palace, one of the city's most iconic hotels, is all belle epoque luxury, from the white-gloved waiters at breakfast in L'Orangerie, to the Empire and Louis XV furnishings and Hermès toiletries (accommodations also come complete with that timeless necessity: a butler).
While the city of BA is spread out, the main attractions for travelers are clustered in just a few barrios. I start at the Casa Rosada, the salmon pink presidential palace from whose balcony Evita Perón famously greeted the masses. The stately building faces the Plaza de Mayo, a lively square surrounded by neoclassical French architecture and wide avenues that epitomizes BA's unique brand of cool—a melange of old-world European charm and passionate Latin American spirit.
From there I make my way by (rather ancient) taxi to La Boca, the most vibrant of the city's barrios. This district is famous for its cobbled streets and candy-colored buildings, once home to the city's impoverished artistic community, who used leftover paint from the nearby shipyards to transform their corrugated-iron buildings into lived-in works of art. Less colorful but more stylish is Palermo, an upscale neighborhood of high-end boutiques and shaded cafés that warrants a leisurely afternoon spent promenading and testing the limits of the credit card.