I wasn’t going to write a review on our one night stopover en route to the southern beaches of Uruguay but as we drove down the cobbled streets and across a draw bridge I knew I couldn’t miss it out.
It can be done in a day or even an overnight stay but I’d definitely recommend a visit somehow if you happen to be in the area! One hour on the ferry from Buenos Aires sits Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay. Set within a UNESCO world heritage site sits its historic quarter, full of lots of coloured facades and walkways, it’s a great place to escape the chaos that is Buenos Aires.
Another booking.com find, the Charco Hotel is a small yet delightful boutique hotel right in the center of the historical town, which is the main attraction there. We were shown to our gorgeous room with brick walls and white wooden beamed ceilings, and the best thing about it was actually the smell! It was divine! They had some kind of steaming contraption to emanate the aroma which I actually think helped send us to sleep.
As we left, they were setting up little market stalls in the centre square and for those who don’t like markets (not sure why you wouldn’t though) there were plenty of little artisan shops hidden amongst the trees! We moved from there on to the Coast of Uruguay but if you’re in Argentina for a while and fancy a day trip out, this is definitely one I’d recommend.
For our last 3 days in Argentina we decided to go off to Mendoza for a little bit of R&R, the City of Gauchos, vineyards and scenery (my definition). We arrived after a very comfortable 2 hour flight on a plane with more leg room than premium economy seats on Virgin, we flew with Argentina’s domestic airline. Checking in to our hotel, the other half asked what we were classed as under ‘status’ on the check in form. Unsure what he meant I said ‘argumentative’ to which he replied, ‘ok I’ll tick married then’!
I found this hotel by accident on booking.com. A bit like accidentally booking a little bit more time away than we had originally planned for this trip! The wine estate that had been recommended to us to stay at hadn’t yet released it’s prices (my best holiday planning tip is always book as far in advance as you can, as you get the best prices). The Algodon Estates Wellness Resort is actually 3 hours out of Mendoza rather than in the City Centre, so we had to change our flight destination to a different airport and also our planned activities. Luckily I found this out before we left the UK. The resort was very ranch like, a lodge containing 8 bedrooms, all named after grapes in their vineyard.
We were in Malbec (of course), a gorgeous corner room with en-suite bath (unusual) and shower room. There was also a Cabernet or Chardonnay further down the corridor. Our very own terrace with hammock, the other half challenged me to try and get in the hammock whilst he filmed me, I wondered if this was the 50yr olds equivalent of a sex tape?! The whole estate is very tranquil. Lots of birds tweeting, when I asked my other half what birds they were he either replied Custards (as in the yellow saucy type) as he knew I’d be none the wiser if I didn’t get the joke, or Tara birds to which I fell into the trap….. ‘Really?’ I asked, ‘Yes’ he replied ‘because they’re really annoying and don’t stop squawking!’ For any twitchers out there they were parrots!
The thing I didn’t like about the resort was the nubile South American girl who joined us at the pool one afternoon, her bottom in full display and not a wobble on it. ‘Should I get a nice bikini like that to get maximum tanning effect’, I wondered to myself for a mini, micro, nano second. Then immediately reminded myself who I now was and how old I was!
They eat very late in Argentina, we arrived at the restaurant after donning our ponchos and keys to the golf cart, around 9pm, nobody there, at around 10.30 lots of people started to arrived, we were served copious amounts of wine from the estate, a Rose, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and many Malbecs, had our very own wine tasting every night, the food was delicious, he ate steaks I ate pastas, one waiter serving 25 covers and not a moaning, complaining person in sight. How refreshing.
When deciding what to do here, I got some suggestions from the hotel and internet. Told him indoors what the options were and the best ones that had been recommended. So being him, he chose the other one, that not many had done so there were few reviews. The first day we spent a lovely few hours in a Borgo with a labrynth and restaurant. We did the labrynth in 20 minutes and not one argument, amazing. Then we sat in the outdoor bar area and ordered some snacks at the bar. We were handed a divine little picnic basket, wine in one side, obligatory checkered picnic table cloth, cutlery and glasses in the other. I love, love, loved this touch, watching everyone lay their tables out waiting for their food to arrive, we had the most delicious bottle of Malbec Reserve and a few empanadas, a salad and some water. The whole bill came to around £11.50! In fact on check out in our hotel, the extras bill on our 3 day trip including all food, wine, soft drinks and golf buggy was a grand total of £140. I once remember paying £20 less than this for a few soft drinks and sandwiches in the Blue Lagoon cafe in Iceland, so it really is very reasonable out there.
