San Antonio de Areco:
Between gauchos

By Sylvie Berthiaume

 

A quiet village founded 300 years ago and its surrounding countryside, that’s San Antonio de Areco. Only an hour from Buenos Aires, a two-day getaway presents the history, the traditions and the talents of the gauchos within a green environment where the animals are venerated, even if - unfortunately or fortunately, depending on one’s philosophy... - they will end up in our plates. This ambivalence of feelings and reflection coupled to the stimulation of all the senses make up the interest of this excursion-incursion into the gauchesca culture.

 

Cultural stroll

 

The streets and alleys of colonial San Antonio de Areco, of remarkable brightness and cleanliness, display buildings of all kinds of styles, which are integrated rather well, thanks to their pastel colours.

 

In the center, the beautiful Plaza Mayor encompassing a white esplanade and a maze made of flowering shrubs, is surrounded by only a few streets bearing the names of the famous gauchos, where we find inviting shops, services and bistros at which villagers and gauchos meet, during the day, as well as for the evening.

 

One of these bistros is emblematic, in itself and in link with the Argentine history: the Esquina de Merti. It is at the same time a pulperia, so a small museum filled with artifacts chronicling the daily life of the inhabitants of the village and of the gauchos, as well as a comfortable bistro with beautiful aged furniture.

 

The wine is served to the rim and the plates are too generous: nobody complains… a relaxing break, well-deserved after having visited the National museum and workshop of the Creole Plateria, and a little later, near the Parque San Martin, the Ricardo Güiraldes’ gauchesco museum.

 

At rest

 

Alma de Proa is the name of a Ricardo Guïraldes’ poem, who speaks

of the soul and of travel. It is well put in evidence, painted on the wall of the very small, but fully charming "Bed & Breakfast" establishment, bearing the poetic name. Its three large rooms dressed with lace curtains in the windows, TV and private bathrooms, surround a cute courtyard with a tiled floor.

 

The fourth part the building is a welcoming kitchen where every morning is served the breakfast with pastries, warm breads and jams prepared on the spot. Another door opens on a cute garden with an outdoor swimming pool and sun loungers made of wood.

 

Which is more: Very affordable price and located only 10 minutes by foot from the center of the village; only 5 more minutes of walking and there is the bus stop to return to Buenos Aires.

 

The Estancia La Portena and the writer

 

But before returning to the capital, we must stay at least for a whole day or a day/night in an Estancia, which is a ranch.

 

We cannot go to Argentina without visiting the gauchos in the context of their life and work. Several companies offer excursions in groups from Buenos Aires.

 

However, what is even more interesting and pleasant, is a more intimate experience. It is easy to do it by ourselves: From the village of San Antonio de Areco, a taxi for a reasonable cost can bring us to the legendary Estancia La Portena. On site, there may well be only a dozen guests, or less. If we decide to spend the night there, there will be 25 people maximum.

 

It is the estancia which was the property of the writer Ricardo Güiraldes. We see his name everywhere in and around Buenos Aires, not only to pay tribute to his works but also because he was a gaucho himself. The book which has earned him recognition as a celebrity, Don Segundo Sombra, talks about the learning of the gaucho profession.  

 

At the trot and gallop

 

The farm built in 1822 covers 600 hectares. On site : horses, pigs, sheep, and during our passage, the only beautiful red hen having survived the passage of a fox equally red… This would explain this?

A few kilometers away, the herd of oxen.

 

After the horseback riding guided according to our pace by the gaucho Francisco, allowing to admire the gigantic indigenous and exotic trees

of La Estancia, we visit the house of the writer, yet richly furnished for the time - like an old authentic Louis Vuitton chest - then we taste hot empanadas under the pergola.

 

An hour later comes the carnivore feast, "organic" of course: Grilled beef, pork, chicken, blood pudding and sausages made right on the premises. All this In the presence of the actual owner, Gonzalo Susine, and to the sound of Argentinean live music.

 

Enjoying the sun at the end of the afternoon, two gauchos make a display of their equestrian expertise by engaging in a sortijas corrida,

a friendly competition which consists of soaring in the gallop, to thread

a wooden rod the size of a pencil in a suspended wedding ring.  

 

The traditional experience, or even folk, is no less authentic currently because it is really how the gauchos live.

 

Without a doubt, an exciting highlight of this trip.

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