Published On: 14 Oct 2009
Live from Northern Argentina
On arrival in Cordoba, I collected my hire car and drove out of the city towards the remote estancias to the North of the region.
After a long day travelling I arrived at my first estancia, Los Potreros, to a wonderfully warm welcome and a much needed glass of fresh lemonade. I had just two days at this idyllic estancia but could have stayed a week. Los Potreros is run by a lovely Argentine/British couple - Kevin and Lou who have the wonderful ability to instantly make everyone feel completely at home. The estancia is a fully working cattle farm with just 6 rooms for guests. The focus here is definitely on riding but even as a non rider there are plenty of activities on offer - with great trekking options and a lovely pool to relax beside. For riders this place is paradise, with wonderfully tame horses that even those with no previous riding experience will feel instantly at ease and confident. All meals are eaten together and hosted by Kevin and Lou and the conversation and wine flows freely.
My next stop was Dos Lunas, where I found myself equally impressed by the stunning scenery and warm atmosphere. Dos Lunas is run in an entirely different way to Los Potreros and although manager Gonzallo and his wife Lorraina are ever present around the farm, activities are a lot more private. Lorraina and Gonzalo are great company and being from Buenos Aires, they provide guests with an interesting insight into the country. All meals are catered for privately and the food is sensational. Again all outdoor activities such as riding and trekking are of an exceptional standard and all included in your stay.
Both estancias provided me with unforgettable experiences and I feel very lucky to have enjoyed their incredible hospitality. Choosing between them depends on whether you prefer to spend more time relaxing alone or to be part of a group.
After this fantastic beginning to my trip in Northern Argentina, I travelled further north west and arrived in Tucuman to see a very different side of the country. Here I again hired a car and embarked on a 5 day road trip from Tucuman up to Salta. Ideally more time is needed for this trip as the roads are often gravel tracks making some drives rather long. However the breathtaking scenery and charming towns along the way make it worth every minute.
My first stop was Cafayate and along this drive I instantly experienced the diverse scenery of the area with the landscape slowly changing from lush subtropical or mountain forests into the rolling hills of Tafi del Valle, a pleasant town with lovely little artisan shops around an enormous reservoir and a quaint town centre with many local restaurants. Continuing onto Cafayate the scenery once again changes dramatically with the rolling hills giving way to desert highlands with huge expanses of cacti.
Cafayate is a charming small town which is also the centre for wines of Northern Argentina, famous in particular for its high altitude wines. Vineyards are the focal point of the area and everywhere you go you will find bodegas offering wine tastings. I would strongly recommend a visit to El Esteco vineyard (previously owned by Michel Torino) where you can enjoy a tour to learn more about the process of wine making and tasting is of course included. The bodega is attached to the wonderful Patios de Cafayate Hotel & Spa, where the spa offers wine themed treatments that include bathing in wine!
Another high quality bodega close to the town is Etchart or you may prefer a smaller, family run concern such as Finca de las Nubes which is dramatically set against a backdrop of mountains.
Moving on from Cafayate, Estancia Colomé was my next stop and an absolute must when in this region. The drive from Cafayate to the Estancia is spectacular with amazing desert scenery featuring incredible protruding rock formations although road conditions require a high degree of concentration. Estancia Colomé is certainly worth the journey however. This boutique estancia featuring just 9 rooms is the ultimate in luxury with so many fantastic activities making is a fabulous stop. Alongside all the normal estancia activities of horse riding, biking and trekking, Colomé offers that bit extra with a wonderful vineyard in the grounds where guests can do a tour of the bodega including wine tasting. The vineyard is itself famous for producing the highest altitude wines in the world and they are all of exceptional quality. However the 'piece de resistance' here is the James Turrell art museum. Turrell uses lights for his art and the main feature of the museum is the 'sky space' (open to estancia guests only.), which is literally a room with a hole in the ceiling looking up to the sky. All around the space, lights are used to change the viewers' perception of sunset. It is an incredible experience and one that has to be seen to be understood.
I then continued my journey via narrow, winding mountain roads reaching a breathtaking 3840 metres before descending to Salta. Salta is a busy, thriving city with many churches, museums and restaurants to enjoy. I would highly recommend the fascinating MAAM museum situated on the main square, which provides a valuable insight into the archaeological findings of Inca life in the mountains of the area.
In the evening, Salta offers wonderful entertainment with its folklore music. All along Balclare Street, dinner can be enjoyed while watching great live music, in the lively atmosphere of the area.
On my final day in Northern Argentina I drove further North to Pumamarca and the spectacular seven coloured mountains. The town here is lovely with a friendly little market set around the central square. The mountains surround the whole area and everywhere you look you can see the many varying colours of the landscape.
Having said goodbye to the Northern Argentine landscape I am now on my way across to Chile's Atacama Desert and the capital of Santiago.
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Costs for our 16-day 'Northern Chile & Argentina ' tour start at £3,975 per person inclusive of flights from London.
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