Alma Histórica Boutique Hotel, a 1920s townhouse turned bed and breakfast, offers a crash course in Uruguayan history. This culture-packed pad – ideally placed for a pit stop before hitting Punta del Este’s beaches – has rooms styled after Uruguayan figureheads in music, art and sport, and decked out in antiques. Heritage sites abound in the hotel’s Old Town barrio, or you can skip the history lesson and head straight for the rooftop hot tub.
Get this when you book through us:
A bottle of premium sparkling wine, a box of locally produced chocolates and late check-out (subject to availability).
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 2pm.
Double rooms from $114.24.
Rates include a buffet breakfast with breads and pastries, cereals, yoghurt, fresh orange juice and coffee.
Italian owners Cate and Dario welcome you like an old friend, and they’re better than a guidebook when it comes to must-try local hotspots.
At the hotel
Coffee shop and lounge, roof terrace, hot tub, library, concierge, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: Smart TV, minibar, air-conditioning. IPads and local smartphones are available to borrow.
Our favourite rooms
The room inspired by romance poet Delmira Agustini is a blush-pink, chandelier-lit boudoir evocative of vintage romance. The turquoise, art nouveau-style Susana Soca room (named after Picasso’s muse) is equally charming, with artwork-peppered walls and his ‘n‘ hers balconies. The blue-and-grey palette of the Carlos Gardel suite is a little more sombre, but you can take languid breakfasts on the private terrace with sweeping city views.
There’s no pool, but the cobbled roof terrace has a decked hot tub with views of the Old Town. The green plaza below is popular with locals, but noise is minimal, so this potted-fern and sunlounger-scattered spot is a serene city hideaway.
A few tango moves; Uruguayans swear the dance was invented here before Argentineans got swept up in the craze. A pretty flapper-style dress and a pair of brogues and – if he sports one – moustache wax for Mr Smith.
Friendly hosts Dario and Cate can arrange in-room spa treatments with 24 hours notice.
Children can stay, but this grown-up stay has little to keep them entertained.
As relaxed as you like: a vintage tea dress for her, and a tailored shorts and shirt combo for Mr Smith, will look the part.
Breakfast is served in the tea room, which has an eye-catching living feature wall and pretty period furnishings. A generous cold breakfast buffet is laid out here each morning, with some hot à la carte options; light dishes such as pizza, soups and a few seasonal surprises are served for lunch and dinner, but Montevideo’s accomplished dining scene beckons. The reasonably priced afternoon tea has sweet and savoury pastries with coffee and tea, all served on dainty mismatching china.
The laid-back atmosphere means you can drink wherever you like in the hotel: the button-back love seat or chesterfield nook in the library, soaking in the hot tub, in bed. The menu has a choice of bottles from Mendocenian winery Trapiche, sauvignon blanc and tannat from the Garzón region, sparkling wine, spirits, beers and soft drinks.
Official hours are: breakfast at 8am–10.30am, afternoon tea until 7pm and snacks until 10pm, but the owners are happy to indulge early or late arrivals. Drinks are available round the clock.
Breakfast can be taken in your room. If staying in a suite, have a table set up on the private terrace. Ring down to reception for drinks any time, night or day.
The hotel sits opposite leafy Plaza Zabala in Montevideo’s Old Town, where cafés, galleries, theatres and boutiques inhabit decorous turn-of-the-century townhouses.
Carrasco International Airport (www.aeropuertodecarrasco.com.uy) is the closest hub, a 45-minute drive from the hotel. Flights from Buenos Aires or Santiago are around an hour; Aerolineas Argentinas and LAN Airlines run frequent services.
Once you’ve grown accustomed to the city’s roundabouts and staking a claim on your lane, driving in Montevideo is fairly fuss free. There’s an Avis car-hire booth at Carrasco International; a charged car park (US$13 for 24 hours) is a five-minute walk away.
There’s a high-speed ferry across the Río de la Plata from Buenos Aires, run by Buquebus (www.buquebus.com), the journey takes about two hours.
