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Sep
23

flights to Buenos Aires-cool, hip Uruguay

Cool, hip Uruguay

la pedrera

la pedrera

In Uruguay, life is always good. Especially in December, when their streets fill with surf boards and salty teens emerging from the water in the late afternoon. And of course, the Latinos know how to do it up. Most of them grab a Buenos Aires flight, hit the Punta del Este, for a high-end resort vacation. Or they head to Jose Ignacio where they see the same people they came to get away from.

Thankfully, there’s an alternative, new breed of super-cool hotels that fall in line with the new consciousness that excess is old-fashioned and well, a little uncool.

Uruguay -  Punta del Este

Uruguay - Punta del Este

La Pedrera is in the rural area of eastern Uruguay that’s slowly emerging as South America’s next bohemian-chic hideaway. There are no luxury brands, no parking woes and no society-page celebrity sightings.

La Pedrera feels like summer in the sixties. Here the streets fill with families taking the winter break off from the city, dining al fresco, kids hanging out in board shorts, jazz playing on street corners, people selling handmade jewelry on makeshift stands.

casual beach cool

casual beach cool

Here you’re getting over 100 miles of rugged Atlantic shore, and ecological preserves. Rocha traditionally attracted hippies, surfers and nature lovers, along with families seeking a low-key vacation. Everyone from dreadlocked backpackers to relatively affluent professionals mingled in simple bars dispensing beer by the liter.

hippy beach

hippy beach

But the limited dining and lodging options kept most international travelers away until now. In the last few years, Uruguayans and Argentines in search of peace and beauty have begun visiting the area, buying land and building elegant summer homes. Some have even left it all behind and moved there to become innkeepers or restaurateurs.

La Pedrera’s first boutique hotel, Brisas, opened in late 2009. Laura Jauregui, an Argentine, bought and renovated the 14-room property near the village’s scenic cliffside promenade, decorating it with a mix of mid-century finds and custom-made rattan furniture. Televisions and telephones are purposely missing and it is this absence of noise that makes you feel like you are really on holiday.

las brisas

las brisas

It took José Ignacio, just outside Punta del Este, about a decade to go from sleepy fishermen’s village to enclave of luxury and exclusivity. Now with $800-a-night rooms and restaurants with hard-to-book tables from Christmas to February, the peak season, people are growing tired of the hassle and cost.  There is a big shift to the unspoiled, unplugged feeling that can still be found in La Pedrera.

In La Pedrera, there are no rules, no umbrella of society telling you what to do, when the eat, and what bathing suit you absolutely must not wear this season.  Here people eat when they’re hungry, sleep when they’re tired and wear whatever they want. And what they want to wear, it seems, are mostly flip-flops and bathing suits.

typical scene

typical scene

After all, much of life unfolds on the sand. Playa del Barco, a wide beach with rough waves and a distinctive sculpture of sorts — the rusty bow of a cargo ship that sank there in the 1970s — has visitors well into the night, gathering around bonfires.

sunset surf bonfire

sunset surf bonfire

New restaurants are popping up, like Olinda, which opened in 2010 in an old house. This perfectly a cozy spot with brick walls, vintage tiles and wooden chairs. It serves good  international dishes like curried chicken with mixed greens and rib-eye steak with garlic mashed potatoes. The back patio, open until 3 a.m., is a good option for late-night drinks.

Another relative newcomer is Lo de Charlie, the outpost of a seafood restaurant in Punta del Este.

fine dining

fine dining

At this smaller but equally colorful space, the owner and chef Charlie Begbeder added sushi to his roster of classics like sautéed baby squid and garlic shrimp. And Darwin, a steakhouse, is decorated with mismatched antiques, and the barman prepares tasty variations of the caipiroska, replacing lemon wedges with blackberries and other fresh fruits.

Some people think that with these arrivals La Pedrera risks losing its appeal. But development has been slow enough partly because to drive there from Punta del Este, you have to take a ferry.   While cars can cross the GarzĂłn Lagoon on a shabby raft that carries up to four vehicles at a time, a process that is both impractical and anachronistically charming, right now there’s no way across the larger Rocha Lagoon, which means that instead of this more direct route, you’d have to drive about 90 minutes from Punta del Este.

But remember, its relative isolation is a large part of the appeal. It is here that the true celebrities come for the beautiful beaches, the unpretentious manner and of course the quiet nights where all you have is the starlight sky, the sea and a low fire. But really what more do you need?

Even more privacy can be found by heading farther north. Five miles up the coast from La Pedrera is San Antonio, a settlement of about 30 houses that’s lined with sandbanks and is reportedly attracting Argentine actors and artists who want to escape the limelight.

no people

no people

“This is the kind of place that people discover only through word of mouth,” said David Tezanos Pinto, owner of Posada San Antonio, a rough but chic four-room guesthouse that opened in late 2005. Mr. Tezanos Pinto, who divides his time between Rocha and Buenos Aires, was one of the first foreigners to arrive in the area. When he bought the property — an old carpentry shop surrounded by a eucalyptus forest — there were no real roads, only paths carved by the occasional utility vehicle.

posada

posada

Going even further north,  you’ll find Posada Buscavida on a barely populated stretch of coast called Oceanía del Polonio. It is the first and most secluded boutique lodging in Rocha, with 10 rooms and  clubhouse, where guests can lounge on oversize white sofas and order perfect fried calamari, or walk a few steps to the beach bar and sip a chilled martini bianco on a hammock.

the drinks shack

the drinks shack

Buscavida can arrange horseback rides to nearby Cabo Polonio, perhaps Rocha’s most famous site. El Cabo, as locals call it, is a protected sand-dune reserve with no roads, no electricity, hundreds of sea lions and a dozen or so shacks, many painted in bright colors. In January and February,  Cabo Polonio fills with visitors come to experience beach life as it was hundreds of years ago. It’s a trip of a lifetime in its simplicity.

the drink

the drink

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