A ruby-red riverfront palace, the Philippe Starck-designed Faena Hotel Buenos Aires occupies a converted granary with soaring ceilings and prime city views. Inside, the hotel is an art-inspired homage to Argentina, with one of the world’s best Malbec collections, a 1920s-inspired cabaret and, of course, tango lessons from local experts. Prep for a long night of dancing with a soak in steaming spa tubs and a dinner of steaks that set a new Argentinean standard.
Noon, but flexible (subject to availability and a fee depending on desired check-out time). Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £247.72 ($339).
Rates do not usually include breakfast, but do include access to the sauna and hammam.
At the hotel
Spa with hammam, sauna and relaxation room, fitness centre, bicycles to borrow, gym, DVD library, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: flatscreen TV, CD/DVD player, iPod dock, minibar, Organ & Co. bath products.
Our favourite rooms
With a freestanding tub designed by Philippe Starck and sweeping city views, the spacious Porteno Suites combine the best of city spirit and instant relaxation. The antiques-filled Skyline Rooms are smaller, but have oversized white leather chairs, dramatic red-velvet drapes and the best views of the river.
The outdoor infinity pool is surrounded by red sunloungers and pots of matching geraniums, with a giant gold crown-shaped fountain at the centre and a drinks service in summer.
The spa at Faena alone is worth the journey for its lengthy menu of botanical facials, energy-aligning chakras and deep-tissue massages. Get over jetlag in the candlelit marble hammam, warmed with eucalyptus-scented steam. The hotel also offers an array of private baths, including a detoxifying sea-breeze bath and a couples’ bath in a two-person tub, followed by a massage.
Tango shoes: the hotel offers individual lessons to give you moves for the Buenos Aires dance floors. Stylish swimwear is imperative for afternoons by the pool; if you forget, the hotel has a carefully curated boutique stocked with kaftans, bikinis, jewellery and other fashionable finds.
In good weather, take a table on the terrace for steak under the stars.
Glamour and glitz to make Eva Perón proud.
There are three. El Mercado, a trinket-filled space inspired by European bazaars – with a tin ceiling, tiled kitchen and wood-plan floors – serves a robust breakfast buffet of local specialties baked in an adobe oven. The modern, all-white Bistro Sur, which has walls lined with unicorn heads, serves European and Argentinian dishes, including perfectly charred steaks. The Library Lounge, decorated with velvet sofas, crystal candelabra and shelves of antique books, is an all-day café serving coffee, light lunch and afternoon tea with pastries.
El Cabaret channels 1920s Buenos Aires with red velvet, gold trim and a spectacular cabaret and tango show. Drinks are also available at the pool bar, with views of the gilded crown fountain, and from Faena Wine Cellar, the largest collection of wines in Argentina.
Breakfast is served at El Mercado from 7am to 11am (11.30am Saturday and Sunday). The Library Lounge serves food from 10am until 2am daily; dinner is available at Bistro Sur Thursday to Saturday, from 8pm to 11.30pm.
A robust menu of salads, sandwiches and Argentinean classics is available 24 hours a day.
Faena is located on Martha Salotti road in Puerto Madera, on the waterfront.
The city’s domestic airport is 25 minutes away by car. From Ezeiza International (airportbuenosaires.com), which operates flights directly from London (www.britishairways.com), New York (www.aa.com) and elsewhere, the drive will take around 45 minutes.
The nearest train station is Retiro, 3km, or 15 minutes’ drive, from the hotel. Three national lines depart from the station, connecting Buenos Aires to Rosario, Cordoba and other cities. The city also has a metro system with a station, Plaza de Mayo, a bit of a walk away.
The hotel offers valet parking for 300 Argentine pesos (about $20) a day.
Worth getting out of bed for
No visit to the city is complete without a stroll through the macabre maze of Recoleta Cemetery, which includes ornate crypts, towering mausoleums and a shrine to Eva Perón. The city also has a robust arts scene. In Puerto Madera, pop by Faena Arts Centre on Aimé Paine (+54 11 4010 9230; www.faena.com) to see contemporary local pieces. The National Museum of Fine Arts, on the other hand, could rival the Met or the Louvre with its massive collection of pieces from the Middle Ages through to the 20th century, including works by Argentine artists, along with classics from Degas, Gauguin and Modigliani. Book tickets to Teatro Colón, considered one of the best concert halls in the world, for exceptional opera, ballet and symphonies (www.teatrocolon.org.ar).
Most of the top restaurants are a short drive away, so grab a cab and explore the rest of the city. Barbecues, or parillas, are seemingly ubiquitous in Buenos Aires. Try some of the best meats in town at La Brigada on Estados Unidos in San Telmo (+54 11 4361 5557; www.parrillalabrigada.com.ar). Under gaucho memorabilia, to the tango music, try giant cuts of steak with local malbec. Near the hotel, Cabaña las Lilas on Alicia Moreau de Justo (+54 11 4313 1336; www.laslilas.com) serves giant helpings of Argentinean beef. Though La Cabrera in Palermo (+54 11 4832 5754; www.parrillalacabrera.com) is a hit with tourists, locals still pack the house for juicy roasted meats. Down from there, La Cupertina (+54 11 4777 3711) specialises in flaky empanadas filled with meat and vegetables, and ideal for lunch.
