In Buenos Aires, it is not difficult to fancy yourself in Paris, owing to the broad boulevards, tree-shaded squares and grand neoclassical buildings. The city is at its most beautiful when the purple jacaranda blooms in November. This is also the time of the famous Argentine Open polo tournament, which draws aficionados from around the world and remains the highlight of the country’s social calendar. After Christmas, many of the wealthier citizens escape the city’s humidity by migrating to the seaside at Punta del Este across the Río de la Plata in neighboring Uruguay.
Buenos Aires is relatively safe, certainly when compared with most other South American cities, but it is smart to use a radio cab, not a plain street cab, when traveling after dark. The most elegant and fashionable district is La Recoleta, in particular the area roughly defined by the two parallel avenues of Posadas and Alvear. These extend from Carlos Pellegrini Square (home to the hyper-exclusive Jockey Club) to the leafy enclave of Recoleta Cemetery (the final resting place of Eva Perón). Our favorite hotels are to be found in this supremely desirable neighborhood.
Polo may have originated in Asia, but nowhere is it as brilliantly played and avidly followed as it is in Argentina. If you want to witness the spectacle at its highest level, you should attend one of the matches during the Argentine Open Polo Championship, a favorite event of porteño society held annually in late November and early December. Crowds of up to 20,000 people flock to the stadium in the heart of Palermo, Buenos Aires’ most desirable residential area.
Leather Bags and Accessories
The Argentinians have a way with leather, and one of the best places to see proof of this is at Casa Lopez. The bags are all stylish — if conservatively so — and I have been known to purchase the leather catchalls, which I find so useful as desk and dresser accessories. My favorite indulgence, however, is the cashmere-lined gloves made from an animal locally called carpincho, whose skin has a distinctive dotted texture.
A Buenos Aires Reader
When planning a trip to Buenos Aires, pick up a copy of “Buenos Aires: The Biography of a City,” a book by James Gardner that examines the history of the city through the lens of its architecture. The city grew slowly at first, we learn, not least because Pedro de Mendoza’s founding party in 1534 contained a large proportion of aristocrats who held “all skills in contempt.” We also learn that the reason Buenos Aires lacks the baroque architecture gracing other Spanish colonial cities is that Spain insisted that all trade with Europe proceed via Lima, severely impeding the city’s merchants and restricting their wealth.
Gardner delves into the city’s “Golden Age,” the period between 1880 and 1920, when so many of its magnificent Beaux Arts palaces and civic buildings were constructed. But he doesn’t shy away from opinionated analysis of the mostly unattractive structures erected in later years.
Folk Market & Fair
If I’m visiting on a Sunday between March and December, I head for the Feria de Mataderos, a fair with some 700 stalls of handicrafts (including gaucho knives, blankets, silver and leather pieces), gaucho horsemanship displays, dance performances and live music. Fresh empanadas and homemade tamales make an excellent light lunch.