Although long popular with Argentine tourists, Córdoba Province receives few foreign visitors, despite being one of the most diverse parts of the country. This underrated region is home to hip cities, kitsch Germania, iconic revolutionaries, skydiving hubs, UFO-spotters, and perhaps the finest horse riding on the continent.
The local authorities are investing heavily in arts and culture, and several new museums and cultural spaces have opened up. The latest is the Centro Cultural Córdoba, an eye-catching, glass-and-concrete construction, with an arcing roof that appears to have been designed specifically to tempt skateboarders (though numerous signs warn that this activity is explicitly prohibited).
Immediately behind the centre, which hosts regular exhibitions, theatrical performances and film screenings, is the Faro (Lighthouse), a concrete twist that rises almost 90m into the air.
The centre of cool Córdoba, though, is Barrio Güemes, one of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods, now rapidly gentrifying. Many of its crumbling eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century houses have been transformed into antique shops, boutiques, art galleries, and trendy restaurants and bars. The barrio comes alive in the evenings, when locals flock to drink craft beers at Dada Mini and cocktails at Milk, eat at the artist-owned Milo Lockett, and – at weekends – rummage through the stalls at the bohemian Paseo de las Artes street market.
At this wonderfully secluded working ranch the Begg family and their gauchos take you on epic rides across an undulating landscape that vaguely resembles the Scottish Highlands.
Among their horses are Paso Peruanos, a breed famous for its extra “gait” – a fifth gear essentially – which makes for a smoother ride. They are so well-bred that even the most nervous rider will soon imagine themselves a cowboy or girl. More experienced riders, meanwhile, can try their hand at that very Anglo-Argentine sport, polo.
Its streets are lined with ersatz Alpine-style buildings, mock castles, and pubs with names like “Alter Zeppelin” and “Viejo Munich”. Restaurants serve sausages and sauerkraut, spätzle and goulash, while café’s offer up black forest gateau and apple strudel. Shops, meanwhile, are stocked with beer steins, toy wooden trolls and relojes cu-cu (cuckoo clocks). The town comes into its own – with the kitsch ramped up to the max – in the autumn when it hosts a raucous Oktoberfest.
For the Spanish Crown this was a dangerously enlightened approach, and the – by now very wealthy – Jesuits were eventually banished from the continent in the 1760s. As well as a lasting cultural influence, they left behind an incredible array of architectural gems, notably estancias (ranches) such as Santa Catalina.
Almost 200 years later, in the 1930s, the Guevara family moved to Alta Gracia, a small town 40km south of Córdoba, in the hope that the dry climate of the surrounding sierras would help the five-year-old “Che” cope with his chronic asthma.
Their home, Villa Beatriz, is now an evocative museum, filled with all manner of memorabilia – from the golf clubs and typewriter Che used as a young man to the ashes of Alberto Granado, with whom he embarked on his famous motorcycle journey around Latin America.
Shafik Meghji co-authors The Rough Guide to Argentina. He blogs at unmappedroutes.com and tweet @ShafikMeghji. Compare flights, find tours, book hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.
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