By CHANTAL COOKE
With vibrant macramé covered trees, buildings painted in garishly bright colours and colourful characters hanging around, clearly waiting to be photographed, La Boca district in Buenos Aires has a personality all of its own. It’s a far cry from the north of the city with its tall buildings and their art nouveau doors and balconies, and even further (culturally, though not geographically) from the revitalised old port district which now buzzes with swanky bars and restaurants, all over looked by a sleek space age bridge.
Buenos Aires has lots to recommend it and La Boca is certainly among those recommendations. There are small shops, indoor markets, crafts and tango dancers, plus stalls selling painted leather bags and jewellery featuring Argentina’s national stone; rhodocrosite.
The area is named for its position at “the mouth” of the Riachuelo, and its role as the entry port for thousands of immigrants from Italy, Spain, and other European countries. Today, La Boca is home to bohemian artists, soccer fanatics, and tango dancers.
From street culture to the high arts – Buenos Aires also has a good supply of museums. The Cultural Centre is a tatty pink building in the Recolletta district. Inside it can, at first, be a bit confusing and you’d be forgiven for wondering why you’d bothered to venture through the doors, but they host some interesting exhibitions, for example, Marcos Zimmermann’s collection of stunning photographs of Patagonia. At the rear there is an outdoor café where you can leave the bustle of the city behind.
A block away is the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes where you’ll see sculptures by Rodin and paintings by artists from El Greco to Cezanne, Manet to Degas and Lautrec to Van Gogh, but Argentinian artists are a bit thin on the ground. If you’d like to see them then head for the Museum of Latin American Art of Buenos Aires (MALBA).
The Museum has a range of permanent and temporary exhibitions including, currently, the work of South America’s most famous photographer; Mario Testino. His giant portraits shout colour and energy in a way few can pull off – they veer close to garish and yet always remain firmly on the side of stylish.
Want to know how the wealthy inhabitants of Buenos Aires lived just over a hundred years ago? Then an hour in the Museum of Decorative Arts will show you grand halls, giant chandeliers, cosy parlours for the ladies and masculine ‘interview’ rooms for the gentlemen, with books stacked high and strong leather backed chairs. Just outside the museum is a court yard café if you’re in need of coffee and a slice of cake.
Finally, no trip to Buenos Aires is complete without Tango. There are plenty of places to choose from – from small bars to larger swanky dinner and tango offerings.
Rojo Tango is a dinner and show experience that takes place within the elegant Faena Hotel designed by Philippe Starck. It’s all opulence and straight lines (a rather unusual combination). While there do take a visit to the bathrooms – you’ll know why when you see them.
The Tango dinner takes place in a darkened room with tiny tables gathered round a low stage. Candles flickers, small lights cast a dim glow behind red shades and the room has the feel of a 1920s speakeasy with private, shadowy corners.
Dinner is three courses including wine and is surprisingly good, including an option for vegetarians. As the coffee cups are cleared away the Tango begins. The dance has its origins in the brothels – it was danced by the prostitutes for their clients, and the opening number alludes to this. The show is sexy, the dances are sexy and the costumes are sexier. This is not a show for the prudish.
Buenos Aires hotels offer modern luxury – the Caesar Park in the Recolletta district has a good location opposite one of the city’s biggest designer shopping malls and offers a sophisticated 5 ‘o’ clock tea each day with a variety of blends and sugary pastries.
For something more ‘hidden away’ try the very private Legado Mittico in Palermo Soho with its unassuming front door and secluded walled garden.
Or head for the Palacio Duhau – Park Hyatt, with its own art gallery, a wine cellar of over 7,000 bottles and specialist cheese room full of a delicious selection of local cheeses.
With superb museums, high quality hotels, tango shows and lots more, Buenos Aires will easily keep you entertained.
Caesar Park has a great buffet breakfast and elegant 5 ‘o’clock tea with a wide choice of tea blends and homemade pastries.
Legado Mitico is a small boutique hotel with large rooms, a very private entrance, and a quiet walled garden to relax in.
Palacio Duhau – Park Hyatt is a luxurious hotel steeped in history with its own art gallery, a wine cellar with over 7000 bottles and an in-house cheese specialist.
Rojo Tango at Faena Hotel.
British Airways operates a daily flight to Buenos Aires. Fares start from £912 return including taxes, fees and charges. See: www.ba.com
To arrange your tour to Argentina contact Argentina Travel Partners
About the Author:
Chantal Cooke is an award winning journalist and broadcaster with a passion for the planet. In 2002 she co-founded the award winning radio station PASSION for the PLANET and in 2009 Chantal was awarded London Leader in Sustainability status. Chantal also runs a successful communications agency – Panpathic Communications.