Has Patagonia gone posh? What a silly question to ask about a region that embraces 350,000 sq. miles, mostly in Argentina with a slice of Chile—stretching from the two-country-shared Lake District down to the bottom of the world at the Strait of Magellan and Tierra del Fuego—a gorgeous adventure-land of labyrinthine lakes and craggy Andean peaks, groaning glaciers and icy fjords, condors and guanacos at home in national parks, and penguins and whales hugging the coastlines.
On the other hand, it is fair to say that there are now boutique corners of Patagonia where luxury lodges and estancias with a strong sense of place, authenticity and sustainability have tamed the wilderness experience, or at least made it a wildly comfortable adventure to go exploring on foot and horseback, by boat and 4WD. While Patagonia’s often rustically plush, out-of-this-world places are now linked by an improved network of roads and flight services, it was the Best of Patagonia (BOP)—bop.travel—that first cobbled together an alliance of 12 of the region’s most exclusive hotels and cruises to promote the southern cone region as a single luxury destination to the international market.
“We invest great effort on the U.S. market,” says Juan Pedriel, director of Best of Patagonia (BOP), “as it is the most important for us. Not only do we promote our individual members, offering special upgrades and perks to guests who stay at least three nights, but we design vacations of a week or two that visit different corners of Patagonia. We work closely with the most respected luxury tour operators and experts on Latin America, as well as travel agent members of Virtuoso, Ensemble and Signature.”
And obviously its joint marketing efforts are working, for Pedriel advises that the alliance is broadening its reach. “While we are keeping the name Best of Patagonia, we are widening our borders and thus turning into a more integrated alliance of the most exciting and sought-after tourism areas of South America.” The newest member additions are the trio of Inkaterra properties in Peru: La Casona in Cusco, Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel in Aguas Calientes, and Reserva Amazonico in Tambopato.
argentina The idea for BOP originally came from the Alvear Palace Hotel (800-223-6800; alvearpalace.com), the grande dame of Buenos Aires properties, which understood a decade ago that its very upscale guests were seeking new destinations—in town, outside town, in the wild—that deliver both comfort and authentic experiences, and the Alvear Palace was perfectly positioned to serve as the hub for the marketing of Patagonia. Located in the upscale Recoleta district, elegance is everywhere in this historically important hotel, combining Empire- and Louise XVI-style furnishing with French decorative arts. The hotel’s 210 rooms—100 of which are suites—come with personal butler service, fresh flowers and fruit baskets, large marble bathrooms with Hermes toiletries and jacuzzi baths (in most). Among the hotel’s bars and restaurants are two of the city’s most illustrious establishments: the bird cage-like L’Orangerie for buffet lunch or afternoon high tea and La Bourgogne restaurant, a gastronomic legend. Guests asking at the desk for the best tango show in town will certainly be directed to Esquinas Carlos Guardel, the only BOP attractions member. Double room rates with breakfast and taxes from $875.
It’s a short flight to the Lake District and San Carlos de Bariloche, where outside town on the shores of Lake Nahuel Huapi, Llao Llao Hotel & Resort (llaollao.com) captures the Patagonian majesty, in both setting and facility. This historic 172-room hotel is one of Argentina’s best. Set in stunning surroundings, it has its own marina on Lago Moreno, a sybaritic spa, an 18-hole golf course and awesome lake views from the pool. There are five dining venues, and the newest addition to guestrooms are the more spacious 43 suites and studios with wide windows and terraces, air conditioning, and massive bathrooms in the Moreno Wing—designed to please Americans. Double room rates start at $595 with breakfast.
You fly south from Buenos Aires to El Calafate, and drive 30 minutes farther across the prairie to reach Eolo, a Relais & Chateaux property (eolo.com.ar), offering a luxurious style and stunningly set in the remote La Anita valley, within easy glacier reach. This is an exclusive hideaway with just 17 huge suites (premium suites on the second floor) with grand beds and bathrooms arranged around a central courtyard. Minimally decorated with impeccable taste, there are floor-to-ceiling windows everywhere—guestrooms, bar, dining room and library—framing unparalleled views of the valley and Lago Argentino. A personal guide helps plan excursions that take guests riding to find flamingos at the lagoon, walking on glaciers, returning to the lodge for a dip in the indoor pool, sauna time, and fine wining and dining. The all-inclusive rate here does not include excursions off the property, such as to Puerto Moreno. All-inclusive double room rates start at $740.