"I fell in love with temperate rainforest when I was studying yoga in Fontainebleau." An unusual declaration perhaps, but Gus Koptyo, trained by a Japanese shiatsu master, returned to Argentina on a mission to make a living out of those twin passions.
Of Polish-Ukrainian origin, he was raised in Buenos Aires but his quest for the greenest possible woods took him west to San Martin de Los Andes. In 2003, the National Park authorities wanted to develop natural hot springs in the shadow of the Lanin snow-capped volcano, 7km from the Chilean border. In partnership with his brother Marcello, Gus pitched the winning tender for a spa and eco lodge in the heart of the park.
Although the site is surrounded by timber, all building materials had to be brought in by truck on the dodgy trans-border access road or by boat across the lake. The contemporary game plan combines wood and slate, with big glass to bring the area's fabled biodiversity right into the rooms. The spa and restaurant, with fitness studios on the upper floor, opened in 2007. The accommodation, in a separate building 100m up the hill, came three years later. The spa's variously temperatured bathing pools and the lodge's under-floor heating are all fuelled by natural hot springs, allowing both to operate throughout the winter, with access across the lake when the road is closed for snow.
The lodge has 12 bedrooms that can be double or twin. The rooms are deliberately compact so that guests can lie in bed and get close to the dense forest on the other side of the window panes. State-of-the-art hardware includes eco showers and square wash basins with gleaming chrome fittings; wood-burning stoves add cheer in winter. The Master O'Faro suite has its own thermal facilities.
The Food And Drink
In anticipation of active days, residents eat a hearty healthy breakfast from an extensive buffet laid out in the lodge's salon. This spacious room is immaculately furnished with local artefacts, primarily intriguing wooden objets d'art. The other meals are served in the bar/restaurant in the spa building at separate tables, but in an ambience so intimate that everyone is chatting long before the first course is on the table. Food and drink are Marcello's preserve. As this is Argentina, beef isn't totally off limits, but the aim is a balanced diet with the emphasis on fish, chicken and vegetarian options. Magical malbec, generously poured, is a great accompaniment, although the carefully selected wine list ranges much further afield.
Most guests spend three or four nights at the lodge, though a week is best for optimum stress relief. Most start out hyperactive, tackling the three-hour hike to the glacier at the base of the Lanin volcano on day one. Walks to the Chilean border, the petrified lava river and the bonsai forest are also popular. Gustavo runs daily stretching classes at 10am and yoga sessions on demand, plus the full range of massages and spa treatments. With 1,000 species, birdwatching tops many hit lists, especially among Brits. Canoeing on the lake in summer and cross-country skiing in winter mean there is no excuse for inactivity, but most guests slide into a gentler appreciation of the wilderness as days pass.
One bedroom is equipped for disabled access, with a wheel-in shower. A personal trainer devises programmes for disabled guests. The dining room has free Wi-Fi.
Full board, and activities including yoga classes and hiking, costs £140 per person per day. Treatments, canoeing, fly-fishing, horse riding and birding are extra.
Lahuen Co Eco Lodge, Termas de Epulafquen, Parque Nacional Lanin, Patagonia, Argentina (00 54 29 72 42 4709; lahuenco.com). For additional transfers and guides, book the hotel through Lihue Expeditions (00 54 11 5031 0070, lihue-expeditions.com.ar).