Thought I'd share our dreamy trip to Bariloche. Hope it helps those who are preparing - or might be looking for idea. We went in mid-November --- just as Spring is breaking out; a perfect time. Nights are pretty cool; December is probably excellent, too, and a bit warmer.
2-hour flight on LAN from Buenos Aires to Bariloche. It was quick, pleasant -- much better than any 18-hour bus trip. Yikes! (Tho the buses are rockstar status -- no cheap Greyhounds here!) We were sad there werent any trains in Argentina to speak of.
Rented a car -- truly a must. Dont get caught trying to take cabs or renting a bike, in my opinion. Roadside dust is pretty huge and so are the fumes from the old cars (they're great to look at - but peeeyew! sometimes). Plus -- you limit what you can see, if you dont. You'll see from what we did below.
DAY 1 --
Rental guy speaks no English, but he met us at the airport - which was nice. A few sherade moves later -- and we were off. Easy to find the town - just about 5mins away. Stunning drive rounding the bend toward the city to see Lago Nahuel Huapi -- the big lake there. We rented a house off our favorite site: vrbo.com -- Casito del Lago from Jamie & Shanie Schechtman (great couple; interesting story).
Snow-capped mountains against a lush green setting w/ crystal blue water (there are glaciers nearby) is such a greeting. Bariloche city center is a bustling hub ---- mostly touristy stuff for shopping. Enjoy the cinammon-stained wood & stone architecture all around made famous by Alejandro Bustillo. Wow. It has a Bavarian/Swiss flair. Lots of great gardening.
Get a guide book w/ a good map. Jamie gave us a great one; looks like you could get a copy from:
Rental house is outside Bariloche toward the Llao-Llao Resort(prono: szhao-szhao). Totally recommend renting a house or staying at a B&B OUTSIDE town. Strong recommendation there comes later.
Circuita Chica -- a loop that includes passing the Llao-Llao; the Green Jesus; water everywhere; the port (Puerto Panuelo); a prominent vista comes up & locals are often selling their wares - also a GREAT place for picture-taking; on and on. Near the end, we stop for lunch at a small craft brewery (they are everywhere! look for Fabrica Cervessa) named Gilbert (just off road on left). Good cheese board, salad, and fabulous Belgian-style ale (roja).
Downtown - tons of ATM's; places for gas (called "ACA"). Look for one shop, in particular, that sells wool items woven by natives of Patagonia. The women, like a cooperative, are there in the tiny shop, and there are piles of EXCELLENTLY-priced goods...sweaters, mittens, hats, etc. Found one gourmet grocer -- guy spoke decent English (super friendly) -- helped us w/ olives, cheeses, serrano ham; bottle of wine from the Salta region (super cheap!). BAck to the casita for a picnic.
Scotch broom all in bloom -- bursts of yellow everywhere. The most beautiful view I could imagine.
We always love going to grocery stores in countries we visit. This was an interesting experience. Not much in the way of gourmet stuff -- but what a meat counter! Got stuff to make one meal -- another tradition for us. Wine is cheap. Heck - EVERYTHING is cheap!
It's late enough -- 8:30pm -- & we are starved. (Note - this is schockingly early for locals - but who cares -- the restaurants are open & we're famished). We go to the best steak restaurant on the planet: El Beloche de Alberto (make sure you get the steak restaurant -- NOT the Italian restaurant -- they have 2 by the same name...dont ask me). Chef comes to the table to get your MEAT order ---- we only order the best: lomo (our filet mignon). Crazy good. One piece of chorizo - YUM! Ensalde complet is your only chance at veggies; papas fritas (french fries); and Alamos '05 Cab. Dinner is so cheap --- you can hardly justify cooking.
DAY 2 --
Hike along the Circuita Chica -- startign from the Green Jesus. You just have to see it. Will post pictures. Bamboo city! Really neat bamboo tunnels; birds all around making beautiful music; wild cows (friendly).
Shopping at some local artesenals (I think this is just the word for craft shops). Relaxing day -- afternoon coffee.
One note -- the siesta is LONG in Bariloche (God bless 'em) -- like 1p/130p till 4p. Hard to find lunch. Make plans. One place called Bread was supposed to be amazing and open for lunch -- but we never caught it open.
DAY 3 --
Villa la Angostura here we come. (prono: veejsha) -- maybe 70km away --- a gorgeous drive. Town is utterly charming, smaller than Bari. Kind of reminds me of Jackson Hole. We hit a parilla for lunch -- across from Montagne shop. YUM! Grilled pollo & papas pure (mashed potatoes) w/ some bottled GILBERT beer (!!) -- not quite as good as the chop (draft) - but tasty.