Worth getting out of bed for
You can’t stay in the hot tub all day… Montevideo’s cache of architectural intrigues, historic plazas and edifying museums await. Start with a stroll through Plaza Zabala, presided over by a horse-mounted statue of colonial soldier Bruno Mauricio de Zabala, then wander to nearby Palacio Taranco (+598 2915 6060). This lavish Rococo-hued residence, former home of the Taranco-Ortiz dynasty, houses the Museum of Decorative Arts; it’s worth visiting for its architecture and interiors as much as the artefacts. Arrived too late to catch the throbbing drumbeats and candombe dances of Uruguay’s annual carnival (held in late January)? Its elaborate costumes, puppets, masks and grotesqueries are displayed at the Carnival Museum (+598 2915 0807), a 10-minute walk away on Francisco Maciel Street. On the way back to the hotel, stop in to the Museum of Pre-Colombian and Indigenous Art(+598 2916 9360), which has a permanent collection of carved figurines, ceremonial vessels, intricately tooled leather saddles and ceramic tablados (elaborate carnival scenes). Plaza Independencia, the border between the Old Town and downtown is a 15-minute walk east from the hotel. Keep an eye out for the Gateway of the Citadel while you’re there. Just beyond lies pseudo-Gothic building Palacio Salvo, designed by Italian architect Mario Palanti. When its original antenna was removed, the lighthouse-topped structure lost its title of tallest building in South America; however, it still inspires heated architectural debate. Love it or loathe it, its certainly eye-catching. End your day with a play at the neoclassical Solís Theatre (+598 1950 3323) close by.
Bringing together South America’s gourmet know how and European haute cuisine, Montevideo has a sophisticated restaurant scene. Parilla (local steakhouse) Pulperia (+598 2710 8657) is wildly popular with locals and reassuringly hard to find (before 8pm there’s no sign outside). Meat in all its forms – sausage links, string-tied joints, roasting birds and thick steaks – make it a strictly carnivorous affair. Within walking distance of the hotel, Italian eatery Jacinto (+598 2915 2731) balances its tempting meat dishes with well-thought-out vegetarian offerings: zucchini and potato frittata with lemon confit and almonds, and spiced carrots with mozzarella orange and cashew nuts. We love the sophisticated sandwiches on the lunch menu too. Even the most ardent critic of restaurant Instagramming will be whipping out their phones at Sin Pretensions (+598 2916 9972) to capture the pink, herb-dusted ravioli and flower-sprinkled salads at this Old Town joint. Oils, wines, spices, home-made jams and flavoured salts are sold here too; take our advice and grab a bottle of the smoked-chilli and vanilla salt to pep up meals back home.
Café Brasilero (+598 2917 2035) is a 19th-century café in the Old Town with wood-panelling, a slapdash assortment of artwork and a loyal local following. There’s strong coffee, satisfying porky sandwiches and hunger-quenching breakfasts and afternoon teas.
Shambolic but super fun establishment Baar Fun Fun (+598 2904 4859), where every inch of wallspace is covered in portraits of renowned dancers and playbills, prides itself on showing a real tango show. Scintillating versions of the Volver, Cambaleche and Caminito tangos are performed while guests nibble on tapas.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this old-school bed and breakfast in Montevideo, unpacked their bottle of tannat wine and recounted their hastily learnt tango steps, a full account of their cultural city break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a hand-written love letter from Alma Histórica Boutique Hotel…
If these walls could talk – or indeed, sing – there would be one hell of a party: romance poet Delmira Agustini reciting erotic verse at the vanity in her powder-puff-pink boudoir, tango compositions drifting from musician Gerardo M Rodriguez’s bedroom and champion aviator Cesáreo Berisso preparing for take off in his sky-blue Classic room. The artfully tarnished hand mirrors, retro novels and lovingly worn suitcases in rooms and mismatched English bone china complete the classic complexion; however, to truly revivify the past, you only need to step outside. The hotel’s in the heart of Montevideo’s Old Town, where the legacy of European immigrants and Spanish colonists is evident in buildings’ lacy balconies and art deco detailing. Need to snap back to the present? The rooftop hot tub is a welcome modern update.
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