Welcome to the Hotel Argentina: you can horse ride any time you like, but you may never want to leave. Estancia la Bamba de Areco's sprawling grounds, first-class equestian heritage and historic style are the stuff South American dreams are made of. Throw in an inviting pool, elaborate asado barbecues and a squad of staffers dressed like gauchos, and checking out starts to sound like a nightmare.
Get this when you book through us:
A bottle of champagne in your room; GoldSmith members also get an empanada-cooking class
Grab a spot outdoors – watch the sun go down by the pool as you dine, perhaps?
For lunch, come as you are – your fellow guests will probably arrive fresh from a ride across the grounds. Dress up for dinner – nothing high fashion's expected, but country-house finery will see you fit right in.
The dining room feels very much more like your Argentine millionaire friend's home than a hotel. Guests eat together at the antique dining table (or privately elsewhere on the estate if you prefer) and the traditional asado, or barbecue, is at the heart of your estancia experience: expect elaborate lunches of salads sweetbreads, chorizos, and various cuts of beef grilled to perfection. All meals are included in your room rate, so dig in.
There’s no bar as such, but wine is served with every meal (and included in your room rate) and cocktails are available pre dinner and on request. And between meals, feel free to pour yourself a little something (although there'll usually be an eager staffer standing by to aid you).
You’ll breakfast from 8.30am to 10am; lunch is served at 1.30pm and tea at 5 pm. Sip your pre-dinner cocktails at 8.15pm, and then sit down to dinner at 8.30pm or 9.00pm.
Ministro Pistarini International Airport (EZE) is about an hour’s drive away; it’s Argentina’s busiest airport and has regular flights from all over the globe.
If you’ve rented a car to explore the rural expanses of the province, you’ll find free parking on site.
Taking the chopper? Touch down on the estancia’s polo fields.
Worth getting out of bed for
With an entire ranch at your disposal – and a pleasingly middle-of-nowhere setting beyond – Estancia la Bamba de Areco is very much a place to stay put. Ride the resident equine beauties whenever you fancy, or trek out on hikes and bike rides as long or as lazy as you like. There's also plentiful fly fishing and bird watching to be done, and if you're lucky there'll be an equestrian show or polo match to take in: an international polo team calls the estancia home.
If you must venture beyond the grounds, hotel staff can arrange tours of the small town of San Antonio de Areco nearby, home to the Ricardo Güiraldes Gaucho Museum and a handful of traditional artisans to visit.
If Buenos Aires is a bit like Paris or Barcelona (blue skies, beautiful, and rather familiar), the Argentine Pampas – ’plains’, in English – are unlike anything Mr Smith or I have ever experienced before. We surmised they might resemble the Cotswolds, but drier? Or maybe the Canadian prairies? Or even Napa Valley – Argentina is famed for its Malbec, after all…
Geographic ignorance aside, what we find are big, open skies; lush, fertile grassland (lots of it); and cowboys. This, apparently, is where all the cowboys have gone. And we’re not talking rough-and-tumble, Spaghetti Western dudes either – these are cowboys with class. Here, they’re called gauchos and at luxury hotel Estancia la Bamba de Areco, they rule the land. Their presence is everywhere.
On arriving at the ranch’s brick-red gate, a gaucho in traditional dress canters toward us on the handsomest horse I’ve ever seen, leading our car down a tree-lined lane towards a welcoming committee. No joke: ‘Look, look! exclaims Mr Smith, ‘they’re all waiting for us!’ Sure enough, eight staff in matching chinos and crisp white shirts stand in a row, waiting to receive us, some holding tightly rolled wet face towels to wipe our brows, others holding glasses of cold water. Some are just there to say hello. Our hire car is unpacked and whisked off site: the seven-kilometre dirt road to the property, we’re told, turns quickly to deep, sticky mud when it rains – and the rain, they say, is coming (it doesn’t). ‘Anyway,’ they reassure us, ‘you won’t need your car while you’re here!’
And they‘re right. La Bamba has just 11 rooms, set on a massive estate that includes two of Argentina’s best polo fields. There’s also a glorious pool, state-of-the-art stables for the championship ponies, staff accommodation and farmland as far as the eye can see. It’s as if the whole of the Argentine countryside belongs to La Bamba. Or it feels that way, anyway.
But back to the gauchos. We arrive just after lunch: a ‘light snack’ of traditional barbecued steak, ribs, chicken, chorizo and sausages, plus salads. Then, we’re treated to a horse show. We’re not sure what to expect. Will the gaucho sing? Dance with his horse? Will jumping be involved? Settled into a semi-circle on stretched-out loungers, the manager, Maria, asks us to stay quiet – ‘so the gaucho and his horse can concentrate together,’ she says – and then the show begins. It’s incredible: a mesmerising, horse-whispering show demonstrating the bond between horse and rider. At times, it’s sensual (for instance, when the gaucho coaxes his horse into a lying position, then slips between its front legs into a spooning position of sorts); at others, it’s simply breathtaking – like when the gaucho runs forward and leapfrogs into a standing position on the horse’s back.
Sufficiently impressed, we’re shown to our room. Each suite is named after a polo pony; ours is Gato, or ‘cat’ in Spanish. Like a Siamese, it’s sophisticated and elegant, just a touch aloof: dark-wooden floors, antique colonial furniture, modern South American art. It’s beautiful, and we feel right at home, even though we’re acutely aware that it’s about 25 degrees warmer than London.
Another big difference from home: no TV or phone in our room. This, of course, is a conscious decision, as is the fact that the WiFi access is restricted to the entertainment room and a few other areas on the property. Mobile phone coverage this far out in the plains is also patchy; after a few hours (with true withdrawal symptoms, let’s be honest) we embrace digital detox.
Unencumbered by emails and Instagram, Mr Smith and I become new people. We seek out the other guests – real human beings! – rather than those in our screens. We play backgammon in the library. I actually read the words in the coffee-table books I pick up. We go on a horseback ride led by the gaucho and play fetch with the resident retrievers. We snack on medialunas – sweet, local croissants – at afternoon tea. We watch the parrots nesting in the trees and compare notes on what we see through our binoculars. And we laze by the pool, drinking Argentine beer and snacking on empanadas and fresh fruit. The teenage siblings we spy sulking around the grounds are obviously at their wits’ end, but we couldn’t be happier.
Real, live human interaction is again encouraged at dinner, which is a communal, three-course affair preceded by apéritifs in the lounge. It’s unconventional, perhaps, but most guests seem to come to La Bamba for two nights or so, which means we’re treated to new dinner companions throughout our stay. A cheeky duo from Coventry; a warm, lovely couple from Manhattan; a retired OBE and his wife on a mission to prove wrong their adult children’s accusations of being ‘boring’ – it’s a lively, well-travelled group; Mr Smith and I regale them with our own travel tales as we indulge in the best fillet steak I’ve ever tasted, followed by crêpes bursting with dulce de leche. And, like youngsters on a gap-year holiday, we exchange email addresses with everyone, vow to return (next time during the polo season, so we can watch a proper match) and promise to stay in touch – and we have. Because that’s the thing about La Bamba: its spirit stays with you.