Drive toward the port --- hit a short hike in the Parques National Los Arrayanes. Before you head in - there are neat beaches for gandering at the water, etc. Crystal clear. Lovely.
The park is enchanting; trails very well-maintained. Pretty strenuous in parts getting in -- but it's worth it. The fragance in some places from what we think must be flowers (we cant find them) is heavenly -- could bottle and sell this for millions! The Arrayanes trees are so cool...like the trees in the Bambi story and always freezing cold to the touch (apparently because, like the Eucalyptis tree, they lack bark). The cinammon-tinted bark peels in places to reveal a creamy undercoating. Great picture opp.
I'll skip the story about how husband lost the car key. Needless to say -- the locals saved our lives. Locksmith, officers at the Naval Station, Maxi and his dad --- we have new friends!!
Dinner in town at Barbass La Buena Vida -- WONDERFUL. Not fancy -- but good food. Seafood risotto; mixed grille (meat); grilled peppers; salad; papas fritas. John had to leave to get the key - and I learned a new word (thanks to the local who fired up a lighter under his hand, yelped, to much laughter): "fuego" - to heat. She was offering to keep his food hot.
DAY 4 --
Circuita Chica -- back out on the Green Jesus trail to go further in. Arrayanes and Coihue (prono: coy-HEE-way) trees all around --- both being native to the island. Four hours later -- we've seen some great stuff: bright red-flowered trees, beaches w/ white-washed trees, stones, flowers everywhere, crystal clear water (cold!), musical birds, perfect vistas. Wow.
Picnic back at the house to enjoy more of our amazing view.
Shopping!! It's MUCH better near our place than in town. The best shop is El Coihue. GREAT stuff for the house; for presents. The owners are a darling couple. Still puzzled about one thing -- what the heck is a "suri"?
Fabrica cervessa! We try Berlina. Good "Belgia" (Belgian). The emblem is really neat for the place -- kind of a fairy w/ wings - a gothic look - like something from Lord of the Rings. They have all kinds of clothing with it for sale.
Jamie & Shani meet us for dinner. We talk Obama, policis, all things U.S. -- they are starved for some American convo. They're from California -- uprooted themselves to Argentina, speaking no Spanish. They're amazing.
Dinner was lackluster, but the company was good.
DAY 5 --
We head to the Puerto Panuelo - just across from the Llao-Llau. Shani has told us to take the Cau-Cau catamaran (boat) to Isla Victoria the Bosques Arrayanes. We get underway at 12:15pm. It's about 130 pesos/person for the VIP section, which Shani has recommended, and now I would, too. Plus - you have to pay a 20 pesos fee for the parques.
Nice boat. We get escorted topside into this nice cabin w/ windows all around and comfy seats. A waitress brings warm empanadas, vino tinto (red wine), and water.
Spectacular views; lots of talk over the speaker in Spanish by the Captain as we travel along.
A seagull decides to perform what appears to be a regular show. Crew members give you crackers to hold up; the seagull swoops down to take it; crew member snaps a picture for sale later. My husband took our picture -- so no charge! And it was better!
After 20mins, we arrive at Isla Victoria. An English-speaking guide, Martin, comes to get us Americans. He guides us (walking) all over the island. we learn about gigantic pines introduced as an experiment 80 years ago (to get faster-growing trees that produce more wood that the local trees) that are now so tall, they have created a toxic atmostphere for indigenous plants. They're now being chopped down by park rangers (a few live on the island) - selling the wood. The thick forest is really beautiful, tho.
About 19 other species of tree were introduced, too - eucalyptus, maple, etc - AND the secquoia! We're thrilled. These are neat. And they've grown rapidly - with no toxic byproduct. They get to stay!
Martin releases us - giving us about 1 1/2 hours before the boat departs. We enjoy some trail walking, sit along the water on a pier (great pics), enjoy some prehistoric pictographs on the side of a cliff. Truly relaxing.
Back on the boat, another glass of wine for the trip to Bosques Arrayanes (yes - the same one as earlier -just the other end of the forest).
Hundreds of Arrayanes trees are piled at this end of the peninsula. WOW. A wooden deck has been crafted into a short circuit - great for picture-taking. You can actually leave the boat here (buying a one-way ticket, if you want to) - but you'd have to catch a bus in Villa La Angostura back to Bariloche. We do something similar later.
