Eyrie at the end of the Earth
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.
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