Perennials | Alias Graceful
Harrods closed in 1999. Praise be then for that other stalwart of longstanding luxury still standing, the standing tall Four Seasons. This being exclusive Recoleta, a Beaux Arts mansion of seven hotel suites around a black and white Carrara marble staircase is plonked in the grounds. If Gatsby had a townhouse… It has its own romantic story attached, one with a happy ending. Dashing heir to a ranching fortune Félix de Álzaga Unzué built La Mansión in 1920 as a wedding splash for his smashing bride Elena Peña. It recently got a £40 million makeover led by Argentine architect Francisco López Bustos. These days? Serendipitous suzerainty in sunglasses. Indoors. Sexy has a new.
Buenos Aires reaches out across the Atlantic yet the endless Pampas encircling the city reinforce the feeling of an enraptured self involvement. The city clings to the edge of the land, looking towards Europe rather than America. French architecture dominates (or certainly did in the past); Italian cuisine reigns supreme; and there are plenty of Spanish speaking locals claiming Anglo Argentinian heritage, whether of English or Celtic descent. In the 18th century, Argentina was the non English speaking country to attract the highest number of Irish immigrants. Many would become eminent in the navy, arts and medicine. In some ways Argentina is more progressive than its European counterparts: unlike Spain, it banned bull fighting as early as 1822.
Buenos Aires translates as “good air”. It could just as easily stand for “the good life” to be enjoyed in winter, spring, summer and autumn. Restaurants, cafés and bars – and this hotel for sure – are alive and kicking, vibrating with the rise and fall cadence of polyglot chatter and laughter, well into the wee small hours. A dark tango erupts across this ambassadorial enclave under the dense shade of blazing jacaranda trees. A clock strikes 12. Midnight in the garden of good and upheaval.
Earlier in the day, away from the searing heat, mingling with mestizos, there was lunch in Elena. Yep, the Four Seasons restaurant carries her name. Between the crazy new block with its broken pediments (like an adopted lovechild of Philip Johnson and Quinlan Terry) and La Mansión is the surprisingly macho Pampas ranch style restaurant. It’s scalped out of the escarpment of the sloping site, lit by a dome which pops its transparent head up into the garden next to the swimming pool. The old and the new, the subterranean and above ground meld and depart; the mellow and the bonkers (condom shaped lights and door handles formed of chains in the loos anyone?) blur and collide.
Over lunch, a tangy aromatic Doña Paula Malbec 2017 on ice was just so cooling. The temperature rose back up when a sizzling cheese soufflé arrived from the kitchen. Mariscada was next. That’s: trout, octopus, shrimp, catch of the day (make that white salmon) and sautéed squid. A seabed of goodness; southern pemmican. Finally, mousse de chocolate amazónico 70 percent and proper Argentinian bean coffee. All four were so very this season.