Tipiliuke and the Andes
The next morning, I climb into Martin's Jeep and we drive two hours along the scenic Cordoba Pass, a mountain road alive with autumn colors. He drops me off at the Rio Hermoso Hotel in Lanin National Park.
The chic riverside boutique hotel comprises only six rooms and suites; each features vaulted wood ceilings, large windows opening over the river, and modern amenities like oversized stone soaking tubs and free wireless internet. After days of fishing and riding, I'm happy just to wander the forest trails near the hotel and take a short siesta on a chaise lounge on the riverbank. In the evening, I read a book by the fire as my server opens a bottle of Petit Verdot. I'm aware that I'm in a regular hotel now, and a solo traveler at that—at dinner, I'm seated at a table for one in the low-lit restaurant. I surprise myself by spending an hour and a half, happily solitary, lingering over pumpkin soup, fresh grilled trout, Caesar salad, and a martini glass filled with dulce de leche ice cream.
Alberto, a gentlemanly travel agent, arrives to transport me to my next destination. We ride through the national park to the Cerro de los Pinos estancia and the Tipiliuke Lodge. The geography has changed: two gorgeous rivers, the Quilquihue and Chimehuin, flow through the property, but we're in the foothills of the Andes now. A snow-capped volcano rises in the distance, the mountains are bare, and red stag roam through the woods.
If Arroyo Verde felt like a friend's country house, and Rio Hermoso was a proper boutique hotel, then the lovely Tipiliuke falls somewhere in between. The original homestead was built by a French-Argentine family in 1909; today the luxury lodge hosts hunters, anglers, and outdoor enthusiasts. A pine forest surrounds the stone house of nine bedrooms; the decor is rustic-chic, with classic woodwork and earth tones set off by indigenous weavings and bunches of pink roses. Guest rooms feature all of the amenities you'd find in a hotel, but during meals and cocktail hour, I feel like I'm back in the social setting of an estancia.
The warm atmosphere is cultivated by Maria José Tiemersma, who, together with her husband Kevin, manages the property. Sophisticated but outgoing, she's all smiles with her guests - before dinner, she jokes with the hunters and brings out pitchers of Pisco sour and huge platters of smoked salmon and wild boar, and during the meal, she gets deep into conversation with a pair of Russian journalists, always ensuring that everyone's wine glass is full.
On my first afternoon, guests are treated to a full Argentine asado of steak, sausage, and grilled goat, served at elegant outdoor tables. Then Yvonne, the equestrian-in-residence, leads a horseback ride across the river and high up into the foothills. The terrain is windswept and dramatic. When we return to the lodge, curls of smoke are drifting out of the chimney, and inside, where the fires are burning, Maria José is already bringing around trays of gourmet mini pizzas.
The next day, I'm scheduled to go a photo safari with Eliseo Miciu, the photographer behind National Geographic's upcoming book on Argentina and the son of famed painter Georg Miciu. While Eliseo is soft-spoken, his body of work, largely landscapes and images from the natural world, is incredibly powerful. After a lengthy discussion about technique, we head outdoors. Eliseo points at an ordinary object, like a barn or a tree, and tells me to shoot it creatively - to, as he says, "take the photo that not everyone else will take." By the end of the afternoon, we're laughing hysterically as he tosses autumn leaves over my head so that I can photograph movement against a still rural background.
Taking the Waters in Patagonia
On my last full day in Patagonia, after a week of hiking and horses and standing in cold rivers, I'll be relaxing at a luxury thermal spa. The eco-friendly Lahuen Co is tucked deep into the national park, near the border of Chile. It's a long, bumpy ride from Tipiliuke, but the journey is worth it.
The airy wood and glass spa complex was constructed near the Epulafquen hot springs. The circuit of indoor and outdoor pools, starting with waters at body temperature and becoming increasingly hotter, is based on Japanese and Roman philosophies of "health through water." While I'm floating in the third pool, a staff member brings me a little tray with salmon bruschetta and a glass of chilled Malbec Rosé. Thirty minutes later, I'm sitting on a leather couch in the restaurant, wearing a fluffy white spa bathrobe and dining on grilled fish and vegetables. The manager, Gonzalo, drops by to share a glass of Patagonian wine with me. Like everyone on staff, he practices yoga and delights in the peace of the glacier–formed landscape.