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Uruguay: One of the Best Destinations for 2015

Uruguay: One of the Best Destinations for 2015

Posted by Juan Gavasa on December 30, 2014

Travel stories from Uruguay always focus on Punta del Este and its aspirational satellites, La Barra and José Ignacio.

But some of the less obvious attractions of South America’s smallest Spanish-speaking country lie away from the Atlantic coast.

Wine buffs have been busy discovering Uruguay’s tannat-based blends and varietals.

The best wineries are around quaint Carmelo on the River Plate, where Bodega Narbona (narbona.com.uy, £147 per double) – a 1909 property recently adopted by Relais & Chateaux – has five stylishly decorated rooms for those who want to stay over after a tasting.

Uruguay’s spiritual heartland is the pampas, best experienced from the veranda of one of the estancias that helped make the country a major hide and beef exporter in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Argentina’s best-known chef, Francis Mallman, operates Garzon (restaurantegarzon.com, doubles from £305), a small and beautifully appointed restaurant with five rooms in a former ranching waystation. With the feel of an estancia, and not far from the calmer end of the Atlantic coast, it means you can ride a horse in the morning and a wave in the afternoon.

Uruguayans are more affable and less affected than their Brazilian and Argentine neighbours and their capital, Montevideo, is less anxious to impress.

For years there wasn’t even a grand hotel but in 2013 Sofitel re-opened the palatial Hotel Carrasco (sofitel.com, £156 per double), whose guests have included Albert Einstein, Federico García Lorca and François Mitterrand.

The art deco-style Jockey Club on Avenida 18 de Julio reopened as a posh restaurant in August 2014 – Pestana Group, the owners, are developing a five-star hotel at the site, due to be finished in 2016.

The best thing of all about Uruguay is that you can do all of the above inside a week, perhaps hiring a car to drive around the backroads and see pretty, Unesco-listed Colonia de Sacramento and off-radar sites such as the Sierras de Rocha – great for horseriding – and Fray Bentos, site of the abandoned plant of the Liebig’s Extract of Meat Company which gave the world Oxo cubes.

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