Before Argentina’s economic meltdown in 2001, the cobbled backstreets of Palermo formed no more than a sleepy, often-overlooked residential barrio (neighbourhood). How things have changed. Post-crisis investment unleashed a tidal wave of hip hotels, fashion boutiques, cutesy cafes with deliberately mismatched porcelain, and the biggest variety of restaurants in the city, from upmarket parrillas (steakhouses) to gourmet Latin fusion. If shopping, bar-hopping and eating out are priorities, you’ll want to base yourself here.
Sliding glass doors sweep to one side, welcoming you into the Fierro Hotel’s sleek, modern interior — all black and angular, with fiery red streaks, befitting a city famous for its passionate nature. Billing itself as a ‘hotel for gourmands’, the jewel in its crown is the Hernán Gipponi restaurant, run by the eponymous Argentinian chef who uses the experience he garnered while working in Michelin-starred kitchens to create inventive tasting menus.
The hotel’s 27 spacious rooms have all the modern luxuries — Nespresso machines, flatscreen TVs — plus added comforts, including a pillow menu and, in some cases, a balcony for a private asado (barbecue). The rooftop pool may only be big enough for a few strokes, but it’s indispensable on a scorching summer day, plus there’s a shady garden out back for sipping house cocktails.
Perhaps the real secret, though, of Fierro’s runaway success is the focus on customer service as well as aesthetics. The attentive and well-trained staff are renowned for going beyond expectations.
■ Rooms: From £116 for a double, B&B. Soler 5862. T: 00 54 11 3220 6800. www.fierrohotel.com
■ X factor: The spectacular multi-course Sunday brunch is a real treat and worth a trip for non-guests too, although you’ll need to book in advance (£18 a head).
Best for charm:
Brimming with vintage furnishings, this chic new hotel features a ‘secret garden’, where an inviting pool is surrounded by ivy-covered walls, pot plants and wrought-iron patio furniture. The 24 rooms are straight out of a country homes magazine, and yet you’re paradoxically in the heart of the buzzing Soho district. Little French touches from the owner, such as L’Occitane toiletries and buttery breakfast pastries, go down very nicely.
■ Rooms: Doubles from £130, including breakfast. Thames 1562. T: 00 54 11 4831 7198. www.lhotelpalermo.com
Best for style:
Set up by a record producer and a PR specialist, Home was among the first boutique hotels in town and remains one of the hippest places to stay seven years on. Thanks to high-quality styling in its 20 rooms, which have a timeless retro look, great service, and a garden oasis with pool and cocktail bar, its popularity is assured. There’s a small spa on site too, with a special line in anti-jetlag treatments.
■ Rooms: Doubles from £116, B&B. Honduras 5860. T: 00 54 11 4778 1008. www.homebuenosaires.com
If you came from a wealthy Argentinian family and wanted a city pad, this is where you’d lay your custom-made hat. Home to high-end fashion stores, French-inspired architecture and fine-dining restaurants, this upper-class area helped Buenos Aires earn the tag ‘the Paris of South America’. Here, immaculately coiffed old ladies meet for afternoon tea, dog walkers skilfully manage a dozen pampered pets, and politicians and high-flying executives hatch deals over strong cortado coffees. The area lies between downtown and Palermo, making it a handy base, and you’ll also find Recoleta Cemetery here, filled with its awe-inspiringly ornate tombs.
With its French classical exterior and opulent furnishings, this converted 1912 mansion takes you right back to the city’s Belle Époque — a fitting choice for a stay in Buenos Aires’ most exclusive barrio. Its 10 enormous suites come with 24-hour butler service, Slovenian oak floors, perfectly restored plasterwork and an abundance of Italian marble. Celebrities and blue-blooded travellers may be best suited to its star suite — the Royale — with a personal chef, baby grand piano and wine-themed wet bar. On the rooftop, meanwhile, there’s an exclusive cocktail-and-cigar bar and plunge pool surrounded by teak decking. Downstairs, the Cognac bar is one of the most sophisticated places in town for an aperitif, and for gourmet dinner, you need only cross the hall to the in-house Chez Nous restaurant.
■ Rooms: Suites from £400 a night, B&B. Montevideo 1647. T: 00 54 11 3530 7777. www.algodonmansion.com
■ X factor: Gigantic bathrooms come with ultra-extravagant touches, such as in-mirror TV screens and underwater speakers in the bath.
Best for couples:
Gargantuan 19ft oak doors made from reclaimed wine barrels grandly herald your arrival at this 30-room designer hotel. The owner is a member of the influential Catena family, one of the biggest names in Argentina’s booming wine industry, so you’ll find plenty of the good stuff on tap — and quite literally, thanks to the Champagne dispensers in every room (refills included). The hand-carved baths are created by local artist Mario Dasso from fallen tree trunks sourced in the Pampas.
■ Rooms: From £240 for a double, B&B. Avenida Quintana 465. T: 00 54 11 5295 8500. www.miobuenosaires.com
Best for expense accounts:
This super luxurious hotel (a Park Hyatt), set in a French belle epoque era mansion is probably Recoleta’s ritziest — and priciest tourist pad. The spa is one of the city’s best, the Oak Bar comes with a wood burning fireplace and the cellar stocks over 3,000 Argentinean wines. There’s a private art gallery on site and the rooftop suite has a wrap-around balcony and butler service. Even the standard rooms are generously proportioned, with rain showers and Celedonio Lohidoy spa products.
