Teatro Colón Buenos Aires + Antonín Dvořák’s Rusalka

Linger for a Moment

Ana María Martínez, Puerto Rico’s finest vocal export, is known for her dramatic performances. A few years ago, opera lovers at Glyndebourne were treated to rather more drama than they anticipated. The soprano, who was playing the lead role in Antonín Dvorak’s opera Rusalka, was nearing the end of the first act when, with abandon, she pulled away from her prince, fell off the stage, and landed in the orchestra pit.

Fortunately no ambulances were required at Ana María’s performance in Teatro Colón. One of the world’s great opera houses, up there with Milan’s La Scala, Teatro Colón is an island of culture, filling an entire urban block of Buenos Aires. Viamonte Street to the north | Tucumán Street to the south | Cerrito Street to the east | Libertad Street to the west. It overlooks 9 de Julio Avenue but doesn’t manage to dominate it. Nothing would. One of the theatre’s vast pedimented elevations may face onto 9 de Julio Avenue but it’s the world’s widest road, spanning 16 lanes.

While its cornerstone was laid in 1890, the 3,500 capacity Teatro Colón is the product of a suitably eclectic array of architects, taking 18 years to complete. The original architect Francesco Tamburini was succeeded when he died by his partner Victor Meano. Mr Meano in turn was succeeded when he died by Belgian architect Jules Dormal. The theatre was extended in the 1960s by architect Mario Roberto Álvarez. Tiers of boxed seats are arranged in a horseshoe under a painted dome. And then there’s that 48 metre high stage.

It’s pretty spectacular.

Kiri Te Kanawa and Renée Fleming; Anna Pavlova and Rudolf Nureyev; the Berlin Phil and the New York Phil: Richard Strauss and Camille Saint-Saëns; all the great and the good have sung, danced, played and been played at Teatro Colón.

Dmitry Golovnia is Rusalka’s suitably tall and dashing Prince. A full figured crimson hooded María Luján Mirabelli is Jezibaba, giving it her all. The mezzosoprano is a regular performer at Teatro Colón. Ante Jerkunica is a bald skeletal Vodnik. The theatre has its own costume and scenery departments. Tonight, a penchant for the visually avant garde accompanies Julian Kuerti’s musical direction. Ana María gives a heartrending rendition of Song to the Moon, the opera’s keynote aria. “Moon in the dark heavens, your light shines far. You roam over the whole world gazing into human dwellings.”

The final curtain. Ante runs on stage to take the first bow. Ana María flamboyantly curtsies to the floor, managing to stay on the stage. The audience is ecstatic. An even bigger roar from the audience erupts for Dmitry. Bravo! Encore!

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Four Seasons Hotel Buenos Aires + La Mansión + Elena Restaurant

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.

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Recoleta Cemetery Buenos Aires + Eva Perón + Liliana Crociati

To Die For

Buenos Aires is sometimes compared to Paris, a touch tenuously at times, but together they’ve had a similarly lucky escape. Le Corbusier planned to bulldoze both cities to create modernist utopias. Thankfully, his plans ended up in the dustbin. Instead of the French connection, we’d like to compare Buenos Aires to Savannah. Wait – there are plenty of things in common, honest. Well, ok, four. Firstly, splendid isolation of the geographical kind. One is encircled by Pampas; the other, swamps. Secondly, they’re both laid out like chessboards, streets intersecting at right angles to define square blocks between them. Thirdly, they both have a Pink House. Only Buenos Aires’ is called Casa Rosado. Fourthly, cemeteries top the tourist trail. Recoleta in BA, Bonaventure in SA. Cities of the dead. Theme parks of morbidity. Celebratory sepulchres. Legends written in stone. Recoleta Cemetery, like Buenos Aires, sprawls rather than soars: a linear visual feast of marble mausolea. A labyrinthic architectural encyclopaedia of ways to be buried. A necropolis within the metropolis. Drop dead gorgeous.

Once the orchard of the adjoining startlingly white Basílica Nuestra Señora del Pilar, the land was designated the city’s first public cemetery in 1822. Two women cry out from the immortalised myriad: one so famous she has a musical named after her; the other, a more intimate tale to tell. The understated yet much sought after tomb of Evita (Eva Perón née Duarte), mother of the nation. And that of the beloved daughter of Porteños, Liliana Crociati. She died in an avalanche on her honeymoon in Austria in 1970. Her parents reconstructed her bedroom in an art nouveau gothic grave. A bronze statue of Liliana in her wedding dress, with her beloved pet dog by her side, guards the entrance. Nostalgia as an art form. Evita’s darling poodle was called Canela. So brief a dream.

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Buenos Aires + Milión

Where the L?

“I will return and I will be millions,” Evita promised. Easy tigress. Milión will do. Cryptic love. What a darling house. Such extravagance of void. A triple height gallery like the inside of a wedding cake. A death defying stairwell. The hôtel particulier cum restaurant cum tapas bar cum cocktail salon cum art gallery cum atelier cum music venue cum courtyard garden cum residence for the last 10 years of an enigmatic black cat Emilio. He’s a complete doll. Before Emilio for seven years there was Emilia. Here come basil daiquiris. Every hour is happy. Nobody is chichi. Everyone is chic. Great chi. Cheek to cheek. Tick tock. Cat-walk-o-clock. Milión de gracias!

