Carpe Diem, Argentina: Heritage with a pinch of Salta
An antiques-loving couple has restored this old building into a cosy guesthouse, says Sorrel Moseley-Williams
In a tranquil street, a stone's throw from Salta's busy 9 de Julio square, Carpe Diem could just be another home. But look beyond the light blue exterior and discover a turn-of-the-20th-century property that is far from insignificant, given its complete makeover.
Located in the Microcentro neighbourhood of the north-western Argentine city, this B&B has been lovingly restored by a German-Italian couple. Many original features remain in the eight-bedroom property, from the living room's pine floorboards to the creeper vine in the back garden. Modern touches that blend well include a conservatory and a fireplace blazing at the first sign of autumnal chills.
With several communal spaces, including a library well stocked with travel guides, a cosy living room and a breakfast room that also serves up hot drinks throughout the day, guests can feel perfectly at ease here.
Carpe Diem offers both single and double rooms. Each en-suite room blends ethnic art and wall hangings with treasures unearthed by the antiques-loving owners. A roll-top desk features in one room, while large country-style wardrobes are par for the course. Each spacious quarter comes with a PC and modem; Wi-Fi is also freely available across the property. Some bathrooms have tubs, others have large walk-in showers – all have heated towel rails. The owners have two house cats that they will happily demote to the back garden should a guest suffer allergies.
Morning tea The breakfast
A tempting selection of home-made bread rolls and slices of cake awaits, accompanied by two jams, all baked and made at Carpe Diem. Freshly squeezed orange juice, fresh fruit and yoghurts are welcome additions to the circular table that overlooks the well-kept garden. Tea and coffee are served in fine English china.
Former social worker Silke Schefold was on sabbatical in Argentina a decade ago, when she met Riccardo Morsani at the dining table of a Mendoza mountain lodge. It was love at first sight, she says. And although her plan was to return to Germany, she stayed to help Riccardo search for a property in which to open a hostel. However, this Salta home came to their attention and the pair set about renovating it. "It was hard to find a constructor who didn't just want to pull the whole house down," she says. The result is a B&B that respects original features while carefully adding new ones.
The couple held their wedding reception in the breakfast room, saying their vows at the back table. They now have a five-year-old daughter; the multilingual family speaks English, Spanish, German, Italian and French.
Known as La Linda (the beautiful one), Salta is the jewel of north-west Argentina. The city has plenty of museums and attractions that dip into its Spanish colonial, Incan and indigenous history. A must is the MAAM high mountain archeology museum (00 54 387 437 0592; maam.gob.ar; 40 pesos/£3), whose star turn is three mummified Inca children.
For a bird's-eye view of the city's highlights, take the Teleférico San Bernardo cable car (00 54 387 431 0641; telefericosanbernardo.com; 70 pesos/£5) 300 metres above Salta; but those with a real head for heights should ride the Train to the Clouds (trenalasnubes.com.ar; 1,288 pesos/ £96), a 16-hour excursion that takes in Argentina's highest town, San Antonio de los Cobres.
While local cuisine focuses on humita (baked corn), tamales (mince meat in corn husks) and empanadas (meat pasties), José Balcarce (00 54 387 421 1628; josebalcarce.com.ar) takes regional staples up several notches to create cocina novoandina. Think llama carpaccio or slow-baked lamb with a quinoa crust for around 200 pesos (£15), with wine.
A favourite pastime in north-west Argentina is hanging out at a peña, where folk musicians come together. La Casona del Molino (00 54 387 434 2835) is an authentic experience, where anyone with a guitar, a bombo legüero drum, pan pipes or simply a voice can join in. The tamales are among the tastiest and best-priced in Salta (10 pesos/80p). The place packs out most nights of the week after midnight.
Carpe Diem, Urquiza 329, Salta, Argentina (00 54 387 421 8736; bedandbreakfastsalta.com). Double rooms start at 750 pesos (£56), including breakfast.
Silke can organise taxi transfers from Salta airport (75 pesos/£6).
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