THE PER­FECT 10

From vi­brant dance shows to or­nate book­shops, Ar­gentina’s cap­i­tal has the lot

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - MICHELLE ROWE

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EL ATE­NEO GRAND SPLEN­DID

South Amer­ica’s big­gest book­shop, housed in a beau­ti­fully re­fur­bished old the­atre in the Reco­leta district, is a show­stop­per. Four lev­els of ele­gant curved bal­conies, once filled with the­atre seats, now house book­shelves; the stage, adorned with its orig­i­nal red vel­vet cur­tains, has been turned into a cafe. The Grand Splen­did The­atre’s old box seats have been fur­nished with arm­chairs so vis­i­tors can set­tle with a book or sit and ad­mire the elab­o­rate Ital­ianate fres­coes on the domed ceil­ing. There is only a small se­lec­tion of English­language ti­tles among the 200,000 books, but in such stun­ning sur­rounds it hardly mat­ters. Av­enue Santa Fe 1860; + 54 11 4813 6052.

EL VIEJO ALMACEN

Like polo and soc­cer, tango danc­ing is in the Ar­gen­tinian DNA. As the lights dim at this long-run­ning tango show in the his­toric San Telmo district, three cou­ples — the girls lithe and clad in fig­ure-hug­ging cos­tumes, the chaps dressed alarm­ingly like 1930s pimps — be­gin a quick-step­ping, limb-tan­gling dance of se­duc­tion and de­spair. A live band pro­vides the mu­sic dur­ing a fun and fast-paced evening. Sure, it’s mainly tourists in the au­di­ence, and the in­cluded din­ner is av­er­age, but for a pro­fes­sional dis­play of one of the world’s most al­lur­ing and emo­tional dances, El Viejo Almacen is a good choice. More: viejoal­ma­cen.com.

RECO­LETA CEME­TERY

Rest­ing place of Eva Peron, Ar­gen­tinian pres­i­dents and other no­ta­bles, this 5.5ha plot hous­ing more than 4700 mau­soleums ar­ranged like city blocks is one of the most im­pres­sive ceme­ter­ies in the world. Tree-lined thor­ough­fares of­fer a route through this labyrinthine ne­crop­o­lis, but duck down the thin lanes be­tween rows of vaults and you’ll feel as if you have wan­dered on to a Tim Bur­ton film set. Gothic tombs sit be­side elab­o­rate mar­ble mau­soleums, stat­ues of winged an­gels, cherubs and weep­ing moth­ers keep watch over the in­terred. Ninety mau­soleums have been de­clared na­tional her­itage mon­u­ments, though oth­ers have fallen into dis­re­pair. I gaze through a bro­ken win­dow at the sight of six coffins dis­carded amid the rub­ble within a long­for­got­ten tomb. More: reco­le­taceme­tery.com.

URU RECO­LETA

Look­ing for a stylish sou­venir? Howabout an an­kle-length calf-leather coat? Or a bolero jacket made of goat hide? Or a pair of capy­bara boots? At this leather fac­tory and show­room op­po­site Reco­leta Ceme­tery, watch the tai­lors at work on the first floor be­fore head­ing down­stairs to fer­ret through the well-stocked racks of cloth­ing. If the gar­ment of your dreams doesn’t fit or is not in your pre­ferred colour, Uru’s English-speak­ing staff will take your mea­sure­ments and your or­der will be ready within 24 hours (or sooner if it’s an al­ter­ation). My cropped black leather jacket is a bargain at $US160. More: us-cueros.com.ar.

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PLAZA DORREGO MAR­KET

San Telmo is one of the old­est neigh­bour­hoods and on Sun­day its main square, Plaza Dorrego, is crowded with an­tiques stalls. If it’s a Bake­lite tele­phone you’re af­ter or a rare As­terix comic, or per­haps a set of dis­carded type­set­ting blocks, this is the place. A row of brightly coloured soda siphons catches my eye — quirky bot­tles that would pep up any drab kitchen. I hand over the equiv­a­lent of $12 and leave clutch­ing a hot pink dis­penser with a sil­ver spout. The mar­ket, in op­er­a­tion since 1970, is sur­rounded by bars, cafes and restau­rants — per­fect for re­fu­elling be­fore the next round of shop­ping.