Breakfast in Argentina is often a pastry with coffee. For a taste of some of the city’s best, head to Oui Oui in Palermo Viejo (+54 11 4778 9614; ouioui.com.ar), a French-influenced spot with buttery croissants, strong coffee and light bites for lunch and dinner. Step aside, Italy: Argentina’s gelato is equally enticing. Though gelaterias abound, head to Belgrano for a scoop from Un’ Altra Volta (www.unaltravolta.com.ar) in Recoleta, which scoops a dozen different bittersweet chocolates, along with a silken dulce de leche.
I was hit with a blast of cool air as I walked through the grand doors of the Hotel Faena Buenos Aires – I exhaled a sigh of relief. My fiancée and I had arrived in Argentina's capital after a week in Uruguay's rustic beach paradise of Jose Ignacio, Uruguay. As charming as that paradise was, it didn't have air conditioning and so this first impression of the Faena was especially welcome.
Two butlers (that's right: two) escorted us up to our suite after a most pleasant check-in experience, and a bottle of private-label Faena wine was there waiting for us on the bright red lacquered banquette. (We expect to see lots of red here – Philippe Starck is the hotel’s designer, which means that his signature splashes of crimson are found everywhere).
Our dynamic duo demonstrated the room’s numerous buttons and gadgets to turn on and off the lights. One butler then directed our attention to the rectangular entertainment stand composed of decorative mirrors, and with a magician's flourish he spun this piece around to reveal a single mirror perfectly positioned right in front of the bed. Interesting.
Continuing with the reflecting-glass theme, the ensuite was encased in floor-to-ceiling mirrors (not my favorite design motif), but one that could easily be forgiven as the bathroom held the most inviting freestanding bath tub I’ve ever seen. But first things first: we collapsed on the big king-size bed and napped in the cranking cool air.
The hotel is set in the revived Puerto Madero neighborhood, an ideal playground for a chef, we discovered, as we strolled along the restaurant-lined Río de la Plata walkway. We kicked-off our gastronomic tour at the Peruvian/Japanese restaurant Osaka for an ambitious meal of Kobe beef, fried rice and a sea of sushi. We vowed we’d skip breakfast the next day.
A promise we couldn’t keep though, and we woke up with nothing but the buffet on our minds. I generally find that hotel breakfast buffets overwhelm with options. Faena however, got it just right with their spread of meats and cheeses, fresh fruits and pastries, a hanging honeycomb with fresh honey, eggs, sausage and potatoes.
Our attentive server Sebastian warmly called us by name and delivered traditional Argentinian breakfast items to our table without us even asking. In fact, when Sebastian learned that we’d be departing before the traditional Argentinian barbecue on the final day of our stay, he brought us a sampler plate of meat at breakfast. Who doesn’t love sweetbreads before 11 am?
At some point on every vacation, Ms Smith suggests that we do some touristy thing: see historic sights, visit museums or explore local neighborhoods. True to her travel style, she unfurled a map during breakfast, but all I could think about were the lounge chairs next to the placid pool with that giant gold crown at its center. I hinted that perhaps the gilded headpiece be the first piece of local ‘art’ we study.
We arrived at a very happy compromise, and for the next few days we fell into a relaxing rhythm of morning yoga, followed by breakfast, pooltime and city exploration in the afternoon. We’d return in the early evening for bonus pool time before dressing for dinner. The sun doesn’t set until after 8.30 in the summer (we were there in January) and dinner is late, so you can pack a lot into the long days.
As a chef, I am always looking to be inspired by a single taste, a creative dish or even a painting on the wall, and Buenos Aires appealed to all of my culinary senses. I knew to expect high quality with the Argentine emphasis on grass-fed beef and the wealth of fresh ingredients grown locally, but the level of cooking and presentation was a delight to discover.
Our evening at Tegui, in the trendy Palmero district, now stands as one of my top five favorite meals of all time. Germán Martitegui, the chef and owner, creates art on every plate while still honoring the true texture and taste of each ingredient. I am old fashioned in that I want food to taste and look like food, and chef Martitegui did a perfect job of combining molecular gastronomy with honest, delicious cooking.
Another fantastic restaurant was La Cabrera by Chef Gastón Riveira. In a city full of steakhouses, this one truly is the star. We had a bone-in rib eye that was perfectly cooked and presented on a long wooden board accompanied by tangy pickles, house-made sauces and creative sides.
We did indulge in something touristy one night and made a reservation for the hotel’s Rojo Tango show. It’s pretty pricey per person (it does include dinner, though), but well worth it just to spend time in the glamorous rococo-style theater. Plus, the performers were certainly much better than anything I’d painfully witnessed on Dancing With the Stars.
We never like to see a vacation come to an end, but it was particularly difficult to pull ourselves away from the fabulous Faena and beautiful Buenos Aires (so much so that we extended our stay by a few nights). Not to worry though, I’ve decided that I must come back to Buenos Aires every year, if only for that bath tub …