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.
In stark contrast to the pace of Buenos Aires is tranquil Mendoza province, a one-hour flight away on Chile's excellent airline, LAN. First stop is Mendoza itself, a city in the shadow of the Andes designed around a series of leafy, serene public squares and streets shaded by sycamore trees. Facing the main square, Plaza de la Independencia, is the Park Hyatt Mendoza, behind whose magnificent 19th-century façade is a modern, stylishly minimalist hotel that ticks all the right boxes for fussy out-of-towners: huge, well-appointed suites; an excellent restaurant with a gleaming open kitchen; and a full-service spa offering such indispensable treatments as the decadent, six-hour-long package created specially for brides.
Wine tasting is, naturally, the activity of choice in this region, and over the next few days, I keep bumping into couples on vineyard-crawls, their faces suffused with the happy glow that comes from being in love… and drinking Malbec at lunch. There is every kind of winery to sample from here, from artisanal (like Carmelo Patti, a two-man operation run by the label's namesake) to industrial-scale (the impressive Vistalba de Carlos Pulenta).
The drive to my last destination, Cavas Wine Lodge, traverses olive groves, rows of vines and trees burnished with autumn color. The arrival at the hotel is arresting: The whitewashed, hacienda-style main house has as its singular backdrop the snow-capped Andes mountain range. My suite, or vignette, is one of 14 adobe dwellings set among the vines and features a private plunge pool, rustically cozy interior and a rooftop with daybed and panoramic views of the landscape. The hotel can even arrange for guests to “sleep under the stars” on their rooftop in summer.
On my last day, I do what any good oenophile would by immersing myself in grape culture… literally. The spa at Cavas has embraced vinotherapy, and its menu includes Malbec scrubs and wine-yeast wraps. As I lie in a claw-foot tub of water stained deep burgundy, I'm filled with a longing to come back and explore Argentina further. Like the antioxidant-rich red-wine extracts I'm soaking in, this fascinating and passion-filled country really gets under the skin.
Faena Hotel + Universe, rooms from $550, faenahotelanduniverse.com. Alvear Palace, rooms from $800, alvearpalace.com. Park Hyatt Mendoza, rooms from $270, Mendoza.part.hyatt.com. Cavas Wine Lodge, rooms from $400, cavaswinelodge.com.