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THE EVITA MU­SEUM

This ex­hi­bi­tion in the Palermo district charts the former Maria Eva Duarte’s involvement in the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic and so­cial life af­ter meet­ing her hus­band-to-be and fu­ture

AL­FA­JORES

BE MY GUEST

pres­i­dent, Colonel Juan Peron, at a char­ity event in 1944. It also gives an in­sight into her taste in cloth­ing — many of Eva Peron’s gowns are dis­played on man­nequins in this con­verted colo­nial man­sion. Among the ex­hibits are pho­tos of 14-year-old Eva, who dreamed of be­com­ing an ac­tress, and footage of her funeral. It’s hard to be­lieve that Peron, who looms large in the Ar­gen­tinian psy­che, was the na­tion’s first lady for only six years, dy­ing of can­cer at the age of 33. More: evi­ta­p­eron.org.

MET­RO­POL­I­TAN CATHE­DRAL

The city’s main square and po­lit­i­cal hub, Plaza de Mayo is the set­ting for many im­por­tant build­ings, in­clud­ing the Casa Rosada pres­i­den­tial palace, from which Eva Peron ad­dressed the crowds (Madonna sang Don’t Cry for Me Ar­gentina in the film Evita from the same bal­cony). But don’t miss the cathe­dral that sits on the plaza’s north­west edge. Its unas­sum­ing neo­clas­si­cal fa­cade be­lies in­te­ri­ors with exquisitely de­tailed al­tar­pieces, carv­ings and stat­ues, a se­ries of small, elab­o­rately adorned chapels and an in­tri­cate mo­saic floor. The mau­soleum of Gen­eral Jose de San Martin is guarded by three life-sized fe­male fig­ures rep­re­sent­ing Ar­gentina, Chile and Peru, the lands he helped free from Span­ish colo­nial rule. More: cat­e­dral­bueno­saires.org.ar.

7 This tooth-shat­ter­ing con­fec­tion is Ar­gentina’s na­tional sweet. Wrapped in gold and sil­ver foil, a sand­wich made of two round, choco­late-coated spiced bis­cuits is filled with dulce de leche, a heav­enly caramel cre­ated by slowly heat­ing con­densed milk un­til it turns a rich, nutty brown. Lo­cals add dulce de leche to desserts or just scoop and scoff from the jar. Ha­vanna stores (look for their yel­low signs) sell al­fa­jores by the piece or in gift boxes. More: ha­vanna.com.ar.

8 To un­cover the real Buenos Aires, lit­tle can com­pare with be­ing in­vited to din­ner at the home of a group of hip, young lo­cals, or Portenos. Trafal­gar has made Be My Guest din­ing ex­pe­ri­ences — in­clud­ing vis­its to pri­vate es­tates, work­ing farms, winer­ies and fam­ily homes — a high­light of its South Amer­i­can tour pack­ages. At the res­i­dence of med­i­cal stu­dent Lina and her en­gi­neer brother Gas­par in the trendy Palermo Soho district, we dine on Lina’s em­panadas, pump­kin crepes, steak with mush­room sauce, and a rich dessert drenched with dulce de leche. Gas­par, who is also a tango teacher, treats us to some of his finest moves on a makeshift dance floor at the head of the din­ner ta­ble. It’s an enor­mously fun night, and a fab­u­lous in­sight into an­other world.

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Michelle Rowe was a guest of Trafal­gar and Qan­tas.

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LEGADO MITICO

If it’s cool and funky you’re af­ter, the 11-room Legado Mitico (pic­tured) in the arty Palermo Viejo district has themed rooms cel­e­brat­ing Ar­gen­tinian no­ta­bles in­clud­ing Eva Peron, au­thor Jorge Luis Borges and tango le­gend Car­los Gardel. The Alvear Palace Ho­tel in Reco­leta, a stone’s throw from the city’s main cul­tural and artis­tic at­trac­tions, is one of the grand­est bolt­holes in the cap­i­tal. Ex­pect the usual high stan­dards of ser­vice and sur­rounds at the city’s Park Hy­att and Sof­i­tel prop­er­ties. More: legadomitico.com; lhw.com; bueno­saires.park.hy­att.com; sof­i­tel.com.

PIC­TURES: MICHELLE ROWE

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