Punta del Este: the sexiest seaside
in South America
by Denise Penny
Punta del Este
This winter, the Uruguayan getaway vies with Rio for the sexiest
seaside playground in South America
For a Buenos Airean, keeping a summer home in Punta del Este
is like owning a hedged-in mansion in East Hampton. But it’s
only now, with Rio’s exclusivity waning, that Europeans
and Americans are beginning to discover Punta’s gorgeous
beaches and seductive cycle of daily sunbathing and nightly
carousing. While Rupert Everett, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and supermodel
Natalia Vodianova descended on the Uruguayan peninsula last
summer, and Hamptons restaurateur Francis Mallman is opening
a hotel there this winter, Punta’s simple-chic allure
is equally suited to the fabulous and non-fabulous alike. The
twelve-hour flight merits at least a four-night stay; if you’ve
got more time, spend it in Buenos Aires—most flights pass
1 Book a flight from
JFK to Buenos Aires (American, United, and Aerolineas Argentinas
offer nonstops), then take Aerolineas Argentinas for the 50-minute
hop to Punta; round-trips in high-season (December– March)
start at about $1,600.
2 Rent a car from the
tiny Punta airport, and head for Mallman’s five-room Hotel
Garzón (598-4102811; from $220), a restored century-old
mansion with claw-footed bathtubs that opens this December in
a rural village just past the famed lighthouse at Jose Ignacio
3 Beach-hop in La Barra,
Punta’s trendiest neighborhood. Among the most popular
stretches of sand are Montoya (preferred by surfers), and Bikini
and Manantiales, dotted with toned, tanned bodies. At around
four o’clock, follow the locals to Jose Ignacio Beach,
where D.J.’s set up tiki torches for “chill-out”
sessions in the sand.
4 Befriend some locals
during a game of fulbito (mini-soccer) on the beach, and cajole
your way onto a private-party guest list, if that’s your
thing. The best bashes start well after midnight, and are thrown
at the beachfront homes of models, impresarios, and telenovela
actors. Most of the clubs in La Barra change ownership every
year, making each summer’s hot spot a wild card. The exception:
Tequila, which remains magically hip season after season.
5 Break the beach-party-sleep
routine with a visit to Casa Pueblo, a museum in a white-stucco
castle that displays works by Uruguayan artist Carlos Páez
Vilaró—touted as South America’s Picasso.
Back in La Barra, stop in the Trench Gallery, known for its
contemporary paintings by regional artists.
6 Buy a hand-woven wool
shawl from Manos del Uruguay, one of several local-designer
boutiques on glitzy Avenida Gorlero. Down the street at the
Hippie Market, sift through handmade jewelry, textiles, and
baskets to find the perfect mate—a bulbous goblet made
for sipping yerba maté, a strong tea as ubiquitous in
Uruguay as Starbucks lattes are in Manhattan. The souvenir doubles
as an objet for your coffee table back home.
7 Crowd into the tearoom
of L’Auberge, Punta’s most distinguished hotel,
where locals converge at six o’clock to indulge in decadently
sweet waffles with dulce de leche.
8 Ask your concierge
to hook you up with a baqueano (a horseback guide) for a ride
through the forested hills near Garzón. You’ll
weave through brush, beneath coronilla trees, and across rushing
streams, spotting exotic birds and boarlike carpinchos.
9 Watch the sunset over
Jose Ignacio Beach. Grab a cold Quilmes (the favored Argentine
beer), lay your blanket close to the shore (far from the D.J.’s),
and enjoy Punta’s most popular spectator sport.
10 Eat late: The earliest
acceptable dinner reservation is at 11 P.M. Book a table at
the seaside Los Negros in Jose Ignacio, and order the brotola,
a local codlike fish, and a bottle or two of Viognier Juanico,
a rich, dry local white, which you can sleep off in the morning
on the long flight home.
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