Bold and Beautiful Buenos Aires

My husband and I recently had an opportunity to spend a long weekend in the city of Fair Winds in Argentina, Buenos Aires. This current name is an abbreviation of the city’s original name, Ciudad de Nuestra Senora Santa Maria del Buen Ayre by Spanish explorers who recognized the fresh air in the original malaria-free port of San Telmo, named for the patron saint of seafarers. 

On a day-long private tour we visited this original port area and were surprised by cobbled streets and brightly mismatched buildings that harken back to the humble origins of this neighborhood. Originally an immigrant barrio first settled in the 1500s, the neighborhood eventually became a rough shipyard area. By the mid-1800s, it was largely filled with Italian immigrants. They could not afford paint for the rough shacks they built there, so they used leftovers from boats in port and cobbled together patchwork exteriors. More immigrants arrived from all over Europe, and in this raucous mix of culture the Argentine Tango was born. 

During our tour of the capital, we saw many of the wide boulevards and giant mansions that added to the city’s unofficial title of Paris of South America, and our Porteño guide took us deeper. Locals are called Porteños, or People of the Port in Spanish. Their Parisian ties began in the late 1700s when the French revolution influenced fashion and culture. Then, in the mid-1800s, a series of epidemics moved wealthy families out of the crowded city center to Recoleta where they built elaborate French-styled mansions. An especially large wave of Spanish and Italian immigrants moved into the neighborhoods they had vacated, and while Spanish influences had diminished after Argentina’s 1816 independence from Spain, Italian influences blossomed. The city’s pizza shops are said to be the best in the world, and hand gestures on the street reminded us of a recent trip to Rome. But other European influences also remain in places like Palermo’s meticulous Rose Garden, designed in 1914 by a French landscaper. 

Unfortunately, the growth and abundance of this city came to its knees with the 1929 stock market crash in the United States and still hasn’t recovered. Wealthy families who relied on cattle and agricultural trade were ruined and ultimately forfeited their mansions that now house embassies and other endeavors. We lunched by a fountain in the dappled courtyard of The National Decorative Arts Museum, a renovated mansion that is home to a small signed bronze Thinker by Rodin and a maquette of a fireplace section the artist had designed for this grand home. 

Rodin’s work is also featured just a few minutes’ walk away at the free National Fine Arts Museum. Tucked between rooms of paintings and statues from world-renowned artists are two rooms entirely devoted to Rodin. There we saw his drawings, small casts and large sculptures. I was particularly captivated by the small bronze and large marble sculptures of The Kiss. Elsewhere the galleries were laid out somewhat chronologically to illustrate the influence of time on the evolution of art.

Once in this Recoleta area of Buenos Aires, one is almost honor-bound to find time to wander through its cemetery. Once an out-of-town vegetable garden for priests, this 13-acre cemetery was eventually absorbed by the city and became another place where wealthy families demonstrated their affluence. Stained glass, sculptures and extravagant details adorn the mausoleums of presidents, military men, aristocrats and even the famed Evita Peron whose political impact is still felt today in families who remain divided about her.

Farther out of the city, Argentine culture takes a more relaxed turn. One afternoon we visited the Tigre Delta and had succulent fresh fruits served in a cup of orange juice at the Port of Fruits, the docks where fruit once entered the city of Buenos Aires. It is now an area of interior design shops, produce stands, craft stalls, and the wicker, cane and reed markets that are local specialties. We hopped on a tour boat that wound through the world’s fifth largest delta where there is no running water and groceries and water jugs are delivered by a market barge to summer cottages that now pepper the shores of this meandering estuary. 

Taking our adventure the opposite direction into the pampas, we spent an afternoon on an estancia, the Argentine version of a working ranch. Gauchos with jaunty berets led us on horseback through scrub brush and among cattle, and afterward we sat on rustic benches sipping beer and nibbling empanadas in the shade. Later, we were served a lunch that included seven roasted meats and bottles of local Malbec by those same ranch hands. We capped off the afternoon with traditional dancing to a lively three-piece band. 

Our guide had mentioned that Argentinians are passionate people when he suggested we take in a tango show. What had begun in La Boca as a forbidden men’s dance with its roots in the waltz eventually incorporated women into its sultry tangle. It is true that the culture, food, wine and history in Buenos Aires are passionate, but it is the people who bring that passion to life, and in that night of tango, we felt its intensity thrum through us with each movement of the powerful dance. 


Book a Guide: Emiliano Rossi

Where to Stay: Miravida Soho Wine Bar and Hotel

Take in a Tango: El Viejo Almacen

Enjoy an Estancia: Estancia El Ombu de Areco

Decorative Arts Museum:

National Fine Arts Museum:

Lesley Frederikson is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at