The second trip was a 9 hour trip to some natural warm thermal spring and the remnants of a 1958 hotel which had apparently been used by the Nazis as a hide out after the war. What we didn’t realise was that it would take 3 hours to get there, one hour on a lovely normal road and the balance on something I can’t call a road, more like a Rocky Road, (maybe this is where the ice cream was named after, although there was no ice cream or marshmallows where we were going). Luckily we had a monster truck to take us there, it was very bumpy and very loud for 2 hours with nothing to be seen for miles except, and this was the main highlight for us, miles and miles of The Andes in the distance. Constantly changing vista, small lakes, different coloured mountains affected by the minerals, animals, birds, lagoons, wild horses taking a wash and sleeping in the sun, and the 2 hours passed rather quickly.
Once out there it was too cold to get in the warm spring, but amazing to see. Our guide drove us to a secluded picnic spot under some trees for a light lunch, Malbec and mini quiches, cheeses and fruit. And then returned from whence we came. Trying to have a snooze on the way back was like trying to sleep with a small child next to you constantly shaking you to wake up! To take this trip I would say you need to be happy to be on a bumpy ride, happy to converse with your driver in one word sentences, with hand gestures and a little bit of Italian thrown in in order to have some form of understanding and communication about what it is you’re seeing, and finally and most importantly happy to do your thing behind a small bush on a few occasions. There were no facilities anywhere! Having a driver/ guide afforded us the luxury of enjoying a day trip into the unknown without bickering about which turn we should take, which direction either of us thought was the right one, with only extinct volcanoes and mountains as signposts, and took away the anxiety of stepping into the unknown territory of the Andes! No doubt one of us would have ended up on the wrong side of the Andes, I did however have visions of the book I’d read (and I think film I’d seen) about the plane crash in the Andes where everyone ended up eating each other because nobody came to rescue them, but that’s just me and my usual anxieties!
We set ourselves a challenging 3 country itinerary for my 50th birthday (final) celebrations! It was in December but the only way to deal with it was to start celebrating last July and carry on until now; and it worked! I’m loving being 50! So first stop was Argentina. Three days in Buenos Aires.
First day was ‘free time’ after a 14 hour flight that went a bit like a toboggan ride, ie really quickly but really bumpy, we arrived at our hotel, a Hilton, with its enormous lobby and mesmerising LED colour changing bar. It’s in the area of Puerto Madero, a new upmarket area still under construction, with lots of bars and trendy sushi and steak restaurants along the waterways of the old port. Argentina is known for 4 things, steak, football, wine and daily protests. We enjoyed all 4! The centre itself is made up of various districts, each one has its own unique style, architecture and fashion. most of these are safe to walk around during the day and some at night too.
At 6pm on our first evening we booked a Malbec/street art walking tour in the young and vibrant area of Palermo. Here, in an art gallery, we met our guide for the next 3 hours, and Tess and Rebecca, two travel bloggers from Oz who had also arrived early that morning. We were given an aperitif to set us on our way, which was a delicious Malbec white, more like a very light and delicious rose wine! Think Whispering Angel but lighter and nicer! Moving on to JA winery, an old style wine shop with quirky bottle openers and a vino vending machine, we had our tasting along with 11 other people. One was the visual effects director on the film Independence Day, others were set designers for West End productions, and also a few quiet ones and we had no idea what they did! A wonderful eclectic mix. And then us 😂 . Rebecca announced she didn’t like wine! It’s all for the love of the job apparently! We were also lucky enough to have our very own Professor of wine in the house who came from Oregon and answered lots of questions that Joaquin the owner couldn’t due to language barriers and excessive alcohol tastings himself which left him slightly inebriated! And who knew there was such a thing as a wine professor. At first I thought he was joking and meant he was a professional alcoholic until he answered someone’s specific question on the production of wine! I now know what I want to study next! Lovely Malbec and Chardonnay wines to taste with tapas but only after (so as not to ruin the taste of the wines). We ended off the evening in a rooftop bar with a final tasting of the local aromatic and 39% alcohol drink Fernet (a drink the Italians brought over with them when they migrated). A combination of herbs and spices with full fat coke. All I’m saying is she may as well have given us a pint of Listerine and coke to taste! 🤑. This was a great fun tour to get us into the swing of things as well as giving us an idea of Palermo and it’s wonderful street art as a district, as sadly we had no time to revisit it on this trip.
