Argentina //

Buenos Aires Province

Marvellous though Buenos Aires is, you may wish to follow the example of the Porteños and escape the urban mêlée for a few days. Immediately north of the city, and understandably a favourite getaway destination, is the watery labyrinth of the Paraná Delta. Unfolding westwards and southwards, the famed Pampas of Buenos Aires Province form the country’s agricultural heartland; unfairly neglected by most tourists, these fertile grassy plains offer a fascinating window into Argentina’s traditional gaucho culture and rural life. The country’s beaches are not exactly world famous, but two dozen popular oceanside resorts fringe the province’s Atlantic coast; some are worth checking out for their restful tranquillity, others for their frenetic nightlife.

The Paraná Delta’s main town, Tigre, is often described as a subtropical Little Venice; wooden launches chug along opaque canals lined with timber bungalows and subtropical thickets instead of Renaissance palaces and piazzas.

The province’s inland landscape is dominated by farmland – providing the bulk of the country’s exports – peppered with picturesque gaucho settlements: San Antonio de Areco a charmingly old-fashioned example with cobbled streets and well-preserved nineteenth-century architecture, within striking distance of several traditional and luxurious estancias; Tandil, whose museums and rugged setting make it a highly worthwhile stopping-place en route to Patagonia overland; and the appealingly quiet town of Mercedes, famed for its authentic pulpería (a traditional bar-cum-store). Closer to Buenos Aires, the mini-city of Luján exposes the country’s spiritual heart, with a mass display of religious devotion in honour of Argentina’s patron saint, the Virgin of Luján. In a predominantly flat province, to reach anything approaching a mountain, you will need to head for the western reaches, where you’ll find the Pampas’s most dramatic relief, the Sierra de la Ventana range, 580km southwest of Buenos Aires.

The coastal route starts just south of La Plata, the pleasant provincial capital. Another 260km southeast, the point where the silty Río de la Plata flows out into the cool waters of the South Atlantic Ocean marks the beginning of the country’s seaside resorts, hugely popular with local families in the summer. In January and February much of the national capital pulls down its shutters and heads en masse for the coast; if crowds and 24-hour parties aren’t your thing, visit in December or March when hotel prices can drop by half or more. Two of the major resorts along the so-called Interbalnearia, Pinamar and Villa Gesell tend to attract younger holiday-makers, while Mar del Plata is the liveliest of all, with vast crowds packing its beaches by day and flocking to its numerous clubs and restaurants at night. If you hanker after peace and quiet, there are more isolated spots, though, such as exclusive Cariló, bucolic Mar de las Pampas or sleepy Mar del Sud. Of course, if it’s pristine white sands, shady palms and warm seas you’re after, you’d be better off heading north to Brazil.

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