The brash resort of VILLA CARLOS PAZ lies at the southern end of the Punilla Valley, on the southwestern banks of a large, dirty reservoir, the Lago San Roque. It sits at a major junction, that of the RP-34, which heads south to Mina Clavero, and the RN-38 toll-road, which goes north through the valley towards Cruz del Eje and La Rioja. Nationally famous, but now spoilt by chaotic construction, pollution and overcrowding, the resort is frequently compared with Mar del Plata, only without the ocean. It started out in the 1930s as a holiday centre for well-off Cordobeses, with sandy beaches created along the lakeside. Nowadays people whiz around the lake in catamarans and motorboats, or on water skis. In the town centre, dozens of amusement arcades and entertainment theme parks blare music, while most of the bars and confiterías show video clips or offer karaoke. The town sprawls in a disorderly way around the lake – the western districts are generally greener, airier and more attractive. The local population of 72,000 more than doubles at the height of summer, when accommodation gets booked up well in advance.
Some 25km north of Villa Carlos Paz, and barely more appealing, the small but bustling town of COSQUÍN nestles in a sweep of the river of the same name and in the lee of the 1260m Pan de Azúcar. It’s one of the region’s oldest settlements – dating from colonial times – and has been a holiday resort since the end of the nineteenth century. The summit of the sugar-loaf mountain, which affords panoramic views of the valley and mountains beyond, can be reached by a chairlift, or aerosilla (daily 10am–7pm; $18 return), from the well-signposted Complejo Aerosilla, which sits about 8km north of town and also houses a bronze monument to Carlos Gardel, the legendary tango singer, as well as the inevitable confitería. Alternatively, you can skip the chairlift and use your legs – from the Complejo Aerosilla it’s about half an hour up a steep path. Cosquín has always been associated nationwide with the Festival Nacional de Folklore (wwww.aquicosquin.org), held every year in the second half of January and attended by folk artists, ballet troupes and classical musicians from across the country, although it has declined in quality in recent years. The festival takes place in the so-called Plaza Nacional del Folklore (actually the Plaza Próspero Molina) just off RN-38, which threads through the centre of town.