Delightful SAN ANTONIO DE ARECO, the national capital of gaucho traditions, hosts the annual Fiesta de la Tradición, the country’s most important festival celebrating pampas culture. Despite its modest promotion as a tourist destination, playing on its appealing setting by the banks of the tranquil Río Areco, the town has retained a surprisingly genuine feel. You may not find Areco full of galloping gauchos outside festival week, but you still have a good chance of spotting estancia workers on horseback, sporting traditional berets and rakishly knotted scarves, or of coming across paisanos propping up the bar of a traditional boliche establishment. Areco has a prestigious literary connection: the town was the setting for Ricardo Güiraldes’ Argentine classic Don Segundo Sombra (1926), a novel that was influential in changing the image of the gaucho from that of an undesirable outlaw to a symbol of national values.
The town’s only real sights are a couple of museums, the most important of which is the Museo Gauchesco Ricardo Güiraldes. But what really makes Areco memorable is the harmonious architectural character of the town’s centre: all cobbled streets and faded Italianate and colonial facades punctuated by elaborate wrought-iron grilles and delicately arching lamps. There are also some excellent artisans working in the town in talleres (workshops). Weaving and leatherwork are well represented, but the silversmiths are the highlight.
Areco’s traditional gaucho atmosphere extends to the surrounding area, where you will find some of Argentina’s most famous estancias, offering a luxurious accommodation alternative to staying in Areco itself. The town and its surroundings were badly hit by terrible floods in late 2009, and many sights have only just recovered, having required extensive and costly restoration work.