Ruta 31 km 7.5, Near San Antonio de Areco, Argentina
From the greeting on horseback to epic asados, expect a deep sense of place, casual elegance, and great food at this Relais & Chateaux estancia hotel.
As I turned down the long, tree-lined driveway toward Estancia La Bamba, a horse and rider appeared to escort me. Upon arrival, core staff members assembled offering smiles and freshly baked empanadas as my luggage was transferred to my room and my vehicle was parked. This was all part of the plan.
In 2009, owner Jean-Francoise Decaux saw the estancia property—which dates back to 1830 and produced corn, soy, wheat, and cattle—as the first potential buy on a list of 10 options. He didn't bother looking at the other nine properties on the list. He says he just knew that this was the place. Over the following two years, Decaux invested far more than the purchase price to extensively refurbish, expand, and renovate the property and grounds. Decaux's wife, an interior designer, reimagined the décor.
Finally, their vision was achieved and the luxury country boutique hotel, located about 75 miles from Buenos Aires, opened in 2011. Estancia La Bamba de Areco became part of the Relais & Chateaux group in 2016.
All 11 rooms are named after famous polo ponies with the exception of the Gato and Mancha rooms. Those pay homage to unbreakable horses that were part of an epic ride north. Rooms average 24 square meters and the smaller ones (like Pampa and Inglesa) are very tight for two people. Traditional design, including small windows with wooden shutters, means that many rooms are on the dark side too, which can add to the tight feeling.
If space and sunlight are priorities, upgrade to a suite like the lovely Jabalina suite that is located in a standalone structure. It includes two bedrooms (one with a four-poster bed), lots of space, plenty of light, a fireplace, and a huge bathroom with a tub.
All rooms have air conditioning, a ceiling fan, plush terry robes (though in my room one robe was way too big and one was way too small), a heated towel rack, twice daily housekeeping, and a bite-size Bocadita Marroc Telfort chocolate at turndown. There are no TVs in any of the rooms or suites (one is located in a dedicated TV room) and Wi-Fi only works in a few common spaces and even there it doesn't work very well.
But you're not going to be in front of a screen much anyway. Estancia La Bamba de Areco is full of things to do. There's the horse-drawn carriage ride around the grounds, biking, bird watching, horseback riding using traditional Argentinean tack, and swimming in the outdoor pool (unheated). You should also schedule a visit to the polo pony stables. After all, the owner is an avid player and his polo team took home the British Open Championship title in 2009.
Warm hand towels and refreshments await guests after every excursion.
For those who want a more relaxing itinerary, browse the collection of gorgeous books about Argentinean culture, wine, polo, and more. Admire the museum-quality collection of traditional stirrups (bought from a local artisan) and prize-winning hand-made bridles in the ample and elegant public spaces. Or spend time in the spa which offers hot stone massage, manicures, pedicures, and facials.
One of the most unusual activities at Estancia La Bamba de Areco is a gaucho (cowboy) demonstration that involves an unbridled horse that willingly lays on the ground and allows the gaucho to manipulate its legs in the air, lay on its belly, and generally spoon with it. It's an impressive (if squirmy and utterly purposeless) display of trust which is said to be an ode to how the native people gently tame their horses. Think of it as horse cuddling, not horse whispering.
For more gaucho culture, arrange to spend a morning in the town of San Antonio de Areco, —about a 30-minute drive from the hotel. This charming town has historic architecture and a high concentration of silver and leather artisans who produce jewelry, knives, ponchos, halters, bridles, saddles, and more.
Federico, who's been the hotel chef for years, also leads short and simple cooking classes teaching guests how to make traditional Argentinean empanadas.
Speaking of food, breakfast is a huge spread of fruit, juice, coffee, tea, fresh bread (it was often being brought out hot from the oven as I was sitting down), chocolate croissants, eggs to order, homemade jams, cereal, and yogurt. However, lunch at Estancia La Bamba de Areco is the real star.
Every day, a huge traditional Argentinean asado (barbecue) lunch is hosted in a covered outdoor dining area. This meal features many different cuts of beef and pork, sausages, creative salads, house-baked breads, and wines: a house red and house white are included in the room rates. In true asado style, platters of food just keep coming until you say "enough!." Try to save room for dessert of homemade crepes filled with dulce de leche. All meals at Estancia La Bamba de Areco are communal and lunch was a great time to get to know other guests from the United States, France, Greece, Romania, and the United Kingdom during my visit.
Dinner, served in a chic but casual dining room, begins with pre-dinner cocktails with house wines and gin and tonics. Other wines area available for a fee, but a full wine list was never presented. Dinner options are elegant and tempting including a tomato, eggplant, pesto and prosciutto salad, homemade bread, and tender Malbec beef with sautéed onions and mushrooms and scalloped potatoes followed by dulce de leche ice cream with chocolate chips and chocolate sauce. However, after so much food at lunch I was often craving a lighter option at dinner.
The Pulperia on the property, inspired by a type of traditional general store, is described as a bar on demand. However, it was often unattended, rendering it more of a lounge or reading room and a gallery for the stunning images taken by photographer Aldo Sessa.
After a few days in a wonderful hotel like this, part of me is often reluctant to leave. At Estancia La Bamba de Areco the luxurious hospitality created such a feeling of home that all of me wanted to stay for at least one more empanada.
Web Address: www.labambadeareco.com
Total Number of Rooms: 11
Published rates: $590 to $1,490 double or quadruple occupancy including all meals, non-alcoholic beverages, some wines, and all activities (except spa treatments and off-property excursions) Note: children under 12 are not allowed
Review by Karen Catchpole, photos by Eric Mohl