Next day was our city tour with our gorgeous guide Mariela, who lives in Palermo! A gorgeous, bubbly young Spanish girl that at 50, I now envy, though in my head I’m identical to her in looks 🤣. Very knowledgeable about Buenos Aires, she tailored our tour to exactly what we wanted to see. We had a driver included, although we did have the option of a walking tour, but it was way too hot for that. The cemetery in Recoleta is a must and definitely with a guide. They know the stories of some of the more interesting mausoleums, as well as a quick route through the maze of upright graves to that of Eva Peron. A quick and very coincidental bump into Tess and Rebecca from the other night in front of Eva’s stone, then off we went for another quick one, a visit to San Telmo indoor market which was another one we’d definitely return to on a longer trip. Lastly our favourite district, La Boca. This was also the most dangerous district, especially after 5pm so it’s only recommended to go with a guide or get a regulated taxi in and out of the area. Buzzing with people on pedestrianised streets lined with colourful buildings and little shops, bars and restaurants, a tourist trap definitely. Even ‘Maradona’ (lookalike) had a seat there; for people to take photos with him. A mini anti-abortion protest entertained us for a while and then we did the obligatory football stadium tour of La Boca Juniors, one of the most famous football teams. Sadly no hunky footballers were there but I did buy my boys a baseball hat with the teams initials on it. ‘BJ’!!
When our guide left us, she pointed out a nice restaurant on a corner and whilst waiting for our tour of the stadium to start we thought we’d pop in for a quick bite. The restauranteur unlocked the door (!) asked where we were from and then told us, ‘you eat what I give you, you pay what I say!’ Petrified at this point, we had no option but to sit down and do as we were told. As I was waiting for him to come and ask if we had any dietary requirements, he plonked a plate of empanadas, (think Cornish pasty) breads and tuna mix down on the table and asked if we wanted beer or wine. I had wine, other half had beer, he got a litre and I think I also got a litre!!
Before I could tell him I don’t eat meat he arrived back at the table and dropped a steak onto the other half’s plate! So he eats it. I’m too scared not to so decide to try a bit! I haven’t eaten a steak or burger since 1984, bad experience with the new McDonalds that had just opened in the Gateshead metro centre! I have nothing to compare it to but I have tasted chateaubriand on special occasions and I have to say this was off the clock! Glad I’d been brave enough to try it. We both waited for the veg or salad or chips or even pasta, as the restaurant was named Don Carlos (I actually told the guide I’d read about this restaurant, but then realised I had got it confused with Don Julios, a highly recommended upmarket steak place that this one very clearly wasn’t). Anyway, 10 minutes later another steak was dropped on his plate, this time a rump. Again he ate most of it and I tried a bite or two. Also delicious. After that a pork steak landed from somewhere above us. I had just one bite of this one, other half 3 or 4. By this time we were full, or had had an excellent sufficiency as my grandma Freda taught me to say! And that was it for the savouries. Then a delicious pear in Malbec and cinnamon and flan with dulce de leche (caramel sauce) appeared to top it all off. I’m not a dessert person but this was special! Finally two espressos arrived. I drew the line there! I’ve never drunk coffee because I hate it; so was beyond being worried in case I offend him and left it to go cold. So 45 minutes after we arrived we left having had an amazing, if not rather aggressive, experience and being left £25 poorer!!
After our football tour, the clock struck 5.05 and I began to panic, the restaurant was already boarded up and as we made our way to the taxi rank desperate to get out before the vigilantes woke up (apparently there is no law after dark), we rushed into a cab and were on our way back to safety. Or so we thought…….. what followed next was 10 minutes of sheer panic, the taxi driver of the UNREGULATED taxi we had got into can’t have been any younger than 95! He could barely see over the wheel, couldn’t drive very well and decided the best way home was on a dirt track via the docks, under a bridge with pillars and tree trunks in the road as if to stop cars driving through.
Imagine mafia/thriller films where they take or meet people to kill them without anyone knowing. This was definitely where those scenes were filmed! No other cars. At one point we were swerving round the tree trunks and pillars and saw a car drive alongside us like Kenickie at the Thunder Road Grease Lightning race and this was the point I thought we were going to die! It was a catch 22 situation, open the door and jump out, not ideal, or stay put and pray, I did the latter. The other half took it all in his stride obviously, but I know he was also secretly pooping and praying himself! Finally we saw a road with cars and normality resumed! An area we would definitely return to but will definitely have left by 5pm if not before. Did I mention that even ‘Maradona’ had left his prime photo spot by 5pm 🤣. Finally for that day a good old fashioned tango show in the back of an old Argentinian cafe. A word of advice, do go for the decor, music and dancing, don’t go for the food!
