Author Matt Chesterton
DAY ONE / Palermo Viejo is where old and new Buenos Aires bumped into one another and decided to tango. It’s the city’s most fashionable barrio and the ideal base for your stay. Book a suite at 1Home Hotel, an award-winning boutique property that marries sleek style with soulfulness and bright colors. Wake up amid vintage Scandinavian furniture and gorgeous floral wallpaper, and take your breakfast in the pool garden. It’s a classy start to the day.
Buenos Aires beckons, and you should jump in feet first. Have the desk staff hail a taxi that will carry you to the city’s political and commercial hub, 2Plaza de Mayo, which has been a central neighborhood since its founding in 1580. Along the way you’ll cross the 16 lanes of Avenida 9 de Julio, the city’s widest avenue and truly one of the asphalt wonders of the world.
Once in the square, get your bearings. On the west side is the whitewashed Cabildo (Town Hall), where the 1810 revolution was plotted, leading to independence from Spain. (The plaza is in the midst of a rehab in preparation for next year’s bicentennial.) Continuing clockwise, you’ll pass the Metropolitan Cathedral, a neoclassical pile that has been rebuilt countless times. Despite the undistinguished exterior, be sure to duck in and check out the mausoleum of General San Martín, Argentina’s George Washington, which is protected by three life-size figures representing Peru, Chile and Argentina.
On the eastern edge of the plaza is the Casa Rosada, or Pink House.
The chief executive’s office building, the Casa Rosada was first painted pink by President Domingo Sarmiento in the 1860s to quell a disturbance between two political factions, one associated with white; the other, red. Its famous balcony has been the bully pulpit for presidents, dictators, liberators, Eva Perón and, of course, Madonna playing Eva Perón.
Complete your circuit of the plaza and exit on Avenida de Mayo, next to the Cabildo. Find a seat at the 3Café Tortoni, BA’s oldest and most storied coffeehouse, dating from 1858, and order a café con leche and a crispy churro. Writers and intellectuals like Jorge Luis Borges and Federico García Lorca once scribbled at the oak and green marble tables; now, camera-swinging foreign visitors are a more common site. Nonetheless, this may be one certified tourist trap you won’t mind getting ensnared by. The churros are divine.
Next, cross the Avenida and enter Piedras subway station, where you’ll hop on the A line bound for the neighborhood of Montserrat. The train is made up entirely of original wooden carriages, making it the oldest of its kind in South America. Get off at Sáenz Peña station, and climb the stairs to discover the startlingly eclectic 4Palacio Barolo towering over you. Built by an Italian architect in 1923, it is an homage to Dante’s Divine Comedy. The ground floor represents hell, with floor tiles depicting licking flames, while the tower, which signifies heaven, offers a panoramic view of the city. The Palacio, which now houses mostly offices, is a wild profusion of styles, particularly Art Nouveau and Asian Indian Revival. Enter the ground floor passageway and contemplate your transgressions (surely you can think of one or two?) while admiring the leering gargoyles.
Enough of that. Exit the plaza on Calle San José and continue until you reach Avenida Corrientes, a busy strip of theaters and pizzerias. All that thinking about sin has no doubt given you an appetite, so have lunch at 5Los Inmortales, a classic pizza joint featuring redemptive thin-crust pies that have been enjoyed by the fabulous likes of Liza Minnelli and Parisian crooner Charles Aznavour.
Afterward, stroll along Corrientes toward the towering Obelisco, cross Calle 9 de Julio and continue down to the recently renovated port district of 6Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires’ youngest barrio. You’ll see nifty red brick structures that were once abandoned husks. Madero has been completely rebuilt and is now the perfect spot for an afternoon promenade. Walk south along the dockside until you reach the Puente de la Mujer bridge, which offers a clear view of the city behind you. Double back and head for the recently opened 7Fortabat Museum, a long, narrow building with a rounded roof that towers overhead looking like a row of talons. You can spend hours inside admiring the private art collection of Amalia Fortabat, Argentina’s richest woman. The country’s best artists are represented, alongside international treasures like Andy Warhol, Hans Brueghel and JMW Turner.
Take tea on the museum café’s terrace as the sun drops behind the city’s skyline. Then head south until you reach the 8Faena Hotel + Universe, an austere grain silo that architect Philippe Starck recently transformed into the city’s most au courant luxury lodging. Enjoy a frozen margarita at the Pool Bar before hailing a cab back to Palermo.
The concierge at Home Hotel will set up an Ayurvedic massage at the hotel’s spa.
I heartily recommend you avail yourself of this 90-minute embrace. It’ll prepare you for dinner at an outdoor table at 9La Cabrera, one of BA’s top parrillas, or steakhouses. Order a bife de chorizo (sirloin), some of the best in the world. Our waiter matched our meal with a bottle of rich and smoky 2005 Escorihuela Gascon Malbec.
The night, as porteños say, is in diapers (though if you can still stand up after that dinner, you may not have ordered enough). Carry yourself six blocks to 10Salón Canning, which hosts milongas (tango dance nights) weekdays from 11pm onward. Since it’s your first night, perhaps you’ll just watch. Tomorrow, you dance.