From laid back, leisurely Uruguay to grand, gracious and artistic Buenos Aires

Many airlines and cruise ships are not allowed to fly/sail directly from the British Falkland Islands to Argentina, so instead we enjoy a soujourn to Uruguay. First, the historic, Colonial capital, Montevideo located on a Florida-style coastline between River Plate and Atlantic Ocean.

Arriving by ship, we didn’t have to walk far for an authentic taste of the local cuisine and culture.

Mercado del Puerto, Montevideo

Mercado del Puerto, Montevideo

The old Mercado del Puerto is a carnivore’s dream with dozens of Parrillas, (steakhouses), the prime cuts of beef served with local Tannat-grape wine.

And outdoors, browse the rows of market stalls for art, handcrafts and jewellery.

Market stalls, Mercado del Puerto

Market stalls, Mercado del Puerto

While on the Silver Spirit over Christmas, cruising around the Caribbean, we met a charming extended Argentinian family on board. Over festive drinks in the Bar,  Snr B. the youthful septuagenarian Grandfather (work in BA, leisure in Uruquay), and his wife suggest we meet up in Punta del Este during our South America voyage.

Punta del Este, Uruguay is a trendy, upmarket resort famed for sand dunes, surfing waves, bars, restaurants and designer shops.

Punta del Este - sand and seashore

Punta del Este – sand and seashore

Arriving here on 9th February, all goes to plan and as we walk along the pier from the Tender Boat jetty we are met at the marina by our Silversea friends.

The afternoon is a scenic drive along the endless beaches along the coast to the sophisticated districts La Barra and Jose Ignacio; en route we pass the surreal sculpture on Playa Brava – La Mano, a giant hand of fingers jutting out of the sand.

La Mano, Playa Bravo

La Mano, Playa Bravo

As a family getaway retreat for those living in Buenos Aires, Snr B. has been coming here for nearly 75 years. He explains that when he was a child here on holiday, it was a sleepy village with one hotel and one taxi. Now the Hollywood A listers, wealthy Brazilians and Argentines flock here, with around 500,000 overseas visitors arriving in January for a summer/ winter sun vacation.

Buenos Aires - Paris of South America

Buenos Aires – Paris of South America

Argentina’s capital is sensual, seductive and unforgettable – Santa Montefiore

Buenos Aires is grand and glamorous city of wide boulevards, Jacaranda trees, shady gardens, a colourful melting pot of European heritage and Latino culture stylishly elegant with a passionate energy – this is the Paris of South America. If you have never visited BA before, then you must experience all the major architectural sights, following Eva Peron’s journey from Casa Rosada, the Presidential Palace, to her simple grave in La Recoleta cemetery, Teatro Colon opera house and stroll around the Palermo with its parks, gardens, boutiques and café society.

A must-see historic district is La Boca. Here so the story goes, the steamy hot Tango dance began.  Like a Little Italy, La Boca in the late 1800´s was the harbour port of Buenos Aires, the name boca, meaning mouth of the river Riachuelo. This was indeed a poor neighbourhood, where the street girls, sailors and immigrants all mingled together creating a multicultural party atmosphere; fiddlers would play Spanish flamenco- gypsy tunes while, first, the men and then couples, showed off sassy dance moves.

Today, the district is a charming, vibrant, vivacious district of cobbled streets, gaily painted houses, atmospheric old bars and street cafes .. and everywhere Tango dancers strut their stuff.

Performance Art - Tango dancers around the streets

Performance Art – Tango dancers around the streets

As we had done the “Don’t Cry for me Argentina” city highlights tour a few years ago, we decided to spend a day dowtown for shopping and culture. From Calle Florida to the Parisian-styled Palermo, browse the boutiques for quality leather, fur, jewellery, clothes and accessories. The shuttle bus from the Port took us directly to the Marriot hotel very near Calle Florida, a pedestrianised shopping street.

Calle Florida

Calle Florida

Wandering aimlessly into the attractive women’s fashion store, Andiamo, (Calle Florida 914), we received a warm welcome by helpful staff. I bought three T shirts, with Artistic designs by Picasso, Miro and Lichtenstein.

Then I spotted a colourful pink and turquoise maxi dress. Perfect cruise and pool deck wear.in this sultry heat.

As we walked on down the street, we were politely “accosted” by a few shady characters trying to attract our attention with the shout of ‘cambio, cambio!’ These ‘unofficial’ (i.e. illegal) money changers known as arbolitos, who may offer exchange rates better than the banks, but not recommended. We didn’t require Argentinan Pesos at all, with US dollars widely accepted.

Having studied our Lonely Planet South America guidebook for suggestions on what to see and do, we were inspired by the listing for Museo Fortabrat housing the art collection of multimillionaire, Amalia Lacroze de Fortabrat, who was Argentina’s wealthiest lady until her death in 2012.

Museo Fortabrat

Museo Fortabrat on the waterfront

It was an easy stroll down to Puerto Madero, the gentrified dockland area where old warehouses have made way for luxury apartments, waterfront restaurants and cultural lifestyle. Paying homage in street names to outstanding women in Argentina’s history, the district is a revitalised exclusive residential, gastronomic and business centre of the city.

Giant figure sculpture outside Museo Fortabrat

Giant figure sculpture outside Museo Fortabrat

The eclectic art collection has been reportedly valued at US$280 million. Amalia Fortabat was an astute buyer and seller of fine art – in 1980 she paid $6.4 million for Turner’s painting Juliet and Her Nurse, and sold Degas pastel, Mary Cassat at the Louvre for $16.5 at Sotheby’s New York (2002).  The modernist Museo creates a fabulous airy, light-filled space across many levels divided into different periods and genres, from ancient Egyptian ceramics to Argentinian contemporary art by Raquel Forner, Xul Solar, Antonio Berni, experimental artists and La Boca School. Elsewhere, the European masters including Chagall, Dalí, Klimt and Rodin.

And pride of place is a glamorous portrait of Amalia by Andy Warhol, in his distinctive colourful “Marilyn” style of screenprint.

Amalia Lacroze de Fortabrat by Andy Warhol

Amalia Lacroze de Fortabrat by Andy Warhol

The architect of the Gallery, Uruguayan Rafael Viñoly followed Fortabrat’s precise design brief based on the fact that she “always wanted to look at pictures and the stars at the same time”.  The roof retracts, moving with the sun’s rotation so visitors may stand in the sunshine without harming the works on show in this extraordinary personal Art collection.

A truly inspiring few days exploring the coastline of Uruguay and then the cultural hot spot, Buenos Aires … next stop Rio de Janeiro, Carnival City.

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About vivdevlin

I am an international travel writer, specialising in luxury travel, hotels, restaurants, city guides, cruises, islands, train and literary-inspired journeys. I review dance and theatre, Arts Festivals and love the visual arts. I have just experienced an epic voyage, circumnavigating the globe, following in the wake of Captain Cook, Mark Twain and Robert Louis Stevenson.

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