Buenos Aires
National Geographic Traveller (UK)|November 2021
Famed for its boulevards and ballrooms, the Argentine capital is reinventing itself through restaurant collaborations, a new arts district and a revamped dockland park
By Vanessa Bell

Think Buenos Aires and the European associations are inevitable. Its reputation as the ‘Paris of South America’ has its roots in the late 1800s when the ideal of modernity among well-heeled Porteños (as Buenos Aires’ citizens are known) was modelled on France. From fashion to ornate facades, the capital of the fledgling independent Argentina — and its growing population of European émigrés — fostered a Parisian vogue that reached fever pitch in the early 20th century, when it welcomed a who’s who of avant-garde creatives, from Marcel Duchamp to Le Corbusier.

But to declare the city’s heyday long past, its glamour faded, its Camelot fallen, or to dwell too heavily on its history — Argentina’s string of coup d’états and dictatorships between 1930 and 1983 — is to misunderstand the dynamism and daring spirit woven into the fabric of modern-day Buenos Aires. This is a city whose track record proves that periods of adversity only pave the way for sparkling reinvention.

Testament to this are the innovations that have taken place within the city’s culinary scene in the past year — pivots and new enterprises that nimbly responded to the devastating rhythms of the pandemic like tango dancers in the city’s (presently shuttered) milonga ballrooms. While artisanal coffee shops switched to selling cups-to-go via hatches, elsewhere, collaborative culinary initiatives like F5 appeared. By day, a breezy bakery and brunch spot in the heart of the city, run by baker Francisco Seubert, at night, the venue passes into the hands of Rodrigo Sieiro and Tomás Romero, who serve up modern iterations of traditional cantina food. Local gourmands also benefitted when lauded experimental restaurant Anchoita decided during lockdown to reopen as a pop-up ice cream parlour. When life gives you lemons? In this case, Porteños made fresh and fruity gelato.

Even outside of the pandemic, the best way to connect with the city is by foot — ideally with a local guide. Enjoy stately Avenida del Libertador and Avenida Figueroa Alcorta, laden with purple jacaranda blossom. Linger awhile in the buzzy meeting spots of Plaza Mafalda and Barrancas de Belgrano; explore the revamped dockside nature reserve of Puerto Madero; soak up the sun in Parque Las Heras. Be intrepid — lesser-visited neighbourhoods like Caballito, Almagro, Boedo and San Cristóbal are home to a treasure trove of timeless vignettes. On weekend afternoons, when the lull of the siesta is palpable and the light begins to soften, join the old-timer clientele at retro corner bars and see neighbours chatting on their doorsteps over mate tea. Buenos Aires’ glory days are far from over.

SEE & DO

XUL SOLAR MUSEUM: Built in 1993 to celebrate Argentinian artist Xul Solar, this museum contains his former apartment and library of 3,500 books. The building’s brutalist design and labyrinthine layout were inspired by his mystical works, which included made-up languages, tarot decks and experimental instruments, and are fascinating to explore. xulsolar.org.ar

MARTÍN GARCÍA ISLAND: A visit to this nature reserve takes in the scenic Tigre Delta en route, reached via a two-and-aquarter-hour catamaran service from the Estación Fluvial river port in Tigre. While here, visit the traditional bakery, famous for its pan dulce (a panettone-style cake of Italian origin) and walk around the ruins of the prison where former Argentine president Juan Perón was held in 1945. Sturla Viajes offers guided day trips to the island. To stay longer, book into the island’s campsite or simple hostel. islamartingarcia.tur.ar sturlaviajes.tur.ar

CONFITERÍA DEL MOLINO: One of the city’s finest examples of art nouveau architecture, dating back to 1916, the Confitería del Molino coffeehouse has been painstakingly restored over the past three years. Its emblematic cafe, with grand, stained-glass windows and marble pillars, is set to reopen in 2022. delmolino.gob.ar

BELGRANO R ENGLISH QUARTER: Buenos Aires’ English Quarter, Belgrano R, is characterised by late-19th-century mansions and cobbled streets, making it ideal for a leisurely stroll. Originally inhabited by British nationals working in railroad construction, it’s now an upscale residential area peppered with embassies. Avenida Melián, with its canopy of tipa trees and dappled sunlight, easily wins the prize for the city’s most photogenic street.

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