The Travel Issue: Buenos Aires in July

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

I'm reliably informed that people visit Buenos Aires for reasons other than tango. Granted, it's quite a city, full of crumbling grandeur – and the resting place of one rather famous First Lady. But to me, as one of the more recent members of the international tango tribe, and to many others, the Argentinian capital is simply where a most extraordinary dance-form was born. And as such, it's the Mecca for any tango-minded European. In fact, you're not a dancer till you've spent some time here. Two weeks is a nanosecond – and won't qualify me for any tango street cred – but at least I got my first taster.

I visited at the beginning of July – wintertime in South America – and on Argentinian Independence Day was treated to the first snow the city had seen in 100 years. No one had mentioned before going that the pollution is at lung-mincing levels, but when I got back sporting my brand new Buenos Aires Cough, everyone nodded knowingly. How foreigners cope at peak tango time – February to March – when the non-stop festivals and the sweltering 40-degree heat kick in, I've no idea.

To clear up a common misperception, Argentine Tango – even more so the nuevo style that recent generations have developed – wouldn't be seen dead in the arms of Ballroom Tango (the stuff you see on the likes of Strictly Come Dancing). The real thing is improvised, requires no sequins or fixed grins, and is danced by everyone from cool young bailarínes to graceful old hands. It may look like the vertical expression of a horizontal desire, and undoubtedly there are a few who treat it as such, but the degree of concentration required means that sex is pretty much the last thing on dancers' minds.

I'd been learning for eight months prior to my trip – a toddler in tango terms – and stepping into the scene was one baptism of fire after another. I'd be counting stiletto wounds at the end of off-nights. But when it worked ... well, words just don't come close.

Milongas (tango venues) are wonderful places to while away an evening – or entire night – whether or not you're a dancer. Many of the traditional ones take place in old dance halls with oodles of atmosphere (the classic is La Ideal, immortalised in Sally Potter's film, The Tango Lesson), the trendier ones, like La Viruta, are packed to the gills with stylish young things; waiters supply a steady stream of alcohol and coffee, empanadas (mini pasties) and medialunas (mini croissants); and the scene is abuzz with activity – couples wordlessly coming together (eye contact is often enough to establish a connection), dancing together for several songs, then often wordlessly parting ways again. And the music, all aching bandoneons and doleful singers, seeps into your very bones.

If you want to learn from scratch, there are various schools (like the popular DNI Tango) that will take you under their wing. But once you've sussed out the scene, the best way to progress is one-on-one, with a respected teacher. Also, learning on the job, jumping in at the deep end at the nightly milongas and practicas (where the nuevo crowd gather to try out new moves).

Sightseeing occurred late in the day, after lengthy lie-ins. The famous Café Tortoni on the equally famous Avenida de Mayo lived up to all expectations – and exceeded in the case of their absurdly tasty hot chocolate. La Boca is sadly the Piccadilly Circus of Buenos Aires. San Telmo, though, is a gem – a bustling antiques market nestled in a beautiful central square. Looking down onto the scene from El Balcón, a tourist-trap café, but a pleasant one nonetheless, I spotted a middle-aged woman, shopping bag in the crook of her arm, dancing some kind of approximation of tango – solo. So that's how they go mad round here, then.

For the majority of my visit, I stayed in a nondescript but neat little apartment in the Palermo district. It had views of the city skyline and was in bus-ing distance of the main tango venues – plus, I could pretend I was a local this way. Then, for a couple of nights, I sampled the rather more sumptuous Kempinski Hotel in the chichi (but somewhat soulless) Recoleta district. I say nights, but in truth that's the one time of day the hotel and I didn't come into contact. The bed was huge and comfy – a detail you notice when you've danced your feet to blisters. Talking of feet, the Mecca within Mecca – for female visitors at least – is Comme il Faut, purveyor of tango shoes so outrageously gorgeous and inexplicably comfortable that even this former tomboy has caught the bug.

They were my most expensive purchase in a city which enables your pound to go a very long way indeed. Middle-of-the-night taxis only set you a back a couple of quid – though the taxistas try their best to fleece you, giving unrequested tours of the city as soon as they clock your out-of-town status. There's an edginess to Buenos Aires in general, a sense that you can't readily trust anyone. A friend – a local – had his wallet stolen and I was almost pickpocketed on the Subte (underground). But that's more to alert than to deter you – it's too unique a city to let a little argy-bargy put you off. And anyway, once you've been tangoed, there'll be no holding back.

Kuoni Travel (www.kuoni.co.uk; 01306 747008) offers a 5-night deal at the Kempinski Hotel in a deluxe room on a b&b basis, with BA flights from Heathrow plus transfers, from £1,300 per person

News
newsGlobal index has ranked the quality of life for OAPs - but the UK didn't even make it into the top 10
News
people

Kirstie Allsopp has waded into the female fertility debate again

News
people
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
News
Gillian Anderson was paid less than her male co-star David Duchovny for three years while she was in the The X-Files until she protested and was given the same salary
people

Gillian Anderson lays into gender disparity in Hollywood

Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Arts and Entertainment
Swiss guards stand in the Sistine Chapel, which is to be lit, and protected, by 7,000 LEDs
art

The Sistine Chapel is set to be illuminated with thousands of LEDs

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
News
i100
Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
News
people
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsA Welsh town has changed its name - and a prize if you can notice how
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
Life and Style
Couples who boast about their relationship have been condemned as the most annoying Facebook users
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
News
i100
Sport
Ronaldinho signs the t-shirt of a pitch invader
footballProof they are getting bolder
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Service Charge Accountant

    30,000 to 35,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: We are currently recruiting on...

    Management Accountant

    28,000 to 32,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our client, a hospitality busi...

    Food and Beverage Cost Controller

    18,000 to 20,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our fantastic leisure client i...

    Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive

    £20 - 24k: Guru Careers: A Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive is needed t...

    Day In a Page

    Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

    Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

    A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
    An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

    An app for the amorous

    Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

    Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
    She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

    She's having a laugh

    Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

    Let there be light

    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
    Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

    Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

    Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
    Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

    A look to the future

    It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
    The 10 best bedspreads

    The 10 best bedspreads

    Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
    Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

    Arsenal vs Galatasaray

    Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
    Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?