Buenos Aires . . . Then What?

San Antonio de Areco: Gauchos Juan Fortina (left) and Victor Eduardo Tatta, who goes by the name Coco (Roberto Westbrook)
San Antonio de Areco: Gauchos Juan Fortina (left) and Victor Eduardo Tatta, who goes by the name Coco (Roberto Westbrook)

The Argentine capital is at the top of everyone's list these days, what with all the gorgeous architecture, world-class shopping, and, of course, tango, the sexiest dance on the planet. (The fact that the dollar still goes quite far in B.A. certainly doesn't hurt either.) But the truth of the matter is that you can see the best of the city in four days. And if you're spending 10 or more hours on a plane, you probably want to settle in awhile. We've come up with three excellent side trips--all within striking distance of the city--that make the long flight more than worth it.

Be a Cowboy for a Day
Ninety minutes from B.A., San Antonio de Areco is the heart of gaucho country

At Estancia La Bamba, about 15 minutes outside San Antonio de Areco, I sit atop a horse named Poroto (Bean) alongside Juan Fortina, a gauchito who lives on the cattle ranch. In front of us spread the 400 acres of La Bamba.

On sunny days, dozens of visitors descend on the ranch for a día de campo, or day in the country. It's the perfect combination of gluttony, exhilaration, and relaxation that begins with fried empanadas and an aperitif from the open bar, and continues with a horse ride through the fields, an outdoor asado (buffet lunch of grilled meats, salads, and wine), a poolside siesta, another ride, and afternoon tea and cake. A handful of guests choose to stay the night in cabins that surround the main house.

Juan turns to me with a giddy, guileless grin. "I've been riding since I was 4, and I'm 7. That's three years," he says. "Wanna gallop?"

When my wife, Cintra, and I arrived in Argentina a year ago, I'd never gotten a horse out of first gear, but before I can answer, Juan kicks his horse into a sprint and Poroto follows. As we speed across the fields, the saddle beats bruises into my thighs, my heart pounds, and I holler with glee. I look around to see if Cintra can see the cowboy me, but she's off on a long walk with the two friends who have joined us for the weekend.

The day before, we'd piled into a taxi for the 70-mile trip through the empty pampas northwest of Buenos Aires. We set up camp in San Antonio de Areco at Hostal de Areco, a terra-cotta-colored hotel 50 yards from the town's riverside park. Our rooms are basic but very comfortable, and there's a garden with chairs for lounging and reading.

I feel a little bit bowlegged after our day at Estancia La Bamba, but that evening we walk over to La Esquina de Merti. The restaurant, with a retro saloon interior--black-and-white-tile floor, walls decorated with scores of antique bottles and signs--is packed with people eating the kind of food a gaucho doesn't normally see, dishes like ravioli stuffed with octopus and linguine in a wild boar ragout.

Daniel Orellano, whose family owns the Hostal de Areco, recommends we check out Puesto La Lechuza after dinner. The traditional pulpería (bar/corner store) has live music after 9 P.M. We arrive to find a band playing Argentine standards while red-faced cowboys in traditional baggy bombacha pants and dark berets (known as boinas) whoop, sing, and dance along.

The following morning, we stop in at the Museo de Platería Gauchesca y Taller Abierto Draghi, known locally as Museo Draghi, on the town's main square. Owner Juan José Draghi is a silversmith who has made everything from stirrups to belt buckles for both local cowboys and celebrities like Luciano Pavarotti and Ronald Reagan. Inside the museum and atelier, our guide, María Fernanda Laserre, shows us a set of ceremonial silver-and-gold reins and accessories that Draghi is forging for a wealthy Spanish estancia owner. "It will take two years to finish and use more than 50 pounds of silver," she says of the $50,000 getup.

A year ago, the silversmith's son, Patricio Draghi, broke away from the family business and set up his own atelier around the corner. "I spent 20 years making the gaucho things and I got tired," Patricio says and laughs. Instead of cowboy paraphernalia, pages from jewelry-trade magazines and old copies of Vogue litter his shop tables. His intricate necklaces and bracelets are decorated with draghi--the Italian word for dragons.

The definitive gaucho novel, Don Segundo Sombra, was published in 1926, and the Parque Criollo y Museo Gauchesco Ricardo Güiraldes is named for its author. Güiraldes fell in love with gaucho culture at his family's ranch, and based his book on the stories of the men who worked there. In a whitewashed building across the Areco River from our hotel, the museum houses gaucho brands and knives, as well as photographs of and manuscripts by Güiraldes.

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