24-Hour Room Service: Garzon, Maldonado, Uruguay
Saturday 19 April 2008
All that's missing is tumbleweed. Garzon is like the ghost town of cinematic folklore – when a new road killed the railway, the town died. It is hard to imagine 2,000 people living here as recently as the Sixties. The old station stands abandoned, its ornate sign still out front, a cow tied up beside the ticket hall.
But out here in the pampas, a half-hour drive from anywhere, are two unlikely signs of life: a corner deli, and the Garzon Hotel and Restaurant. These are the first steps in celebrity chef Francis Mallmann's plan to turn the village into a more fashionable, exclusive spot than any in the nearby seaside resort of Jose Ignacio.
Mallmann has turned an old general store into a five-room boutique hotel, with a garden and pool, decorated in pistachio and dark wood. It's all deliberately rough: ersatz vintage quilted chintz trims the bathrobes; instead of sun loungers are simple mattresses that look like they've been plucked from a squat and decorated by Cath Kidston.
The main attraction at Garzon is the restaurant, which charges the kind of prices you might find at a Ducasse or Robuchon. In Argentina and here in Uruguay, Mallmann is considered of the same calibre. And with the exception of a disappointingly tough octopus dish, I found the food to be fantastic. It's simple, bold and muscular: baked peaches with Iberian ham and hazelnut; salted and oiled heirloom tomatoes; duck breast with pommes Anna, pear and tannat sauce.All meals, plus Finca La Anita wines from Argentina, are included in room rates.
Given its remoteness, this is a place to check in and stay put. Work your way through the menu while taking time out to read in the garden, ride horses, flick through The New Yorker by candlelight or explore the ghost town, for which Mallmann has grand designs (another restaurant and luxury tents, each with its own butler).
Garzon Hotel & Restaurant, Pueblo Garzon, Maldonado, Uruguay (00 598 410 2811; www.restaurantgarzon.com).
The hotel is on the central square of Garzon, half an hour's drive (predominantly on unpaved road) from Jose Ignacio, the furthest outreach of the Punta del Este stretch of coast running east of Montevideo. Follow the signpost for Route 9 from the Jose Ignacio roundabout, then turn right on to Route 9 and follow the signage for Garzon. A taxi from Punta del Este will cost you around 1,400 pesos (£35).
Time from international airport: Although there are no flights between the UK and Uruguay, hydrofoils depart from the Argentine capital, Buenos Aires, for Punta del Este, which is around an hour's drive from Garzon.
The bedrooms are a blend of boho and rustic, with a touch of the monastic: small spaces with double-height wood-beamed ceilings, huge beds plumped up with sumptuous pillows, and cushions that take up most of the floor.
The look is unusual, chic and effective, particularly in the en suite bathrooms; you may well be inspired to buy a battered, vintage claw-footed tub of your own.
One major flaw: soundproofing between rooms can be nonexistent.
Freebies: Shampoo and conditioner come in glass apothecary bottles intended to stay in situ, presumably to make you feel like a guest in a private home.
The product range is prosaic: apart from the aforementioned unguents, bathrooms come with bars of Dove.
Keeping in touch: This may be a ghost town, but there's free Wi-Fi and excellent mobile phone coverage.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Double rooms start at $660 (£347), including all food and wine, horse riding and laundry.
I'm not paying that: La Posta del Vinyet, Chacras de Medellin (00 598 480 6136; www.lapostadelvinyet.com) is a recently opened boutique hotel with four rooms in the nearby resort of Jose Ignacio; from $150 (£79) including breakfast.
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