• Saturday, August 19, 2017

Uruguay Vacation

Carmelo - Like a Rhinestone Gaucho
September 26, 2012
By , Founder and Editor-in-Chief
Four Seasons Resort Carmelo

A place where saddles are a-blazing, Uruguay is rhinestone gaucho country. It’s farms, green polo fields, and vineyards as far as the eye can see. With its close proximity to Buenos Aires, Carmelo is the playground for Argentines who are buying up land with the frenzy of a Kmart Blue Light special. And you might as well join in, before the real estate blue light goes out.

Good For: Couples and groups of friends looking to chill out. Carmelo is where you should end your trip after a bender of a vacation in Buenos Aires and Punta del Este.  

The Highlights: 

  • Wandering through Colonia, one of the prettiest (and safest) colonial towns in South America.  
  • Wine-tasting and lunch at Narbona Winery, a quintessential vineyard and simple farmhouse with gourmet home-cooked meals.
  • Spending a day on a boat, exploring Carmelo by water. Make friends with the boisterous Argentines who will invite you to a traditional asado as the sun sets.
  • Horseback riding and polo lessons in the stunning countryside.
  • Spending a decadent day beachside at Four Seasons Resort Carmelo, where you’ll feel like Bali was imported to Uruguay.

What to Know: This is a chilled-out zone; think the Hamptons in September, when all the riffraff is gone. In high season, the area is heavily visited, but it lacks the pop-up clubs and robust restaurant scene of Punta del Este. With its close proximity to Buenos Aires – one hour by ferry and 15 minutes by private chartered plane – it’s ideal as a low-key getaway. The Four Seasons Resort Carmelo offers a combined special for its Buenos Aires and Carmelo properties, for a Town & Country weekend.

Unlike a number of areas in South America, there are few security issues in Uruguay. It’s relatively affordable to vacation here, though private drivers and taxes do add up. The government subsidizes education and healthcare, which means that when they can tax (hello tourism), they do.  

Suggested Stay: 2 Days

Fly & Ferry

The best way to get to Carmelo and the Colonia area is to charter a private plane from the Buenos Aires Ezeiza International Airport. As of recently, other scheduled flights are no longer operating, since most tourists and locals travel by private plane. If that’s not how you roll, then go for the Buquebus, a high-speed ferry from Buenos Aires’ Puerto Madero. In high season, you’ll need to reserve your ticket, because Uruguay is the playground of the Argentines, and the water-bus to the promised land gets completely booked up. A tip: If you have some extra time while waiting for the Buquebus, head to Cabaña las Lilas in Puerto Madero, a five-minute walk from the Buquebus station. Cabaña las Lilas is a feast of Brazilian and Argentine breads, meats, and copious side dishes, along with bottles of Malbec to prepare you for your boat ride.

Chill Out in Colonia

Traveling in South America can be dicey, but the coastline from Carmelo to José Ignacio is safe. As the name implies, the town of Colonia is a picture-perfect colonial town – perfect for a day trip to wander the cobblestone streets, shop, café-hop, and explore the waterfront. The best restaurants are in the old town, like El Drugstore, which is the type of authentic spot that New York has been able to artfully master, but few other places are able to achieve. It looks like a kitschy diner, but the open kitchen churns out high-quality Latin fusion dishes. Standouts include the lemon-curry shrimp with rice, and potato croquettes. For those looking for old-school atmosphere, dine at Mesón de la Plaza, where Uruguayan families gather over fondue and homemade pastas.  

As for shopping: You won’t find Cartier or Louis Vuitton, but there are plenty of charming craft stores and shops that sell local goods like dulce de leche. The antique shops yield treasures to those with a discerning eye – and the patience to rummage.  

Go Sideways in Uruguay

What will strike you most about Uruguay is how beautiful the countryside is. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself dreaming of retiring on a ranch, raising polo ponies, and growing your own grapes. Uruguay’s answer to the Argentine Malbec is the Tannat, the signature grape grown in the region. The Uruguayan wine industry is but a cocoon at this stage, but it has great potential to grow into a butterfly. Narbona Winery is the premier winery of the region, leading the charge to evolve the wine industry. But it hasn’t forgotten its roots. Set in a 100-year-old farmhouse, their new chef Martin prepares gorgeous plates of pasta – behold the spinach ravioli – served in a surreal rustic setting.   This is the stuff that vacation dreams are made of, climaxing with their cheese cellar, which is known to turn out the best cheese plate in the region. The shop sells not only the vineyard’s wine and grappa, but pickled creations, jams, homemade dried pastas, cheeses, and the famed dulce de leche. Miles from Sideways would be told not only to put down the bottle, but to put down the caramel.  

Four Seasons Resort Carmelo

A Balinese Rodeo

Think of your time in Carmelo as the detox bookend of a trip to the all-night party circuit in Buenos Aires and Ibiza-style Punta del Este. For a full-service detox, the beachfront Four Seasons Resort Carmelo is the only rodeo in town. But a Balinese rodeo, which is where most of the hotel was shipped in from and the purveying theme throughout. The duplex suites will have you wondering how you ever lived without heated floors and daily shoe shines (and what on earth Bali is doing in Uruguay). Service is top-notch at the property – just what you would expect from a Four Seasons – with plenty of Latino flavor.

The Extracurricular Activities of Gauchos

Besides the stunning scenery, the real beauty of Carmelo is that there isn’t a whole lot going on. It’s less city and more country, and less partying and more polo. In other words, you won’t need a vacation from your vacation, especially if you spend the last day or two chilling out at the Four Seasons, poolside and on the beach. But those saddles will still be blazing, just in a different way. Is that a 10-gallon hat, or are you just happy to see me? 

(Photo: Four Seasons Resort Carmelo, courtesy of Four Seasons Resort Carmelo)