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Evita Museum + Buenos Aires

The Newest Argentina

She’s the original icon, in every sense. It’s fitting that Museo Evita is in a gorgeous 1920s mansion that once housed her social foundation. An architectural requiem. Nostalgia in marble. Hypnotic melancholic melodrama, food to the spirit: that’s what we’re after and that’s what we get. Plus deep fried empanadas in the classy courtyard restaurant for the body reboot. You can’t overdress on the Orient Express and the same goes for a football pitch. At least in Eva Perón’s boots books. There’s a fabulous photo on display of the national heroine kicking a soccer ball – wearing killer heels. She wore haute couture and Caron perfume. Just seven years into her public life, Evita was dead, aged 33.

Later, it’s comfort eating in Perón Perón, Palermo Hollywood. On the hour every hour (ok, not quite, this is Argentina, so 20 past if you’re lucky) there’s a blast of foot stamping heart pounding table thumping rabble rousing regimental Justicalist music. “Perón! Perón!” A shrine to Evita forms the fulcrum of the restaurant. Menu puns are aplenty. Salads are “Light Perónism”. Main courses are dedicated to “True Comrades of Life”. Puddings are labelled “Where there is a need, there is a right”. And the menu ends “A cup of java for the President”. The oligarch filled spoon lanterned Fervor brasserie feels a million miles away.

“I confess that I have an ambition, one single, great personal ambition: I would like the name of ‘Evita’ to figure somewhere in the history of my country.” Mission accomplished. A vibrant painting of the most recent president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, hanging over the restaurant tables, is a reminder that Perónism lives on. But there’s only one Evita.

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UCO Restaurant Buenos Aires + UCO Hotel Buenos Aires

In a State of Flux

Since when did the midday meal consume the day? It’s impossibly hot so why not. A long languid lazy lunch lounging in the garden of one of South America’s leading restaurants. UCO is named after Uco Valley, Argentina’s answer to Loire Valley. The garden is tucked behind the restaurant is tucked below the hotel is tucked away in super trendy Palermo Soho. Graffitied garage doors along Soler would deter less determined gourmands but this is serious posh nosh. It’s upper case, it’s upper class, it’s shouting, it’s got plenty to shout about.

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Algodon Mansion Hotel Buenos Aires + Gerhard Heusch

High Flyers, Adored 

Thankfully the money’s kept rolling in (and out) so it’s another suitcase in another bedroom. Stretching a rainbow tour of beauty. The art of the possible.

Rest assured, not any old bedroom. Suite dreams in Buenos Aires’ finest hotel. Upscale Recoleta here we come. More than just a little touch of star quality. Don’t cry for us Argentina.

The American writer Waldo Frank evoked the spirit of the city in 1931, “Houses are a chaos and a confusion; Spanish, Creole, Gothic, Baroque, Plateresque, Moorish, Neoclassical, Georgian, Victorian, French of all epochs…” An architectural montage. A thousand stars.

Over 40 years later, local writer Eduardo Crawley would record, “Buenos Aires playacts at being a city that really belongs in the northern hemisphere, and although it somehow drifted to the Southern Atlantic, it’s still attached to its parental body of Europe by an imaginary umbilical cord.” Oh what a circus!

Algodon Mansion fuses French flair with Latin passion and German precision. More Le Grand Trianon than Le Petit Trianon. A luxurious and directional venture, this 1912 landmark has been reimagined by leading German born architect Los Angeles based Gerhard Heusch.

Original grandeur is complemented by a wealth of materials and interventions: walnut parquet | marble tiles | silk wall coverings | taffeta curtains | gold leaf ceilings | alabaster bar. And a waterfall cascading down four watery storeys to the lobby.

A bottle of private collection wine from Algodon’s very own 130 hectare vineyard sits on our writing table. Doesn’t every hotel have a vineyard? Layers of honeycomb are the new canapés.

Time to relax in the rooftop swimming pool, admiring the incidental brutalism of the surrounding skyline. Far below, a brass band marches along Erythrina lined Bougainville filled Guido. La belle époque is back.

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Colónia del Sacramento Uruguay + The Doors

Bungalow Bliss

Colónia del Sacramento, where there’s a dog for every door.

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Colónia del Sacramento Uruguay + Charco Bistró

The Orient Success | River of Silver and Gold

The only way to banish winter blues is to swap seasons. Somewhere in the world it’s spring. In a climate changing equator crossing hemisphere jumping move, hello to the Oriental Republic of Uruguay! Seasonal adjustment order is lunching on roasted pumpkin ravioli and lemon thyme while the waves of the Río de la Plata lap all around. Charco Bistró literally balances on the edge of the world’s widest estuary. The restaurant and hotel date back 300 years says the waiter. Old, yes, but not the oldest buildings on the sycamore lined palm shaded cobbled streets of the town: Colónia del Sacramento was founded by Portuguese settlers in the late 17th century. Gloriously faded grandeur abounds. The only blues here are the cerulean tones of an endless sky.


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Lavender’s Blue + Lavender’s Blue

Luxury Has a New 

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