So we started the day full of excitement about going into the unknown. If we do any city tours or trips we always like to find the small ones. They’re more personal and less boring. We had 3 days in Buenos Aires, but when we decided we wanted to visit the Tigre Delta to take us out of the city for the day, we weren’t expecting to be able to do it on such a personal level due to its distance from the City (about an hour).
Tigre is a natural tourist attraction at the mouth of the Parana River Delta. With a combination of typical and picturesque river houses mixed with wild landscapes. The area is perfect for those who love nature (not me really) and bird watching (still not me) or spending the day on a river boat with 5 people you’ve never met before eating amazing food prepared by Ralph the chef and listening to stories about life on the river from Ralph’s wife Ana whilst she poured copious amounts of Malbec red and rose! (Food and wine bit definitely me!).
They arranged for us to be collected in shared taxis and taken to the dock in Tigre one hour away . From there we took a river taxi (here I imagined the beautiful wooden style boats a la Venice, head scarf and dark glasses donned, a la Audrey Hepburn, but sadly we were met with a rickety old fishing boat, with a purple driver’s seat, grey shag pile walls, rear view mirror and a sign for the emergency exit at the back of the boat! No scarf or sunglasses were needed here. We arrived at Ana and Ralph’s jetty where they were both excitedly waiting for us to take us on our adventure.
We started with a short tour of their old house, which used to be a 1930’s tango club with original decor with a wonderful old kitchen with its original oak fridge and clay oven where the Swiss chef Ralph who had travelled the world using his skills, bakes his bread, cows and meringues (hopefully not altogether). After a short history of the area we sat down to wonderful home baked breads, jams and tea to set us on our way. We met the German couple from Bonn, an ex Navy officer and teacher, one retired the other on a year long sabbatical (I’m so jealous) passionate tango dancers, who travel around visiting all 5 continents of Tango clubs; Milongas: wherever they go. Then there was Ken a mid 70’s Aussie from Melbourne, Juliet a mid 70’s Aussie from Sydney, who had coincidentally met each other on the Alaskan cruise they’d just stepped off, and Gill, an Aussie/Brit here for work but on a day off before she flew home. Lovely Combo of people we’d never ordinarily meet or stop to chat to, but such an interesting bunch.
Slowly sailing through the back waters, passing by houses, schools, floating supermarkets and floating ice cream vans, I couldn’t help feeling curious as to how on earth they entertain themselves on a daily basis. Electricity is ok during the week but once the weekend crowd come down with all their extra electric needs the whole area loses power! We did a bit of bird spotting, I was always too late to the party and by the time I’d discovered what it was they’d spotted, it had flown away!
We anchored up and stopped for lunch, a wonderful feast of butternut squash quiche, chicken, steak, salad and potato rosti all cooked by Ralph, wines from Mendoza and litres of beer, dessert was a tasty and perfectly cooked orange panna cotta, and then more drinks to follow should you not be tipsy enough! A sail back round the other way to their home, passing by the fire boat and local vet’s jetty, then back for some home made ice cream, humming bird photography and a traditional Argentinian meta tea drinking ceremony which made us all feel like we were high on the leaves, sucked from a silver straw and shared amongst us 🤑.
Part of me hoped Ken and Juliet would end up as a couple of mid 70’s travellers together, but sadly I soon learnt that they both had spouses back in Oz, so the Shirley Valentine romance was not to be.
The river taxi returned to take us home where we all continued to share stories and we returned back to our hotel an hour later. We got out and walked at the end. Traffic in Buenos Aires is bad, and we spotted an angry emoji on the drivers what’s app chat so felt it best to get out! 🤣
Now to find some energy for a late evening at a hidden speak easy bar called Franks, if we can work out the password and then actually find the place! We took our tour with Delta Unplugged who have not paid me to write this review!
I have been travelling for almost 25 years, as a family, single girl and a couple. I’ve travelled the luxury 5 star holidays, the boutique niche hotels, the chic locations and the budget trips. I want to give my readers an overall view of what one can do in the world, with or without thousands of ££££££’s!
I wanted to share these trips with others so they can benefit from seeing the world. I believe that travel makes one more interesting, you’ve always got something to talk about and I often find that it creates an instant connection with strangers.
My style of writing is far from professional, I don’t take the journalistic approach, I want my readers to feel like they’re there with me from start to finish. I like to think my blogs are humorous yet informative, interesting to read and amusing at the same time, and that they will encourage others to take the trips I’m so passionate about.
Travel is an investment in one’s self, I am lucky enough to be able to work to travel, with the help of my partner, we live from one trip to the next, share trips with our children, friends and sometimes even the dog ! There is a whole world out there waiting to be discovered and my bucket list is full of destinations I haven’t yet travelled to.
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