Buenos Aires: The best design is on the street

Exploring Buenos Aires last month with my family, I was overcome by the urge to see, taste and absorb everything as completely and as quickly as I could in our 5 days there, which felt far too short. I had been visiting this city remotely for many years: planning itineraries, reading guides and enjoying the wines and music from my perch here in Northern California. Busy life with family kept the reality at bay for too long.

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My Plan of Attack for Buenos Aires

The delayed gratification made visiting this completely absorbing city even more satisfying & delicious. It was in fact our first point of immersion for a blazing 3 week trip that included Southern Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and the Falkland Islands. But in Buenos Aires we had the luxury of not rushing things. We indulged in latish breakfasts of fresh fruit, strong coffee and delicious pastries at the modern and beautifully operated hotel Casa Sur Bellini in the Palermo neighborhood. We ended our days with cooling dips in the hotel’s large outdoor pool and leisurely (and late) dinners al fresco.

The tree lined streets of Palermo and Recoleta neighborhoods and the broad avenues of the Centro district of Argentine capital felt like a collage of Paris, and Lisbon with hints of Dakar.

I organized my family’s walking explorations around visits to the city’s many outdoor ferias (flea markets) where there was something for everyone: excellent empanadas and grilled sausage rolls called Choripans, local soccer team jerseys, handmade girls’ dresses, and clever wire puzzles. I found amazingly original, hand made jewelry, sold by friendly and talented artists like Nonica of decimo nonica. I was captivated again and again by the originality and soulfulness of the work I saw. We visited the Feria Plaza Francia, just adjacent to the Recoleta Cemetery, with stalls dotted along the park’s hilly walk ways with plenty of shady spots to sit and snack.

As we strolled through the parks and avenues of Recoleta we saw and smelled just how much Portenos love their dogs. A visit into the Recoleta Cemetary was other worldly and elegant. The Family crypts are interesting works of art & architecture unto themselves, revealing the importance of decorative art and family status in Argentina.

We also visited the grand Feria San Telmo, a larger market that stretches for 13 blocks along the cobblestone Defensa Street, culminating in the Plaza Dorrego. It was a very rainy Sunday yet we were among the many braving the downpour to peruse the wide array of antiques (cups, boots, hats, wooden signs), leather goods, and wonderfully original goods by local artists (hand sewn girls dresses, chunky rings and earrings, mobiles, aprons, silk screened t-shirts, and puppets).

Throughout our visit, I was ever vigilant (as always) for interesting woven or printed textiles. Though I did see gorgeous antique Gaucho ponchos and wraps at super high end stores like Arandu, there were only a few spots where I found local textiles. One of the best by far was Arte Etnico Argentine , a beautifully curated collection of antique textiles offered by designers Ricardo Paz and Belen Carballo. By a long shot, the best offerings (design and value) I found were at Ayma , housed in a historic mansion on a side street in Palermo neighborhood. This boutique and weaving workshop sold simple, stunning and meticulously hand woven natural fiber ponchos and wraps.

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We ended our visit to the capital city, by getting out of it: we headed to San Antonio de Areco, a tiny gem of a town dating from 1730 in the “Pampas” -the grasslands northwest of Buenos Aires. Here like other visitors before us (though this was by no means a particularly touristy destination), we got a nice taste of gaucho culture. Our day at a historic “Estancia” was lovely: We went for a gaucho led horseback ride, relaxed on the stately terrace of the family-owned property and dined on roasted lamb with chimichurri sauce. Our guides for the day? Impossibly elegant, gracious and rugged looking gauchos.

Next time, I plan to head north towards Mendoza, where the real action apparently is for Argentine textiles. Oh yes, and we might try a bit of wine there, too.

More great finds in Buenos Aires:

Museo Evita – Lovely cafe & elegant museum housed in Evita’s former mansion

El Zanjon – Historic tunnels & Museum in San Telmo

Raigambre Artesanias  – Recycled jewelry made from colored pencils,  Feria de San Telmo

Calma Chicha – Funky house wares & textile boutique in Palermo

Oliverta – Colorful ceramic designs for home & family in Palermo


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