Sandwiched between the Uruguayan countryside and the Atlantic is Luz Culinary Wine Lodge: a nature-first hotel with 35 acres of private land and just six rooms. The single-storey vermillion-red posada is bordered by pinares, olive groves and a laguna – not to mention the heated infinity pool, cabana-esque gin bar and sunken outdoor lounge. Its location – just outside the rustic José Ignacio – remains one of South America’s best-kept secrets. Sprawling beaches, charming cafés and ocean-side seafood shacks make this former fishing village a destination for those who’ve already seen the world, and wish to get away from it for a while.
11am, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 2pm.
Double rooms from £327.38 ($400).
Rates include an à la carte breakfast, served in the pool-side gallery room or as an early-bird picnic in the olive groves. Enjoy beetroot-topped toast, coconut yogurt, a natural juice with hits of açaí or lucuma, and speciality Maldonado-roasted coffee.
The undulating olive plantation and sun-worshipping vineyards were designed and positioned to maximise the natural benefits of the nearby Atlantic and the refreshing ocean winds that breeze across the land, in contrast to the high summer temperatures. Luz’s homegrown olive oil is a unique blend of coratina and arbequina olives: resulting in an oil that’s incredibly fruity and aromatic.
At the hotel
Tennis court, saltwater infinity pool, exercise room, fishing rods, bikes, go karts, gin bar, restaurant. In rooms: WiFi, hairdryers, wardrobes, towels, robes and slippers, beach bags and towels, locally-made organic toiletries
Our favourite rooms
All rooms are decorated with calm colours and soft lines, taking inspiration from traditional Moroccan architecture. Rustic, charming and sophisticated – the luxurious rooms have everything you need (soft linens, reading benches, open wardrobes and super king-size beds), and nothing you don’t – and each space has a unique view of the surrounding sea of pines, olive groves and vineyards from its private terrace. Choose a studio for extra space, and an uber-indulgent free-standing tub in your marble bathroom.
Take a walk through the pine forest to the piscina – a heated infinity pool with views of the estate. White stone flooring and ruby red loungers complement the wood, straw and rattan of the pool building and gin bar (strategically placed so that you can sip then swim, swim then sip). There’s a sand garden with Moroccan-inspired beanbags, bar stools under boho-style lanterns, and a cabana-style seating area providing shade from the South American sun.
There’s a singular treatment room housed in the pool building, where you can choose a bespoke treatment – massages, facials and the like – from a treatment list inspired by Swiss wellbeing practises. In the next room you’ll find Flintstone-esque exercise equipment – hand-made leather-coated kettlebell weights, yoga mats and rustic weights – to be taken to your favourite patch of land in the estate and used at your leisure.
Brush up on your wine-wisdom pre-arrival. We think these phrases might come in handy: ‘balanced’, ‘full-bodied’, ‘mature’, and ‘I'll take the whole bottle’.
Kids over the age of 10 are welcome at Luz, and babysitting can be arranged, although prices vary depending on demand and time of year.
Live a truly local experience at Luz: locally sourced ingredients, wines and materials are used throughout the hotel – part of the owners’ mission to promote social and economic sustainability. Nature is prioritised, too – note how well looked after the pine forests, olive groves and vineyards are.
Given your surroundings, it feels only right to arrange for a picnic hamper of sandwiches, salads and cheeses to be enjoyed among the vineyards, beneath the olive groves or by the laguna.
Eclectic prints to contrast with the earthy tones; thrifted Moroccan ‘fits perfect for lounging on pouffes.
It’s all about sharing plates at the Aperitivo restaurant. The menu changes daily to make the best use of the freshest, in-season ingredients from the nearby woods and ocean – favourites include ceviche, croquetes de siri and fried chipirones. A pool menu is available during the day, consisting of salads, organic vegetable plates and wood-fired pizzas, all sourced from the nearby Cruz del Sur farm.
The sunset-facing tables of the bar are primed for a Uruguayan sundowner – opt for a bespoke cocktail featuring the local gin from destilería Libertad. We love the Ginger Gin (Gin Libertad, Tónic, ginger syrup, fresh ginger and rosemary) and Digestive Gin (with coffee, cinnamon and vanilla). Make sure to try Luz’s own glass of vino rojo, too: the harvest is 70 per cent tannat and 30 per cent merlot – producing a complex yet balanced drop. Take your aperitivo a step further with a tasting of Uruguayan wines by the house sommelier – the hotel can organise such sessions on request.
