An exclusive little town in Uruguay called José Ignacio
Narrow dirt roads, silence only interrupted by the waves of the sea, infinite sunsets, the light of the lighthouse and the squawking of the seagulls: that is José Ignacio for those who lived there all their lives, a small town on the south coast Uruguay, where traffic jams are unusual. Not too long ago, this was a sleepy fishing village, a haven for loners and the occasional celebrity looking to escape the paparazzi in nearby Punta del Este. But in recent years, José Ignacio has become the most elegant place in Latin America, visited by the jet-set from all over the world who travel through its almost always quiet streets.
Summer days in José Ignacio Uruguay include lazy lunches, sunny afternoons on the beach (the sun sets around 21:30 p.m. this time of year), midnight dinners around the fire or in fancy restaurants, and late-night parties hosted by luxury brands like Lacoste or Chivas Regal in tents in front of the beach.
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But that’s only a small part of the charm. Except for a hectic few weeks after Christmas, when social life leaves no time for siestas, José Ignacio remains a sleepy place where the only sounds are Atlantic waves crashing on shore and whistling winds. Nature prevails and noisy discos are prohibited as well as parties after 2 am
“If people want a more crowded place, they go to Punta del Este,” said Martín Pittaluga, owner of La Huella, a trendy beach restaurant that everyone goes to. This new José Ignacio owes a lot to the neighbor Punta del Este which is starting to look a lot like Miami Beach on summer days, filled with gleaming condos, mega-hotels, expensive shops, and noisy nightclubs. José Ignacio appeals to those who prefer the more bohemian and informal atmosphere of dirt roads, hand-painted signs, intimate boutiques and bed and breakfasts. “There are fewer tourists; it’s less commercial,” says Sophie Slade, a London banker.
A Little History
It was in 1877 that the lighthouse was erected on the rocky peninsula that would become José Ignacio. For much of the 1970th century, the area remained uninhabited, although a small group of high-society families from Montevideo and Buenos Aires began summering there in the XNUMXs, building Mediterranean-style homes by the sea.
Among the first celebrities to appear, Mirtha Legrand, an Argentine film and television star, landed. She was soon followed by other big names like musician Fito Páez and hotelier Alan Faena. Also Shakira, the Latin pop star, owns a nearby ranch and the British writer Martin Amis also lived for several years to escape the “buzz of the world”, as he put it.
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The arrival of so many celebrities was followed by upscale restaurants, art galleries, and boutique inns. Trendy restaurants include Marismo and Namm, both tucked away down a winding, dusty road, surrounded by a thick forest of pine, eucalyptus, and acacia trees. Marismo, known for its slow-cooked lamb, is an open-air space with candlelit tables around a fire pit in the sand. Serving sushi and grilled meats, Namm is housed in a log cabin with dim lanterns, low tables, and padded bench seats.
The more isolated the place, the more attractive it seems, like La Caracola, a private club on a deserted beach accessible only by boat. Guests like Giuseppe Cipriani, the renowned restaurateur, and playboy, spend the day there sipping caipirinhas and nibbling on empanadas on the shore, followed by long lunches of roast beef and freshly caught fish.
While much of José Ignacio maintains a laid-back vibe, locals are concerned about development. Just minutes from the city is the Laguna Escondida, a massive 200-unit lakefront resort complex being built by Florida real estate mogul Jorge Perez.
“Some say José Ignacio Uruguay is growing too fast, but it still feels like a small town,” said Adolfo Suaya, a Los Angeles restaurateur who opened Swayan House. Although his hotel attracts several celebrities such as actress Naomi Watts or pilot Michael Schumacher, Suaya is not worried about overcrowding and compares José Ignacio to the Hamptons, an exclusive place less than an hour from New York.
To get to José Ignacio Uruguay, most tourists first fly to Buenos Aires and arrive in Punta del Este with a connecting flight from Aerolineas Argentinas. American Airlines also offers direct flights to Buenos Aires. Driving from Punta del Este to José Ignacio takes about 40 minutes. Another option is to fly to Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, and drive an hour and a half to José Ignacio, but beware, rental cars are scarce during high season and must be booked in advance.