A river runs through it at luxury lodge Rio Hermoso hotel, just outside San Martin de los Andes, a Patagonian playground of fir-studded mountains, startled stags and bottomless, bottle-blue lakes. Interiors of richly-hued local stones and timbers, striking tribal artefacts and all-white, super-size soft furnishings don’t even try to compete with the environmental pole dance outside.
11am, but flexible for 25 per cent of the daily rate. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £227.37 ($287).
Rates include breakfast and tax.
The beautiful river is the star of the show. Swim in its piercingly clear waters in summer, listen to its deafening roar in snow-swollen winter, and watch the trout literally jump upstream at spawning time in spring. The long, low, bleached-wood benches and outdoor sofas of the wide veranda provide the perfect spot for water worship.
At the hotel
Library of DVDs and books, gardens and free WiFi throughout. In rooms: TV with DVD player, safe and Organ & Co bath products.
Our favourite rooms
All rooms feature white-linened, empire-sized beds big enough to catch a fish in. We liked the three upstairs rooms off the library-like landing full of old Spanish medical and legal textbooks: No.3’s daffodil yellow armchair commands the best river view in a cosy eaves setting, and lime-lightened No.1’s terrace proffers the perfect spot for a warming or cooling glass of wine, depending on the season.
A hip flask, a pocket-warmer and your favourite beanie if coming to ski.
The common areas are subtly perfumed with mood-enhancing eucalypt and sandlewood scents; the property also stocks local merino wool designers, Von and Dungen.
Kids of all ages are welcome but the hotel is better suited to couples - best leave the children at home.
Rio Hermoso sources most food from the nearby Melquina township and outlying region, and recycles almost obsessively, even sending unused produce to a local orphanage.
When it’s warm enough, ask for a table and umbrella out in the garden by the river.
Designer fleece in winter; plaid shirts and comfy Merrells all year round.
Buenos Aires-trained chef Julian brings a touch of French flair to the menu. Meals are taken in one half of the expansive, glass-walled living room, the white linen tablecloths and red- and orange-striped cushioned chairs dappled by the light off the water. Afternoon tea involves test tubes full of loose leaf teas – go traditional with ceylons and darjeelings or off the map with black toffee, puer or lemon flower. Breakfast is a feast of brownies, breads and cereals, with eggs on demand; make sure you try the dangerously creamy huevos revueltos.
The housegirls whip up a potent caipirinha behind the little elevated bar in the middle of the big entertaining room downstairs. Bar stools encourage languid, pidgin-Spanish conversations; or choose one of the boardgames and settle in for thrashing.
Everyone is rosy-cheeked and reflective by 10pm, so don’t expect to eat too late.
Apart from the dead-of-night munchies, most things can be brought to the room at any time.
Ruta 63 km 67, Pje. Río Hermoso, Parque Nacional Lanín
San Martin de los Andes
Rio Hermoso is about 30 minutes south of lakeside town, San Martin de Los Andes.
Flights in to San Martin with Aerolineas Argentinas (www.aerolineas.com.ar) are infrequent but the most convenient. For daily options with other local carriers, including LAN Chile (www.lan.com), Bariloche is the best alternative, but it's a two- to three-hour transfer, depending if the national park shortcut is snowed in or not.
Most of the big-brand car rental agencies are available at Bariloche; the range is more restricted at San Martin de los Andes. This is rugged territory; don’t attempt any offroad driving without a good car. Horses, cows and the odd stag are common fellow road-users.
Worth getting out of bed for
If you believe the stereotype, Argentines are famously proud of their looks – the après-ski scene at Río Hermoso is wall-to-wall reflector glasswear and Prada ski jackets. Come down to base camp a little early to snag one of the white leather-look sofas dragged out onto the snow at the bar at the far end of the lift area. It mixes the best tracks and avoids some of the attitude of the more crowded, watched-and-be-watched joints closer to the end of the slopes.
On the mountain, El Balcon is handily mid-piste with panaromic Patagonian views. It serves the best parilla grub at Cerro Chapelco, with what might be the worst service. If you don’t feel like skiing after their triple-portion, protein-packed asado, served over hot coals at the table, just trust to gravity.
