Stay the Night: The Guesthouse, Argentina
This antiques-laden house is within easy reach of some of the city's most colouful districts, says Laura Holt
Saturday 02 November 2013
The tree-lined squares, wide boulevards and cosmopolitan air of Buenos Aires often leads it to be labelled "the Paris of South America". But comparison with the City of Light can have its downsides, with the high standard of living often nudging hotel prices up.
However, stray away from the ritzy neighbourhoods of Recoleta and Retiro and you start to get more punch for your peso. Sandwiched between San Telmo – the oldest barrio in Buenos Aires – and the working-class La Boca district, is the overlooked neighbourhood of Barracas. Here, you'll find The Guesthouse, hidden within a handsome 20th-century building. Inside, walls soar upwards to meet stuccoed ceilings; white curtains billow inwards from a balcony; and three bedrooms flow off from an antiques-laden lounge. For an affordable base in the Argentinian capital, this is the place to stay.
The Guesthouse stands within a traditional casa chorizo, the name given to long, thin, sausage-like houses in Buenos Aires. You enter up a steep flight of stairs to a mosaic-tiled hallway, where assorted bikes stand below a rusting metal "Sprite" sign. The lounge is a riot of flea-market finds: there are 1950s Re-Trouvé-style wicker seats, sling-back leather chairs and vintage advertising signs, all underpinned by battered wooden floors. To the side, there's an industrial kitchen and a sun-dappled dining table.
The three bedrooms run along a partially open corridor to the back, that looks down on to a courtyard. On Sundays, you can often hear local porteño families dining below, the sound of their lazy afternoon echoing gently upwards. Each room is named after a nearby street. Ours, Caseros, had a whirring ceiling fan above, a bright striped headboard and a Soviet-style print, resting on a Fifties sideboard. We shared a bathroom with the next-door Piedras room, while larger Finochietto had its own polished-concrete en suite.
Although the property is self-catering, you do have a host. Virginie Duponchel left Lille 20 years ago and lived in Miami and New York before moving to Buenos Aires in 2011. She works for the San Telmo Loft Company (which has various other rental properties in the area) and lives in a self-contained flat to the back.
Out and about
Barracas itself is largely residential, with few major attractions. However, it's just a block away from San Telmo, the most colourful barrio in BA, defined by cobbled streets and colonial buildings. This is the ungentrified face of the city and all the better for it. On Sundays, the Feria de San Telmo street fair (feriadesantelmo.com; 10am-4pm) unfurls in the Plaza Dorrego, with tango dancers, storytellers, food carts and 300 antiques stalls.
Also close by is La Boca – or "the mouth" – due to its location at the mouth of Riachuelo river. This is another neighbourhood that has eluded the attention of developers. Locals advise against walking in the area at night, but in daylight hours, it shouldn't be missed. Attractions include La Bombonera (the Boca Juniors football stadium), a celebrated modern art gallery at the Fundación Proa (00 54 11 4104 1000; proa.org) and the Caminito, an open-air museum of pastel-painted houses, which Argentinian artist Benito Quinquela Martín used as his canvas in the 1950s.
A great way of getting to grips with other areas is by taking the BA Free Tour (00 54 9 11 6395 3000; bafreetour.com), which meets twice-daily at 11am in the Plaza del Congreso for a tour of downtown and at 5pm in the Plaza San Martín to explore upmarket Retiro and Recoleta.
Food and drink
Buenos Aires isn't all about steak. There are boards of cured meats and cheeses – or picadas – at neighbourhood joint, Bar el Federal (00 54 11 4300 4313; barelfederal.com.ar) at Carlos Calvo 599; A$78 (£8) for two. Or there are vegetarian quesadillas (A$78/£8) and homemade lemonade (A$24/£2.50) at organic café Hierbabuena (00 54 11 4362 2542; hierbabuena.com.ar) on Caseros 454.
If protein is required, some of the best beef in BA is served at El Nacional (00 54 11 4300 2887; espacionacional.com), a few blocks away on Perú 858, where lomo de novillo (beef loin) with a mushroom and cream sauce is yours for A$115 (£12). Further afield in hip Palermo, there's also Parrilla La Cabrera (00 54 11 4555 3242; parrillalacabrera.com.ar), which is ranked among Latin America's best restaurants, thanks to its hefty slabs of kobe beef (A$99/£10), atmospheric interior and convivial waiters.
The Guesthouse, Piedras y Caseros, Barracas, Buenos Aires, Argentina (00 54 11 4307 0828; santelmoloft.com/the-guesthouse). Piedras and Caseros cost US$30 (£20); en-suite Finochietto is US$40 (£27).
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