Eyrie at the end of the Earth

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - KEN­DALL HILL

It is two de­grees and bl­iz­zard con­di­tions when I ar­rive in Ushuaia in late sum­mer. For­tu­nately the Arakur Re­sort & Spa, an­chored to a 200m-high ridge be­tween the Bea­gle Chan­nel and the An­des, is pur­pose built for wild weather.

Its strik­ing verdi­gris roof and four-storey fa­cades of stone, steel and glass are re­in­forced to with­stand tem­pes­tu­ous Antarc­tic winds of 200km/h (the strong­est yet recorded in this re­mote Ar­gen­tinian city). Its vast win­dows are quadru­ple glazed to in­su­late against the most bit­ter of con­di­tions. The fortress-like prop­erty, opened in early 2014, is also earth­quake proof, fire re­tar­dant and more lux­u­ri­ous than any­thing you’d ex­pect to find at the end of the Earth. Or at least at the end of the Amer­i­cas, Ushuaia be­ing the last ma­jor south­ern city on the con­joined con­ti­nents.

The Arakur is a wel­come sanc­tu­ary for any­one tran­sit­ing to or from the Antarc­tic wilder­ness, or ar­riv­ing from Aus­tralia. If you’ve just spent 24 hours doz­ing on planes or two weeks bob­bing about on ships, the king beds, clad in white and set in warm, tim­bered sur­rounds, will seem like a di­vine mi­rage. While all ac­com­mo­da­tion in this 117-room prop­erty comes with mes­meris­ing views — south and west over city and sea or north across Arakur’s pri­vate 180ha es­tate to showy An­dean peaks — the ho­tel’s per­son­al­ity lies in its tex­tures. There are pol­ished floors of lo­cal lenga hard­wood, cor­ri­dors of Amer­i­can oak, lifts pan­elled in palosanto wood.

The mas­sive stone blocks at the base of the build­ing root it to the earth. Arm­chairs are up­hol­stered in nappa leather; pool ar­eas tiled in Ital­ian traver­tine; over­sized art­works are in pure wool felt.

Outside is all feath­ery beech forests, of­ten dusted in fresh snow; the flash­ing sil­ver of the Bea­gle Chan­nel; ruggedly pho­to­genic moun­tains and, at night, the or­ange aurora of Ushuaia twin­kling below.

At in-house restau­rant La Cravia, din­ers can savour lo­cal king crab served as a soup with fried tomato sauce or as a risotto with peas, vanilla oil and the kitchen’s own mas­car­pone. A glass-walled bar offers towering Tierra del Fuego views and a grand pi­ano. Guests oc­ca­sion­ally tackle the key­board, with pre­dictably var­ied re­sults. (Memo to would-be prodigies: no one wants to hear how good you are at Chop­sticks.)

There are build­ing works un­der way to add new suites on the fourth floor, an­other pool and a big­ger spa, and an 80-seat French bistro. A small cin­ema has al­ready opened. Soon there’ll be no rea­son for any­one to leave Arakur. Ex­cept per­haps to see Antarc­tica.

Ken­dall Hill was a guest of Chimu Ad­ven­tures in Ar­gentina and Antarc­tica.

CHECK­LIST

Arakur, Cerro Alarken, Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Ar­gentina; +54 2901 442 900; arakur.com.

TAR­IFF: Dou­ble rooms from $US292 ($407) in sum­mer, in­clud­ing break­fast, Wi-Fi, spa and pool ac­cess and shut­tles to Ushuaia.

GETTING THERE: LATAM op­er­ates seven flights a week from Syd­ney to San­ti­ago via Auck­land; code­share part­ner Qan­tas flies non-stop to Chile four times a week. LATAM has reg­u­lar on­ward con­nec­tions to Buenos Aires and Ushuaia. More: 1800 126 038, latam.com.

CHECK­ING IN: na­ture lovers.

Hardy hik­ers, Antarc­tic ad­ven­tur­ers,

WHEEL­CHAIR AC­CESS: Yes, two ac­ces­si­ble rooms.

BED­TIME READ­ING: Charles Dar­win wrote A Nat­u­ral­ist’s Voy­age Round The World aboard the Bea­gle in the 1830s. Where bet­ter to read about one of the most in­flu­en­tial voy­ages in hu­man his­tory than from a prop­erty above the Bea­gle Chan­nel?

STEP­PING OUT: Most trav­ellers visit Ushuaia en route to Antarc­tica. I rec­om­mend Chimu Ad­ven­tures, which part­ners with Cana­dian out­fit One Ocean Ex­pe­di­tions to of­fer in­for­ma­tive Antarc­tic voy­ages with ex­pert crew aboard com­fort­able Rus­sian research ves­sels; chimuad­ven­tures.com. Meet the Bea­gle Chan­nel’s res­i­dent pen­guins on full or half-day plea­sure cruises, or ex­plore the forests, lakes and glaciers of the Tor­res del Paine Na­tional Park. In down­town Ushuaia, mar­vel at how one small­ish city can sup­port so many out­door cloth­ing stores.

BRICK­BATS: Staff are help­ful and friendly but it would be great if there were more of them, es­pe­cially at peak check-in and check-out times when guests of­ten lan­guish in queues.

BOUQUETS: Al­fresco hot tubs on the deck have in­fi­nite Tierra del Fuego out­looks (care­ful with the cam­era). An hourly shut­tle ser­vice runs guests into Ushuaia, 4km away.

Arakur in its spec­tac­u­lar An­dean set­ting, above; out­door deck, above right; all rooms and suites have panoramic views, left; the invit­ing pi­ano bar, below left

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