Bahia Las Balsas, Villa La Angostura, Patagonia
Located on a spot across the lake from Bariloche, the 15–room Relais & Chateaux inn Las Balsas appeals to foodies and small hotel lovers who wish to unwind in style.
It's easy to feel like you've drifted into some enchanted lakeside world at Las Balsas, away from civilization, noise, and bustle. On the shore of Nahuel Huapi Lake, closer to Chile than the San Carlos de Bariloche airport, Las Balsas is an intimate boutique hotel that feels like a friend's upscale country house. The renowned restaurant pulls in diners from far around, but more than a few guests who visited for dinner have come back to book a room.
Airport transfers are complimentary, but those who are driving need to watch for a dirt road to the lake and then bump along to the secluded location. At the end is a rambling blue wood and stone chalet with only 15 rooms but plenty of facilities. The main lounge inside is a comfy lake–facing room with a large fireplace, heavy wood furniture, lots of reading materials, and hardwood floors. A separate reading room with more books allows you to sink into a loveseats by a window. A small bar is well–stocked with premium liquor.
Chef Pablo Campoy runs a restaurant that is by most accounts the finest in this region, more daring and innovative than the traditional display at Llao Llao's, but not so over–the–top that it's only for the jaded. A 2000–bottle wine cellar complements cuisine that brings an international flair to local ingredients. The corn soup with pepper sherbet, venison, and shrimp is a popular example, and here the requisite lamb comes with a dried fruits cous–cous. Save room for heavenly desserts, such as dulce de leche froth with rasberry sherbet or cream of peanut praline with chocolate and citris biscotti.
Outdoor, the lakeside location is serene and inviting, with meandering paths, a terrace, and a lake dock. The hotel's name means "the rafts" and guests who give the small staff ample planning time can set up excursions by boat on the lake. A small ski facility is just down the road, while the larger Catedral one is about an hour away.
It seems odd that Las Balsas would offer spa packages for a hotel with only 15 rooms, but the spa here is no minimal affair installed as an afterthought. Housed in its own circular structure enhanced with great views and natural light, the stone and wood surfaces entice you to enjoy a good gym, whirlpool, massage rooms (including a circular one on its own second level), relaxation room, and heated indoor pool that extends to the deck outside. Pilates equipment is a rare surprise in these parts.
A large high–definition TV with surround sound is in the game room, but there are no TVs in the rooms themselves. The twelve standard rooms, all facing the lake, are well–equipped, but the three suites are worth the upgrade. Besides being far more spacious, they contain interesting bookshelves crafted out of a canoe, higher–end antique furniture, and larger baths containing separate shower stalls and double vanities.
Standards have one queen or two twin beds bed with white duvets, on top of knotty wood floors that creak underfoot. Wood closets don't hold more than a night or two's worth of clothes. They're cozy rooms that seem right for the plush robes and the CD stereos and minibars help the relaxation as well.
While the remote location and limited facilities could wear thin after a few days, for real unwinding complete with fine wine and gourmet dining, this is one of the surest bets in Patagonia—on either side of the border.
Review by Tim Leffel, photos courtesy of Hosteria Las Balsas.
Web Site: www.lasbalsas.com.ar/
Total Number of Rooms: 15
Published rates: $310 to $500 BB