Los Gauchos 1352/1370, El Calafate
Though these luxury lodgings were the brainchild of Argentina's president, the owners of Los Sauces don't need to name–drop: the El Calafate hotel is incredibly refined, with or without the interesting back story.
It's no secret that high–profile politicians have a taste for the finer things. That's why it stands to reason that Los Sauces Casa Patagónica, a posh 38–suite country hotel originally owned by Argentinean president Cristina Kirchner and her husband, ex–president Nestor Kirchner (and now operated by Panamericano) is an experience in decadence from start to finish. From the moment we roll up the gravel path in a taxi, the place runs like a well-oiled machine: our suitcases are whisked away in a golf cart by a pair of smartly dressed staff members, and after breezing through a quick check-in, we're escorted into an elegant dining room for refreshments by the fireplace—café con leche for my travel partner, champagne for me—and an array of gourmet truffles and pastries.
The Kirchner connection isn't exactly advertised, perhaps because the hotel is lovely on its own and doesn't need the extra publicity. Or perhaps it's because a night at Los Sauces is well outside the budget of the average Argentinean traveler and Cristina, like Eva Perón before her, is an advocate for the nation's poor.
The luxury hotel and spa, as locals will attest, is a place that draws moneyed foreigners. It's located in the backyard of the Kirchners' vacation home in the town of El Calafate, just outside the entrance to Los Glaciares National Park. Visitors come from far and wide to get a look at the spectacular Perito Moreno glacier, so there's no shortage of accommodations in town, but Los Sauces clearly sits at the very top of the food chain, boasting a gorgeous spa and the first–class La Comarca restaurant.
Though the style of Los Sauces was inspired by the architecture of a typical Argentinean estancia, the hotel isn't housed in a single lodge—and the interiors really have little to do with the rustic look of a sheep farm. Instead, as we find out while being driven to our suite in a golf cart, Los Sauces is a series of smaller buildings scattered across four carefully landscaped acres where exotic birds wander about, seemingly for our own viewing pleasure.
Each structure contains several suites that are outfitted in a mix of antique and contemporary furnishings: there's a large old–fashioned armoire, pretty bedstands in polished wood, and a couple of prim and proper armchairs, but also there are heated floors, a Jacuzzi, spotless picture windows, high–end bath products, and a huge flat–screen TV with 700 channels. We also have access to a spacious living area with a fireplace that's shared by the other hotel guests staying in the building. Of course, with one of the world's most jaw-droppingly dramatic glaciers just a short ride away, it's hard to justify playing cards or reading all afternoon.
The complimentary buffet breakfast, on a related note, is well–prepared to nourish travelers heading out into the national park for trekking and boating trips. The lavish spread of homemade pastries, fresh–squeezed juices, and artisan cheeses isn't all that's on offer in the sunlit second–story breakfast area of the main lodge: attentive waiters ask us if we'd like bacon and eggs or a third cup of coffee (we do.) He—like the other staff members working at the front desk and driving golf carts around the carefully landscaped grounds—speaks English well enough to take our orders and politely chat with us, but the service is meant to be unobtrusive, so he doesn't linger long.
In the end, Kirchners or not, Los Sauces feels like a supremely sophisticated retreat where we would have been just as happy without any tourist attractions nearby. The walk between the hotel and the town of El Calafate, at the time of writing, left something to be desired: there's not exactly a sidewalk, and cars rush by on both sides. But there's little to complain about when you're in such a fabulous natural setting, just outside a town filled with fine restaurants and bars, and sleeping in an estancia–style luxury lodge where low lighting and a hot Jacuzzi await guests after long days out in the wilderness.
Web Site: www.casalossauces.com
Total Number of Rooms: 38
Published rates: US $250-500
Review and photos by Bridget Gleeson