Breakfast is served 7.30–11.30am. The casual-fare pool menu is available 12 noon–3.30pm; the dinner menu 7.30–10.30pm; and the bar closes at 10pm.
The lodge is a 10-minute drive from José Ignacio – a laid-back town on Uruguay’s south east coast.
Punta del Este International Airport is a 55-minute drive from the lodge. The little airport mainly handles flights around South America, so if you’re travelling from further afield, you’ll likely fly into Buenos Aires first and grab a connection. Luz can arrange your transfer from airport to lodge for $150. Alternatively, fly into Aeropuerto Internacional de Carrasco – the drive takes just under two hours, and a transfer costs $250.
José Ignacio is bijou (much like Uruguay itself), but a car certainly comes in handy for exploring the peninsula, especially as taxis can be scarce. Pick up a hire at Punta del Este airport.
Grab your pilot hat and goggles: you can arrive at the lodge via helicopter, should you be so inclined.
Worth getting out of bed for
Well, Luz’s 35 acres of verdant private land certainly feel like a sensible place to start. Walk the trails through the pine forest and olive groves, try mountain biking or go-karting, practice yoga on the pier of the laguna, or play tennis on the professional-standard cement court. Leave the grounds for a spot of horseback riding (book through Haras Godiva for gallops along the Atlantic coastline); a visit to the José Ignacio lighthouse; or an afternoon of surfing, kite surfing, water skiing or sailing. Head to Bodega Garzón, a state-of-the art winery and restaurant with its own helicopter landing pad and fleet of hot air balloons. There’s a range of tours on offer, with some packages including a gourmet lunch and a tasting of olive oils and cheeses. There’s plenty to do in José Ignacio, too: boutiques, boho brunch spots, and some exceptional beaches – choose the vast sands of la Mansa for grassy dunes, calm swims and dramatic sunsets, or playa Brava for soft sands, impressive swells and quality surfing.
Beachfront Parador La Huella is José Ignacio’s see-and-be-seen seafood spot – try the sea bass or the corvina, which are two of the most in-demand dishes on the menu. The cabana-covered La Susana is another seafood-on-the-sand spot: give the arroz negro, pesca del día (grilled local catch of the day) and grilled octopus a go, or there’s a separate sushi menu with tempura rolls, panko salmon, fresh maki and sashimi. Cruz del Sur Farm’s menu features plates of just-caught grilled fish with rainbow carrots, farm-grown salads, delicate shrimp tacos and stacked breakfast bagels. At Garzón, South American dishes are cooked on iron griddles between two wooden fires. Try the zucchini salad, rib-eye with chimichurri, grilled lamb or aubergine milanesa.
Visit the café at Rizoma – a self-contained rust-hued cube containing a gallery, bookstore, inn and excellent cups of coffee. For a sandwich, pop into Carniceria Manolo in the centre of José Ignacio, and ask them to whip you up a Milanese (breadcrumbed steak) at the butcher’s counter. Alternatively, tostadas, french toasts, açaí bowls and cinnamon rolls can be found at Von Berry House.
The lantern-lit Marismo is right at the end of a winding forest road, and becomes the centre of the José Ignacio party scene post-sunset with bonfires, live DJs and plenty of local wines. There’s no card machine (and the nearest ATM is more of a hike than a quick walk), so bring plenty of cash. Try the rooftop of Von Berry House (6.30–8pm) for speciality cocktails: the Honey Money features whisky, caramel syrup, lemon and orange juice.
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 intimate hotel in José Ignacio and unpacked their Luz-grown wine and olive oil, a full account of their nature-filled break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Luz Culinary Wine Lodge in Uruguay…
José Ignacio’s gravel roads and grassy dunes make the hip artistic hub even more enticing: this is a land of understated, off-the-radar charm. Yes, British supermodels and Hollywood actors have found their way here in recent years – hiding away at the high-season beach parties and seafood hotspots, but visit off-season for the eccentric, easy-breezy small-town atmosphere for yet another example ofUruguay being one of the region's most rustic destinations. The peninsula is surrounded by ocean and two vast, gilded stretches of beach: la Mansa to the west; la Brava to the east. And with Uruguay being one of South America’s smallest countries (second only to Suriname), it’s great for a self-drive adventure too. There are good roads, little traffic and a never-ending coastline – travel here feels safe, stable and sophisticated. And after all the get-up-and-go, there’s few places better to end the day than by the firepit of Luz’s sunken outdoor lounge, glass of home-grown vino rojo in hand.