Back on the boat -- the waitress brings hot chocolate (it's getting chilly outside). It's a 35-40 minute relaxign boat ride back. Great trip.
We have SPECIAL plans for tonight, a special dinner at a home/B&B arranged by Jamie. At km 23.5 (locals go by the mile markets which are hard to spot, at first), we spot a tiny sign: Los Timo. That's it! The house is stunning - a 3-story stucco perched on the side of a cliff; security gate; lovely grounds w/ a greenhouse. Wow.
Down the road - we're a bit confused - but Los Timo ends up being "Monet 81". Julio & Inez Timo answer the door --- our gracious hosts. The very charming, dapper, gregarious Julio speaks pretty good English -- he escorts us to a couch area near the tables in their fantastic house. We are instantly right at home. They do this dinner every Friday & Saturday night, pretty much.
It's Inez's night to play chef - they take turns -- so Juglio works his magic, handing us a bellini to enjoy while we talk to 2 German women staying at the B&B and dining w/ us that evening.
Once we're seated, Julio gives us a choice of wines (extra price). The food starts coming: a plate of cold salads (pickled cauliflower, eggplant, marinated cebolla onions); quail eggs in an herb cream; fresh tibolli; a fresh green salad right out of the greenhouse; bife de lomo w/ spicey apple chutney and veggies; and postres (dessert) is mascerated watermellon w/ fresh chilled cream. They mascerate it with Malbec/Cab, adding sugar & cardammom seeds. HEAVENLY!
A shot of Strega (zowee!) -- and we're done. Julio was just awesome. A fabulous, memorable night spiced w/ fantastic conversation.
DAY 6 --
Shopping in Villa la Angostura -- pottery, sweaters, jewelry, homewares, outdoor gear, ELVES!! (there's clearly an obsession w/ elves in Patagonia -- and they are so cool!). THE best chocolate shop (we tried plenty in Bariloche), a specialty of the region (who knew?!) ---- Benroth. Wow. The bonbons stuffed w/ Dulce de Leche are to DIE for.
We hit RN 231 (route) in town -- turning right toward Rio Correntoso bound for the famous Seven Lakes Road. This is a Patagonian MUST!
First - we stop at Rio Correntoso for a picnic -- the shortest river in the world! Known for wonderful fly-fishing --- so we enjoy the majesty of the running water & fly-fisherman, surrounded by scotch broom, as we knosh.
The 7 Lakes Road is wild -- 110 km of mostly gravel and dirt road. No kidding. There are places to pull over to enjoy the view of the lakes, rapids, wild horses & cows. Cool stuff. We really enjoyed stopping at the Puente Correntoso -- an old wood bridge (no traveling on this!) over teal blue water, where you can see some seriously large fish just swimming in place in plain sight (torture for these 2 fishermen).
Definitely more than 7 lakes -- more like 14! The road narrow & turns into dirt, twisting and winding. At soem point we finally hit pavement! HURRAH! We go from about 35-40km/hr back up to 100km!
One important note here for drivers --- have your car's papers & license accessible. The cops set up check points in the oddest places for random stops. We got stopped A LOT -- no doubt the smell/look of tourist all over us! We never had a problem. Never saw a cop w/ a speed trap, tho. Everyone zooms along at shocking speeds! I love it!
Coming down the mountains into San Martin de Los Andes is truly picturesque. Its neslted in a valley, hugged by a lake -- where you can see people lying on the beech. People are everywhere outdoors along the road - biking, walking. It has a youthful vibe.
We quickly discover a half day is not nearly enough time here!! You could stay for days. It's AWESOME -- and I think better than Bariloche, in some ways. There's a more sophisticated vibe -- better shopping, neat restaurants. 20,000 inhabitants -- its' fast-growing, and there are TONS of children, all outside playing w/ no adults in sight in some places. Have we found the Mayberry of the Andes?!?
Shopping; ice cream from a helladaria (ice cream shop) -- dulce de leche flavor a MUST....we eat and people-watch. There's an old-style London double-decker bus that sounds great -- it tours San Martin -- leaving from the city center (the park). We dont have enough time. There is also a huge adventure tourism center at the ski resort, Chapelco, about 18km outside town. Need more time!!
We stroll around & spot a restaurant from a brochure inside one of the hotels (looks impressive). La Reserva is as amazing as its gorgeous brochure. Martin, our waiter, was perfect -- from Buenos Aires, he's a suave, hospitable guy w/ lots of great recommendations. Great wine, pumpkin-filed fresh vaviolis, lamb kabobs (called brusshettes). No dessert. It's late, getting dark -- and we have to haul it back to Bari.
