Three dollars worth of an elegant, different vacation for every one dollar. That is what you get in Buenos Aires. I know I told you this before, but these are difficult financial times and I don’t think I’ve told you enough. In beautiful sexy Buenos Aires, everything you do, everything you eat, everywhere you tango and everywhere you sleep — you will get the value of three American dollars for every one dollar you spend. To compare, in England you have to add another dollar to each of your dollars to pay the bill. A cup of coffee is a shock when the bill comes and you have to pay twice as much in dollars — and tips are twice the expected. In Europe you have to add 50 cents to each of your dollars to pay the bill. That makes coffee — and Chanel — expensive.
The dollar is cheap and is a huge problem, though it is a great opportunity for Europeans and Russians visiting the United States to buy our goodies, including good businesses, cheaply. That is why it is such a happy discovery that you can get three times the value of your dollar in Argentina. And, to boot, Argentina is beautiful and glamorous and has everything you could want for a superb vacation.
A lot of Buenos Aires looks like Paris. There are so many Italians living there, though, that it feels more like Italy. Lots of laughs and drama and charm. There are the endless balconies you see in Europe that are rarely used but look so inviting. And like any city that has many different, interesting areas. Palermo Chico is like the Massachusetts Avenue area of Washington where the embassies – and magnificent private city houses — are. The swank stylish district is Recoleta, and San Telmo is blossoming. But almost everything is coming up in Buenos Aires. It’s a lively sexy town and there are many hotels and restaurants and clubs; oh, you MUST go to Asia de Cuba (wheeee!! You won’t believe it!) – and there is shopping to do. And Argentina has some of the most extraordinary wilderness areas with glaciers, ski slopes, waterfalls that are worth a vacation trip by itself. There is even a next-door country with incredible beaches – Uruguay — and it is filled with beach beauties and hunks right out of the movies. And there is Punta del Este and Posada del Faro on the beach, for knowing hipsters or people like us who have a great time just absorbing it all.
Argentina’s locals are full of energy and when they party, they party. But it is not a rich and fancy population. So although there are great, upper-class hotels and restaurants for wealthier tourists, there are more smart hotels and restaurants at surprisingly low cost. I don’t remember a city with so many cool lower cost hotels and restaurants. Home Hotel in Palermo Viejo was created by a former record producer, Tom Rixton, and it is a solid hit — reserve well ahead. It is a supremely comfortable hotel with style and a sense of humor. Not fancy, it is fun and easy to sink into. Rooms are all decorated differently and there is even an infinity pool and sun deck and a spa and a good cocktail bar. (tel: 54 11 4778 1008, U.S.$240 to $340 approx.) The Costa Petit is in Buenos Aires’s hottest area, Palermo Viejo, and may be the most stylish boutique hotel with amazing rooms. (tel: 54 11 4776 8296/94, U.S.$150 to $250 approx.) The Cocker in San Telmo is, believe it or not, a cool stay for around U.S.$65 to $85. It was a slum once but it was rebuilt with big talent. It has a piano room that is used well. It has a roof garden where the hotel shows movies. There are only seven or eight rooms but they are terrific. There are no televisions but you won’t notice.
Nearby is La Brigada for a great Argentine steak dinner. The people who run this little hotel really get it! (tel: 54 11 4362 8451.) President Bush’s daughters stayed at the Krista Hotel Boutique in trendy Palermo Hollywood when Barbara Bush (daughter) lost her handbag. Each of the well-styled comfortable rooms has a patio of one kind or another. The owner provides breakfast in the nice sitting wing of the lobby. (tel: 54 11 4771 4697, U.S.$90 to $140. Yep.) The Art Hotel has an art gallery covering the entire ground floor and the rooms are designer-smart. In fashionable Recoleta, it was created by a Frenchman and gets a lot of Europeans. (tel: 54 11 4821 4744, U.S.$75 to $115 or thereabouts.)
I could write a book about how clever the hotel owners in Buenos Aires are with their inexpensive hotels. But for anyone looking for more luxe, Buenos Aires has an amazing variety. The local fancy people will tell you to go to the Alvear Palace Hotel. If you want the atmosphere of a palace, it is a pretty one and I thought the service was terrific. But I much preferred staying at the hotel my friends Catherine and Seth suggested, the Park Hyatt Palacio Duhau. It is part palace and part modern tower connecting glamour and superb cool design. There are sofas made by the Ferrari seat designers as well as 17th-century paneling. There is an underground tunnel that is an art gallery. There is a fine spa and a beautiful bar and a gorgeous garden for lunches and drinks and tea. It is very special and you won’t want to leave it. (tel: 54 11 5171 1234, U.S.$380 to around $4500.) Oooooh so romantic. I have other friends who love the Faena Hotel, recently rebuilt and decorated by Philippe Starck. Very luxurious, very comfortable, breathtaking and sometimes over the top, but it’s fun over the top. I can’t capture the towering corridor entrance in a photograph but am trying. The bedrooms have everything you can imagine. (tel: 54 11 4010 9000, U.S.$500 to approx. $5000. The Four Seasons Hotel is filled to the brim all the time by people who know about luxury hotels. It is that rare hotel that blends the best of the new with the best of the old. (tel: 54 11 4321 1200, $575 to $6500 approximately.) There are many more.
It’s Argentina so, as you can imagine, the beef is top of the line. So are shoes. So is the Tango – you can be sitting in a bar having a drink and a couple will tango by. Catherine and Seth thought it was really steamy. There are lots of places to go to learn how to tango the steamy way. There are lots of places to go, period. Bars of all kinds stay open until dawn. The town jumps until the sun quiets it down. Casa Cruz is considered the most otherworldly dining experience. It’s not cheap. Catherine and Seth and I liked Cluny. Hip, relaxed, great food, great space. Also not cheap. El Bistro – nothing else like it that I can recall – Philippe Starck really acting up, so you can imagine. And it’s fun with a chef that was the protégé of Adrià of El Bulli in Spain, considered by other chefs to be the best in the world. La Brigada is a superb grill restaurant and I love the way it looks — $80 depending. La Cabrera is as good a grill restaurant with a different style and is in the heart of Palermo Viejo where so much is happening. It’s very popular. You get champagne while you wait for your table. Both places need reservations. ($80 depending.) Dominga is a place designed to have attitude and gets a colorful mix of patrons: rich businessmen, polo players, models and a few tourists who hear about it. Fun, large menu, quality dining, great drinks. ($75 depending.) Oh, there are so many like these. Buenos Aires is, as I keep saying, fun!
Before you leave Argentina you have to see the Iguazu falls — they make Niagara look small. There are also a vast number of species of birds tweeting around there so the sounds of your day will be memorable. You might drive up and back or you can stay at Sheraton’s Iguazu Resort, which has direct views of the falls. No other hotel does. Remember I told you that! Also, before you leave you have to see the cemetery in the Recoleta district. Catherine and Seth dragged me. But it is a wonder. Evita Peron lives there. There’s a very large park with mausoleums that have different architecture and some are gorgeous art deco ones and some have rooms with curtains and flowers and crystal. Catherine swears there was music, too. I thought it was Evita whispering, “Andrew! Andrew! Where are you, Andrew Lloyd Webber?!”