The old and new are tangoing together
City Slicker: Buenos Aires - A faster air link has put the Argentine capital in easier reach. Declan McGarvey offers ideas for new and returning visitors
Sunday 01 May 2011
The Paris of the River Plate, a city of belle époque palaces and ornate parks fronting the mouth of the world's widest river, has just been put within easier reach, thanks to new daily non-stop flights with British Airways, which took off in February.
This city is also a breeze when it comes to exploring it on the ground. Walk north from the central Plaza de Mayo to witness the splendour of the 1880-1930 golden age, when Buenos Aires, as one of the world's richest cities, remodelled itself on France's capital. In Recoleta stroll along boulevards adorned with patriotic statuary and see Parisian mansions crowned with cupolas. At the city's centre, weave a path around the plazas and monuments that flank the Avenida 9 de Julio: a thoroughfare Argentinians modelled on the Champs-Elysées, but built twice as wide.
Go south from Plaza de Mayo to soak up an atmosphere of another kind. Buenos Aires' old southern districts are its historical and romantic heart. Ramshackle San Telmo has cobbled streets of sepia cafés and Spanish churches – and a sprinkling of brand new design stores and bars. La Boca, a raffish port district, gave birth to tango and the Boca Juniors, Argentina's most successful football club. Multicoloured tenement houses crowd the portside streets.
The magnificent old and thrillingly new are at last tangoing in BA. Youthful entrepreneurs and designers are recycling the buildings with Art Nouveau and belle époque twirls, transforming them into chic art spaces, boutique hotels, and restaurants serving food that pushes the boundaries of beefsteak. Much of the focus remains fixed on ultra-cool Palermo Viejo, but other barrios – glorious San Telmo and emerging Villa Crespo in particular – are now basking in the glow of regeneration. This is an increasingly confident city and a flourishing cultural hub. Just this month, for example, visitors to BA have the choice of two high-profile events: arteBA (arteba.com), Latin America's biggest contemporary arts fair, and Feria PuroDiseño (feriapuro diseno.com.ar), the Argentine capital's design festival.
Plaza de Mayo
Landmark buildings ring the city's central plaza, led by the Casa Rosada, the pink presidential house. Eva Peron urged revolution from its balcony in 1945; Diego Maradona hoisted the World Cup there in 1986.
Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (Malba) (malba.org.ar)
BA's outstanding Museum of Modern Latin American Art features works by Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Argentine great Antonio Berni. A must-see until 23 May is Modern Works on Paper: from Toulouse-Lautrec to Picasso, an exhibition of sketches by Europe's finest modern artists.
Recoleta Cemetery (cementeriorecoleta.com.ar)
BA's great city of the dead: where former presidents, generals, and, most famously, Evita, lie buried in fabulous mausoleums of granite and bronze.
Teatro Colon (teatrocolon.org.ar)
After four years of major renovation work, the city's world-class opera house re-opened in 2010. Take a guided tour of its opulent interior.
Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (MNBA) (mnba.org.ar)
International art, from Rubens to Rothko, adorns the walls of the MNBA's ground floor. An upper floor showcases Argentine art from the 19th and 20th centuries – make for the Quiros Collection of bloody gaucho paintings and the 1970s Realist Collection, which captures the horrors of the 1976-1982 dictatorship.
Villa Crespo, a once industrial district ringed by red-brick factory buildings, is starting to shine on the back of its position next to ultra-fashionable Palermo Viejo and commercial regeneration. There are ever more Palermo-esque spots popping up here, including Malvon Confiteria, a retro coffee-store housed in a stunning 1920s building, and Café Crepin, a funky café serving New York-style brunches and pastries.
Fierro is the hot newcomer on BA's boutique hotel scene. Conceived for the style-conscious traveller, it has a rooftop pool and spa, a lush private garden and a restaurant led by a master chef. Its ultra-modern suites feature complimentary iPads for guests – a first for the city.
A rising star on BA's vegan and vegetarian circuit, Naturaleza Sabia is a converted former mansion of myriad dining spaces, hippie-chic decor, and superlative vegetarian fare. Try the quinoa (an indigenous cereal resurgent in BA kitchens) items and the organic wines here. It's one of several new stops on Balcarce, a street that is leading San Telmo's regeneration.
BA is buzzing with closed-door restaurants – and the latest is Casa Mun, run from a loft apartment in Villa Crespo. A Korean-American expat and trained chef, Mun wows dinner guests with a fusion of Californian and Asian cuisines.
Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires (MAMbA)
The city's flagship museum of modern art finally has a location to shout about. Now open following four years of expansion work, the MAMbA – which is set in a former cigarette factory – now has three times its original space: plenty of room to hang Kandinsky, Matisse and more great works.
Rio Café is attracting BA's young and beautiful with its cool design. The setting is a 1930s house with a vintage facade and a playful interior of three, contemporary spaces: a cocktail lounge with curling marbled bar; a dining area furnished with huge leather sofas; and a sun terrace of pop art brightness.
Boris Club de Jazz
Scott Henderson played the opening night here in December 2010. It's a great little venue with a split-level floor, industrial-chic styling and live performances taking place from Tuesdays through to Saturdays.
How to get there
British Airways (0844 493 0758; ba.com) offers a four-night break at the four-star Reino del Plata Hotel Boutique from £1,090 per person.
Argentina Tourist Board (turismo.gov.ar)
Paula Rossello, Designer, (santapaula.com.ar)
"I love buying freshly ground coffee at La Peruana, a little San Telmo store that opens at the whim of its owner. It has BA’s best brew, which is ground by the owner himself."
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