Some people enjoy planning trips. Booking flights, researching hotels and devising itineraries is fun for them. I am not one of those people. To me, Kayak means a type of boat and any dealing I have to do with airlines is impossible without a substantial amount of vodka.
Thankfully, there are companies like Audley, a Savile Row-quality tailor for travel, based in the United Kingdom but with its U.S. headquarters in Boston. Its bespoke travel concierge service custom designs trips to pretty much anywhere in the world, and I tried to come up with something fairly far-fetched.
I’ve always wanted to go skiing in July. There’s something decadent and borderline perverse about the idea, like the indoor skiing at the Mall of Dubai. I’d never been to Argentina, and visiting the Southern Hemisphere during the dog days of our summer seemed like a welcome reprieve from sunburn and swamp butt. Thanks to Audley, I barely lifted a finger to do it.
I did get to spend some time chatting amiably with Jeff, one of their charming regional experts, who asked whether my husband, Sam, and I preferred grand hotels or boutique (the latter), what kind of art we were interested in (all), how much downtime we needed (lots), whether or not we were interested in wine (duh), and, in general, getting to know as much about us as possible in order to gratify our every whim. This, no one will be surprised to learn, was infinitely preferable to navigating a foreign hotel’s confusing website or sitting on hold with a ticket agent.
The draft itinerary that Jeff sent us offered an excellent balance of city and mountains, culture and relaxation, and it left enough room for the serendipitous winging-it that makes travel so intoxicating. Several weeks before our trip, we received a package that included luggage tags and a binder that covered literally every aspect of our adventure, and an encyclopedia’s worth of intel. And then we were off to Argentina.
With amenities such as Saks Fifth Avenue bedding, a surprisingly sophisticated wine list and inexhaustible in-flight entertainment, United’s Polaris service turned a 12-hour flight into an overnight in a comfy hotel (and the swanky new mid-century chic lounge at Newark turned the sting of a layover into an enjoyable experience).
We arrived in Buenos Aires and checked into Legado Mitico, a pitch-perfect boutique hotel in the trendy neighborhood of Palermo. Refreshed and ready, we headed to La Brigada, the first of many gluttonous steak lunches and dinners at traditional Argentine parillas. After watching our waiter divide a Flintstones-sized rib-eye with the edge of a spoon and washing it down with a superb malbec from Mendoza, we took to the streets of San Telmo to wander the weekly Sunday market and its jumble of people, performers, crafts, crap, trinkets and treasures.
Frequently referred to as “The Paris of the South,” one of the less charming ways that Buenos Aires resembles the City of Lights is its similarity to the old days, when the sidewalks were minefields of dogshit. On the bright side, it’s visually stunning and exudes a similar elan to Paris, minus the snooty waiters.
The next day, our personal tour guide and a driver collected us at the hotel for a tour of the city’s main sights: the stunningly beautiful cemetery in Recoleta (where Eva Perón is ironically spending eternity with the upper class she despised), the Casa Rosada (where I defy anyone not to hum “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina”), the imposing and majestic Teatro Colón, the old port, La Boca, and the new one, Puerto Madero. We had dinner at the Esquina Carlos Gardel (named for the father of tango music), went shopping in Recoleta (South America’s answer to the Upper East Side) and ate more red meat and Italian food than my cardiologist would approve of—all before we boarded a plane bound for Bariloche in Patagonia.
An hour-and-a-half from Buenos Aires lies Villa la Angostura, a tony little ski town a few miles from the Chilean border, home to the Cerro Bayo mountain and the peerless hotel and spa Las Balsas. Perched at the edge of the sapphire blue waters of Lake Nahuel Huapi and ringed in by the snow-clad Andes, the Relais & Chateaux inn is the apex of Alpine comfort.
As a lifelong skier, I know that detailed accounts of epic bluebird days on the mountain are as tedious as other people’s children. Suffice it to say that I had a few gorgeous days on the slopes, while Sam, as someone who would choose a root canal over skiing, remained at Las Balsas, luxuriating in its pampering and natural beauty. Before flying back to Buenos Aires, we spent an afternoon in Bariloche, where Augustus Gloop ought to consider running for mayor, because every other door on the main street is a chocolate shop.
On our last day in Buenos Aires, we ambled over to MALBA, the contemporary art museum, where we perused the collection and had an excellent lunch in the sun-filled cafe.
Despite a few minor issues, it was a fairly flawless trip, and about the best that can be said about having to leave Argentina was that on the flight home, I at least got to watch Reese Witherspoon morphing into a piece of kale in A Wrinkle in Time. ◆
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