I had just completed my cowgirl dream of riding horseback across the Andes, and it was time to move along to my next Argentinian adventure: a stay at Rio Hermoso hotel, a relaxed riverside lodge outside of San Martin de los Andes.
I managed to grab a lift with three handsome guides from my middle-of-nowhere horse ranch, and we happily cruised off soaking up big-sky vistas and the hippy road-tripping tunes of Bob Marley. Things were looking up. That was until the giggling group (I smelled the rat just before we neared a police station and all the windows were quickly rolled down) dropped me – not at my destination – but in the nearby town.
It’s true that Rio Hermoso is so far from civilization that few can be bothered to drive the off-road track to get to this chilled-out hideaway. Oh, but they should – this is unplugged luxury at its best.
Rio Hermoso is the kind of place that demands you drop out from your everyday life and slip into sensible (yet stylish) hiking shoes. Evenings have nothing more on the agenda than hours spent curled up under blankets with a super-sized glass of wine in hand beneath a sky of stars. It’s a Patagonian playground – circled with mountains, flanked by a river and glossy grassy flower-filled meadows – and essentially Narnia for grown ups.
I eventually arrived (in my usual unruly state) to be warmly greeted by women elegantly dressed in the local gaucho trousers tied with red sashes and snow-white Superga sneakers (it worked). The main building is a superbly snug wood cabin styled in a mix of Japanese Zen with natural accents. It was simple, yet elegant, with smooth wood walls, iridescent chandeliers suspended above suck-you-in couches and whopping day beds on the porch.
While not a spa hotel (there’s a swimmable river, think: natural spa), they do excel at above-and-beyond service. I’d mentioned in an email about my bum-numbing horse ride over the Andes, and at check-in they thoughtfully asked ‘Que quieres masaje?’
Quicker than my horse had bolted through what must have been the only construction zone in Patagonia, a masseuse appeared in my room and set up her super-slick massage table. I must admit, I was a tad scared – she looked fearsomely strong and terribly efficient. But oh my days, was she good… she certainly knew a thing or two about reflexology and deep tissue massage, and I completely wilted in her hands.
I am the sort of person who needs a coffee immediately in the morning. I rolled over the next morning (five times – I counted– in that oversized bed before reaching the phone on the nightstand) to ring up room service. In less than five minutes, a most excellent café cortado arrived.
The lightning-quick delivery did force me out of my princess-in-a-pea bed and into my fluffy white robe, but it was totally worth the effort. Before hopping back into bed with my morning java, I flung back the curtains and opened the glass doors onto the private balcony so I could take in the eye-popping panoramic view of the green-clad mountains in Lanin National Park.
The only thing to distract me from the great outdoors was the simple, sexy desk in room. I have a desk fetish, which sounds weirder than it is (maybe). My own desk is a masterpiece of chaotic clutter. I call the mess ‘artistic’, but deep down I know it hampers productivity, as I spend more time writing lists about clearing it than actually working at it.
So when I step into a room with a desk like this –sleek, clean, entirely Instagrammable – I melt a little. I lovingly placed my computer onto the polished wood and photographed it. ‘I will write today,’ I tell myself, but then I Skype Mr Smith instead.
Don’t judge me. Yes, I had flown halfway across the world to the wilds of Patagonia to get away from blinking screens, but I was in unplugged cabin heaven with an ironic need to share it.
I had to tell him about my secluded balcony where I could sunbathe naked because, well, who would see me? There was also the triple-chocolate cheesecake so indulgent that I had to return to the room with it and finish it off as I lazed in my massive bed. Of course, I had to blather on about the surrounding landscape – the stuff of my wildest fantasies – and the sparkling river where I could hop right into between bursts of reading and lounging on the perfect crescent-shaped beach. The list was endless…
Although it was hard to justify (even to myself) that this trip was not entirely a holiday, I did manage to take the odd picture and scribble the occasional thought down. Rio Hermoso pretty much instructs one not to work (making it my dream mobile work space). Which, in the end, is far more fun than hiding behind a screen to edit millions of photographs of a landscape that is so insanely epic that you have no choice but to use the word epic.
Instead, Rio Hermoso says, ‘Switch off and take selfies on your balcony so it looks as if you’re floating on the river, flying in the sky or at one with a tree (if you squint a bit).’ I’m so very glad that I listened…