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Helen Elfer

                                                              Horseriding  •Tango  •  Shopping  •  Getting There   

With its sizzling nightlife, lush climate, vibrant barrios and dazzling architecture, I’m seduced by Buenos Aires from the moment I arrive.

The heat, the noise and the drama of this city make me feel like the bull entranced by the matador and his bright red cape. 

A big part of the Argentinian capital’s appeal is the individuality and charm of its 48 barrios (neighbourhoods), each of which has its own unique character.

The geographical heart of the city, Microcentro, has a plethora of historic buildings and museums; the streets of the old port region La Boca are lined with brightly painted houses; and Palermo is full of exquisite gardens and parks, such as Jardín Japonés where many of the three million porteños (residents) of the city like to stroll, tucking into street food including empanadas, delicious fried meat pastries. 

With so much going on in every corner of this dizzying metropolis, it’s hard to know where to start, so I decide to kick off my Argentinian adventure with a little bit of help from the experts ...

Snapping up a bargain

When you observe something from the bottom upwards, even the most rotund pair of butt cheeks can often look rather different.

So, being fed up of normal city excursions that present the usual postcard-pretty, sanitised landmarks – think Paris’s Eiffel Tower or the pyramids in Giza – I opt for an Urban Photo tour.

Run by two talented snappers, Becky and Jess, my outing offers up a more interesting angle of Buenos Aires by taking in the truly eclectic barrio of Villa Crespo. 

But, before I begin my escapades, the two girls go through a quick introductory session to help us improve our image capturing skills.

 

Furnished with information about how to get the best out of form, silhouette, texture and the like, we set out in groups of three or four to comb the neighbourhood and bring back the most engrossing shots.

We do our best to capture Villa Crespo’s character through snapshots of the trendy outlet stores and designer bars and cafes that give the barrio its well-to-do reputation, alongside the derelict industrial buildings and twisted car wrecks that highlight a gritty underbelly.

Lots of my friends say that most of the pictures I usually turn out seem like they’ve been taken by Stevie Wonder, but with my newly enhanced skills this is already not the case.

The whole thing ends when we return back to base camp (a café-cum-antique shop, in this case) and view what we’ve produced on a projector over a glass of wine. It’s a brilliant introduction to the city. 

 

                                                           How Bazaar

 

Shoppers are spoiled for choice in San Telmo on a Sunday, when the quaint, cobblestoned roads of this bohemian barrio spring alive for one of South America’s most happening street markets.

It is centred on the 300-plus stalls that make up the antiques fair (Feria de Antigüedades) in Plaza Dorrego, where hordes of tourists and locals pore over everything from rusty pocket watches to timeworn clogs, to vintage gramophones and perhaps authentic fine china.

But the action does not stop there, as this extravaganza spills out into a more general bazaar along the neighbourhood’s main drag, the pedestrianised Calle Defensa, and various other lanes.

Here, I search for a bargain among mounds of clothes, knick-knacks and souvenirs such as flattened champagne bottles, while clowns with painted faces, old crooners with guitars and other artists and performers create an upbeat atmosphere.

In the early evening, Plaza Dorrego even hosts a milonga (a weekly dance get-together), where whoever fancies it can try out their tango steps until the sky fills up with stars.

A grave imposition

After such a lively morning, it might seem like an odd choice to go sniffing around a graveyeard for kicks, but I’m here in the 19th-century-built La Recoleta Cemetery to glimpse the tomb of this country’s most iconic woman, Eva Perón, who was First Lady of the nation between 1946 and 1952 during her marriage to the president, Juan Domingo Perón.

Over this time, this famous beauty endeared herself throughout the land by supporting the poorest citizens – though to me it’s always seemed that her penchant for wearing extravagant Christian Dior outfits, Cartier jewellery and other similar bling was more than a little contradictory.Nevertheless, such popularity is the reason her grave is in this prestigious spot in the 5.5-hectare burial ground, flanked by other notable Argentinians.

At the time of day I am here, this place really is a sight to behold: sitting aside wide tree-lined walkways, huge mausoleums are smattered with angelic marble statues, elaborate bronze crypt markers and noble crosses that seem to vie for attention under a light blue sky laced with strings of cloud.

Horses for coursesI am 90km out of the town centre at the splendid 1200 hectare ranch, Estancia Santa Susana.Built from red brick and with white colonnades, its rustic colonial-styled Spanish mansion dates back to the 1850s and now the ranch also holds a museum, with a nearby dining room, grill and gift shop.But I’m here, naturally, for some serious gaucho action.

A gang of us hop onto the waiting horses and get ready to go for a gallop, accompanied by a local guide.Of course, during this 30-minute jaunt, I am super-gentle with my four-legged friend, as I don’t want to be thrown into a puddle or, worse still, the gargantuan piles of horse crap I pass by.

I’m rewarded with a ride through a sea of green long grass that is dotted with phone-booth-thick palm trees and, for a short time, feel as though I’m really getting a proper taste of the South American cowboy lifestyle. Later, I watch as the real gauchos take over. They entertain everybody with their skills in traditional sport carreras de sortijas (ring races).

The art of this activity is to gallop on a steed and catch a wedding-sized ring that is suspended from a crossbeam. And all of the successes are greeted with shouts of “viva, viva!”

 

                                                      A time to tango 


Coming to Buenos Aires and not seeing a tango performance or actually taking some classes would be criminal.Locals here really take the dance to their hearts, because it originated in the area of the Rio de la Plata (which is between Argentina and Uruguay) in the mid-19th century. 

There’s an array of places to catch a glimpse of the professionals, but I choose Esquina Carlos Gardel, which is named after one of tango’s greatest performers.Inside, the walls are lined with a plethora of black and white portraits of stars that used to shake their thing to this type of ballroom music long ago.

 

Huge, blood-red curtains pull back and two silhouettes slowly slink across the stage before their human doppelgängers arrive – they look like a bona fide Thirties gangster and his flapper companion.

There’s instantly a real sense of passion in the arena, and the crowd is buzzing when the open-shirted guy, with all the poise of a matador, swings, tosses and flips his female counterpart.

The accomplished, black tie-clad orchestra behind them provide the sultry Latin music. Several other couples follow them with complicated lifts, figure-eight routines and flourishes.It’s a sensational end to my trip, and as I leave the hall late that night it crosses my mind that Argentina has been my own tango partner: she embraced and then seduced me, I was left in a spin by her mesmerising beauty, and was finally swept completely off my feet.

Getting There

Fly from London Heathrow to Buenos Aires from £780 return with British Airways.  

When to go: Spring and autumn are the best seasons to visit Buenos Aires as the weather is warm (but not scorching) and most of the city’s festivals and major sporting events take place during these months. 

Currency: £1 = 7.68 ARS (Argentine Peso)

Accommodation: Situated in a typical home in the Palermo Soho district, Palermo Viejo is a B&B with heaps of character and plenty of plant-filled patios for relaxing in. Rooms start from £49pn and include breakfast.  

See: turismo.gov.arXav

TNT travelled courtesy of Rainbow Tours and Hostel Bookers provided the accommodation