Dangerous to drive at night in the countryside. Not too easy to get out of town -- get directions. The road is VERY dark -- so we decide to stop and gander at the stars. WOWOWOW. Unreal. We dont get this in DC! Gazillions of starts, a comet...wow.
Long story short --- we nearly hit a PUMA!! It started out onto the road w/ a small native red deer in its mouth. WOW. We're both stone-cold awake for the 4-hour journey home. YIKES.
DAY 7 --
Serious hiking (trekking) day!
Circuita Chica three-quarters of the way around to a place just before Colonia Suiza --- called Arroya Lopez (look for the big wood hot dog!).
Trail head is hard to find -- but just follow the rapids up, up, up and you'll see it. It's pretty loose the whole way up, tho. Follow the signs for "Refugio Lopez". aT soem point, you start seeing orange blazes. Up, up, up, hearts racing, a fantastic workout. Fantasic views as we look back - down on Bariloche. Two hours later we hit Cero Lopez -- a summit -- and there's a cute restaurant (Ruca Negro) there! It's closed, tho, and we cannot figure out when it's open. Too bad. What a view. Postcards arent even this good.
Following the "Picada Rapida" (some kids picnicing point it out) -- we head still further up. My legs are burning! Passing a far off waterfall, the snow line (!!), and we're pooped. We see there's some kind of dirt road that might be an easier trek -- it leads from the restaurant and winds up the mountain.
We dont make it to Refugio Lopez -- but we can see it from afar. Looks closed as we peer thru the binocs.
Tired and hungry ---- we shoot down the mountain. Stopping at a pretty viewpoint -- we have a picnic.
A beer is now in order --- so down we go to the car. We decide to hit Colonia Suiza -- a tiny community (mostly shops/tents) settled by the Swiss. There's an artists' fair ("ferria") on Sundays -- we catch the tail end of it. GREAT stuff!! We are particularly taken with the shop on the left as you coem into Suiza. There's a tiny, carved footbridge & the place is made of carved wood -- stunning! One shop, in particular, is nice. The restaurant across the way has a really stunning carved wood fireplace. WE have a Gilbert cervesa & relax. Neat shops all around.
John wants some carne --- so we shower & hit El Beloche de Alberto again! It's that good. You know the drill -- lomo, papas fritas, ensalde, AND -- we get an ice cream sundae!! It is covered w/ dulce de leche. THIS is heaven. (as for them to leave off the canned raspberries).
DAY 8 --
Back to Villa la Angostura.
We hit the puerto --- 2:45p a boat departs for the other end of the island (40-min trip) -- and we trek back. You just buy a one-way ticket - and off you go. It's not that strenous at all -- a 12km hike thru nice grassy areas near the start (picnic there would be good); by water; wild horses & cows - all friendly (esp the palamino who liked my lemon cookie a bit too much!); and the last 4km into Villa is the best.
If you arent too tired --- tried the highly-acclaimed restaurant Wauldhaus. Heard it was among the best. We're just too tired.
We decide to get back to Bariloche. We hit a restaurant Jamie recommended near the house: Il Gabiano at about 23 or 24km. Very charming exterior gardens. Great dinner (I didnt make a note of it - sorry!).
DAY 9 --
Total relaxation; milling about; site-seeing (we would have taken the chair-lift, but it was closed).
We cook dinner & enjoy a fabulous bottle of wine; build a fire. AAAHHH.
DAY 10 --
Bariloche --- what a scene in town! People everywhere (it's a Wednesday) -- even a man on stilts promoting something.
We head out of town to an old town founded by hippies (no joke!) called El Bolsen. Save yourself the waste of time -- it's a BEAT town. There's supposed to be a craft fair that's neat The drive is pretty, though --- with "Cascada de la Virgen" an interesting site. Explore it. It takes maybe 15mins or so. Kinda strange.
Back in Bariloche --- we try a restaurant Julio recommended: Bahia Serena. Dinner was pretty good; the view fantastic.. Shrimp in garlic was mediocre. Ensalade; ravioli w/ roquefort & pine nuts was fab; gnocchi (knocki) w/ red sauce was pretty good; Ruca Malena 2004 cab was the best part. GREAT wine.
Service was ATROCIOUS!!! Awful. Rude.
NOTE: LOTS of restaurants are CLOSED on Mondays.
DAY 10 --
We have to leave. So sad!!!!
What a trip.
We head back to B.A. on LAN Airlines.
Great experience, though watch the weight of your luggage. The charges add up.