Argentina’s Lake District – the northwestern wedge of Argentine Patagonia – is a land of picture-perfect glacial lakes surrounded by luxuriant forests, jagged peaks and extinct volcanoes. Not so long ago it was a wilderness controlled by indigenous peoples, but the undisputed modern capital, Bariloche, now sees annual invasions of Argentine and foreign holiday-makers. Thanks to excellent transport links, they descend on the town in droves year-round for the fresh air and outdoor adventures. The supposed lure is the alpine flavour of this “Argentine Switzerland” – a moniker borne out to some extent thanks to the Mitteleuropa-like setting, wooden chalet architecture and the region’s breweries, dairies and chocolate shops. Yet the real attraction is the sheer unspoilt beauty of the goliath Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi, the grandfather of all Argentina’s national parks, packed with enough trekking and other outdoor activities to last any enthusiast weeks.
North of Bariloche is the upmarket resort of Villa La Angostura, and the stunning Seven Lakes Route, while to the south is the more alternative resort of El Bolsón and the splendid Parque Nacional Los Alerces, home to more fabulous lakes and ancient alerce trees. Further south still lurks a trio of curiosities: Butch Cassidy’s cabin, the Welsh settlement of Trevelin and the historic railway at La Trochita.
In the northern swathes of the Lake District the main hub is family-oriented San Martín de los Andes, Bariloche’s nearest regional rival, with an admirable lakefront location. Both it and neighbouring Junín de los Andes – renowned nationwide for its angling opportunities – are perfect bases for exploring the rugged Parque Nacional Lanín, whose focus is Volcán Lanín, a conical peak popular with mountaineers. Neuquén, the namesake capital of Argentina’s only palindromically named province, is a pleasant enough city to relax in, but its indisputable draw has to be the nearby treasure-trove of giant dinosaur fossils, earning it the nickname of Dinosaur Paradise. In recent years vines have been planted with considerable success in the desert-like areas to the north and east of the city; wineries with dramatic names like Valle Perdido (“lost valley”) and Bodega del Fin del Mundo (“winery at the end of the world”) have started making fabulous semillons and syrahs that you can go and taste on the premises.