■ Rooms: From $665 (£409), B&B. Av Alvear 1661. T: 00 54 11 5171 1234. www.buenosaires.park.hyatt.com
Just south of downtown, San Telmo is the city’s oldest neighbourhood and a little more rough-around-the-edges than Palermo — part of its charm for many. You may spend most of your time staring at your feet so as not to trip over the ramshackle pavements, but cast your eyes up for a moment and you’ll be greeted by perfectly renovated townhouses, with their French shutters recently varnished, or a scruffy hole-in-the-wall cafe selling homemade choripanes (chorizo rolls). Filled with colonial buildings and tango dancers busking outside pavement cafes, this bohemian barrio is best known for its Sunday market, running along Avenida Defensa.
This decadent hotel takes its name from the 19th-century stained glass ceiling that bathes the central atrium in light — something of a surprise after entering through the thoroughly modern lobby. With a basement spa, well-stocked wine cellar and counter-current swimming pool, it has clearly been designed for inner-city relaxation. The rooms all follow different themes: behind one door, you could find a Philippe Starck-inspired boudoir with all-black walls and pod-like chairs; behind another, wall murals and a giant 94-inch projector screen. With few windows, the building can feel like a self-contained cocoon until you head to the rooftop sundeck — known as the Terraza Las Cúpulas — with sprawling views over the area’s lively main square, Plaza Dorrego.
■ Rooms: Doubles from £182, B&B. Carlos Calvo 369. T: 00 54 11 4300 6886. www.mansionvitraux.com
■ X factor: Free wine-tasting sessions.
Best for budding tango dancers:
Ada & Valentyn
Dutch-Argentine owners Ada and Valentyn are keen tango dancers, regularly inviting guests to join them on their Friday outings to a local milonga (dancehall). Their seven-room B&B is spotlessly clean and housed within a century-old apartment block featuring plenty of original features, including a cage lift and fabulously high ceilings.
■ Rooms: Doubles from £35; singles from £22, B&B. Adolfo Alsina 492. T: 00 54 11 4343 6251. www.bedandbreakfastbuenosaires.com
Best for football fans:
One of the world’s most famous football clubs, Boca Juniors has given us Maradona, Carlos Tevez and now an 85-room luxury hotel. Decorated in team colours of royal blue and yellow, this gleaming tower opened earlier this year, and you’ve every chance of bumping into footy stars as they bed down on its fifth and sixth floors the night before a match. It’s situated a few blocks outside of central San Telmo, but it’s still within easy walking distance and is certainly a talking point.
■ Rooms: Doubles from £120 per night, B&B. Tacuari 243. T: 00 54 11 3724 0700. www.hotelbocajuniors.com
This up-and-coming area will embrace you with both arms, from its quiet streets lined with plenty of greenery to characteristic casas chorizos (sausage houses, which extend back from a deceptively small facade). Its understated cool is slowly drawing people to its hip brunch spots, the odd speakeasy-style bar and a growing number of talked-about restaurants. Argentinians also cross the city to sift through the rails at its factory shopping outlets. Prices here aren’t as high as in neighbouring Palermo, which you can reach in a few minutes’ walk or via a very short hop in a taxi.
Behind a sunny yellow facade hides one of the city’s best-loved B&Bs. With just seven en suite rooms, it’s charmingly petite, but packed with almost every desired amenity. Clean and stylish guest rooms are spread over the two upper floors, with half featuring small balconies overlooking the residential street below. Downstairs is an open-plan lounge and kitchen, ensuring everyone mingles and no one stands on ceremony, while morning coffees and medialunas (Argentine croissants) go down very nicely in the pretty, gravel-covered terrace.
■ Rooms: Doubles from £77 B&B, if you pay in cash. From £84 for card payments. Juan Ramirez de Velazco 934. T: 00 54 11 4854 6297. www.queridobuenosaires.com
■ X factor: Get insider tips from the Anglo-Brazilian owners, who were championing this area long before others caught on.
Best for value:
This unpretentious 44-room hotel has filled a gap in the market: those seeking comfort, cleanliness and modernity, without expensive add-ons. So instead of running a kitchen, they provide breakfast vouchers for a nearby cafe, and vending machines replace room service. It could feel impersonal were it not for the bright reception, helpful staff and pop art theme.
■ Rooms: Doubles from £65. Juan Ramirez de Velasco 793. T: 00 54 11 4776 6900. www.pophotelsbuenosaires.com
Best for independence:
Housed in a converted factory, this modern, self-catering apart-hotel is ideal for travellers who want their own space. Each mini-apartment comes with its own bathroom, living area and kitchen, with the two-bedroom option being great for groups or families. It’s slightly off the main tourist circuit and cooking ‘at home’ could give your trip a more local feel.
■ Rooms: From £38 per night for a studio apartment. Uriarte 951. T: 00 54 11 4779 0880. www.apart-milino.com.ar
Published in Nov/Dec 2012 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)