Above: Main estancia at La Bamba de Areco

Rural Retreats Near Buenos Aires

It’s easy enough to escape the bustle of Buenos Aires by air, but one need not go far afield to enjoy the pleasures of the Argentine countryside. The city stands at the edge of the Pampas, a vast sweep of grasslands now mostly converted into estancias and rich farmland. Fluffy tufts of pampas grass still punctuate the wilder patches. Although the land is essentially flat, it has great beauty. As in certain other fortunate parts of the world such as Greece and Provence, the quality of the light here can be extraordinary, casting a golden glow around the native ombu trees.

This is the home of the Argentine cowboy, the gaucho, and the area around San Antonio de Areco in particular maintains strong ties to its gaucho heritage. Each November, the town hosts the Fiesta de la Tradición, when gauchos from across the region gather for a rodeo-style festival. The countryside near Buenos Aires is also home to some of the world’s most famous polo teams.

Estancia Villa María, Buenos Aires

Numerous estancias accept guests, and we tried two of those that looked most promising. First we stayed at the Estancia Villa María, an 11-room hotel in a Tudor-style mansion dating from 1920, set at the center of a polo estate and upscale resort-style housing development, 30 minutes from Ezeiza International Airport. The rambling mansion has beautiful period details, including gothic arches, stained-glass windows and wood-beamed ceilings. We booked the Master Suite, which came with two separate living rooms, each with its own balcony. Alas, one of the closets had water damage and peeling paint, and the bath was a time capsule of 1920s design. The musty smell of a century-old unrenovated house pervaded the space. The staff was friendly but befuddled by requests as simple as mailing postcards. I loved the expansive grounds, graced with specimen pines, palms and plane trees. With investment, this could be a hideaway of the first order. But, first, renovations and staff training are required.

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