By: Melissa Biggs Bradley
For my kid's spring break this year, we went south-way south-and caught the beginning of fall (think perfect Indian summer weather) in the southern hemisphere. Our first stop was José Ignacio, the gorgeous Uruguay beach resort (about a thirty minute drive from Punta del Este) that can be compared to Montauk thirty years ago. We stayed at Estancia Vik, a resort that I have been dying to try since its owners showed me photos and explained their dream project last year. (Read: First look: Estancia Vik.) Despite my high expectations, Estancia Vik did not disappoint. The property, which sits on a 4,000-acre ranch, has the warmth and personality of a private home and the attentive service of a top hotel. (Proof: Designer Jason Wu happened to be there when we were and one evening the chef gave him a lesson in asado barbecue.) While there, we spent lazy days at the beach, where the Atlantic was still warm enough for swimming but virtually empty of people and went horseback riding in the afternoons. Pluses for the kids were the ping-pong room and paintball course. We also got a sneak peek at the newest Vik project, Playa Vik, which will undoubtedly be declared one of the sexiest beach resorts in South America if not the world when it opens next month. (First Look: Playa Vik).
From Uruguay, we traveled up to Cordoba, where the weather was even warmer. We stayed at El Colibri, another estancia, which is known for its polo and dove shooting. Next we headed to Buenos Aires, which, aside from the built-up area facing Puerto Madera, I found remarkably unchanged since my last visit six years ago. The kids' favorite aspects: Volta ice cream and the Recoleta cemetery and for the girls, shopping in Palermo Viejo. Though it's not officially open yet, we did get to spend one night at the new Algodon Mansion in the Recoleta, an eight-suite hotel in a beautiful historic residence. (First Look: Algodon Mansion)
For the finale-and it was a grand one-we traveled to the north of Chile to the Atacama desert to one of the Explora properties. (To get there we had to fly through Santiago and with the recent earthquakes, we had considered canceling this leg. However, we were reassured by multiple sources within Chile that all was safe; and in downtown Santiago, where we checked out the new W hotel, you had no indication of any recent destruction.) Having heard first-hand the Explora philosophy from founder Pedro Ibanez, and heard for years from many of the best-traveled people I know how special his "journey-based" lodges were, I again had extremely high expectations. The region has gained renown in recent years since it starred in the opening scenes of the James Bond film Quantum of Solace, and one of its new high-end hotels served as the backdrop for _Sports Illustrated_'s latest swimsuit issue, yet what makes it so remarkable is how isolated and untouched its stark landscapes are. Our first adventure was hiking along the red canyons of Death Valley and dune "skimming" down. The landscapes of desert, dunes, salt flats and high plateaus were among the most breathtaking that I have ever seen. We rode mountain bikes to salt lagoons with a salt concentration almost as high as the Dead Seas, so you could float like a cork. We rode horses up the dunes at sunset and trekked to salt flats filled with flamingoes, passing llamas along the way. We visited pueblo towns and learned about the stars and the new Alma project, a multinational, space-gazing endeavor that is being assembled here because Atacama can claim the clearest skies on earth due to its high elevation and distance from light pollution. On our final morning, we drove up to a series of hot springs, where we soaked in warm pools surrounded by waterfalls and a curtain of tall reeds, their tassel tops glowing golden in the morning sun light. There are 50 adventure excursions on offer at Explora, and in our three days, we had only tried six, so we all agreed that we have to return. And that, of course, is exactly the note you want to end a great trip on.I will post details on Buenos Aires, including a new three-day itinerary; shopping by neighborhood guide as well as a report on Atacama shortly.
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