Uruguay’s beaches are known as some of the best in South America, but its interior landscapes full of ranches, lush vegetation and rolling wine lands are not surprising despite not being explored as much as of now.
Uruguay is a country of only 3,5 million inhabitants that has been positioned at number 14 in the Planet of Happiness Index, which has earned it names such as “the Uruguayan Riviera” or “the Saint Tropez of South America” .
There are many places that have earned him this position, but without a doubt the coolest city of all is Jose Ignacio, a sleepy fishing enclave that has been reborn as the epicenter of the Uruguayan beach scene. With the arrival of pop stars, footballers and supermodels, the city has become more bustling and stylish, but without losing its virginity.
The most successful restaurant in the area is The footprint. At first glance, it looks like just a beach inn with a thatched roof and sand-dusted wooden floors, but nevertheless, it is the most difficult table to get in the busy months of January and February. At that time, the sound of the sea is joined by the different accents of tourists from all over the world.
Very close to José Ignacio, just over 10 kilometers away, is Estancia Vik, one of the three properties in Uruguay launched by the multimillionaire Uruguayan-Norwegian investor and businessman Alex Vik and his wife, Carrie. This ranch is the ideal place to appreciate the rural beauty of Uruguay and escape from the hustle and bustle.
While in the past, the interior of Uruguay meant sheep, cows and very little else, in recent years that has changed as wealthy Argentines and Brazilians, along with the occasional Uruguayan and American, have hired local architecture firms and international to build impressive country houses with panoramic views. This has given another physiognomy to the country’s rural landscape.
The most splendid of the new constructions that dominate the interior of Uruguay, by far, is Garzón Winery, a sleek and modern $85 million company founded by Alejandro Bulgheroni, reputedly the richest man in Argentina. The winery offers guided tours and a restaurant run by famous Argentine chef Francis Mallmann. It remains to be seen whether Bodega Garzón’s Tannats (flavorful and spicy reds, vaguely comparable to Malbecs) will make Uruguay join the ranks of the region’s wine exporting powerhouses, such as Argentina or Chile.
In the interior of the province of Maldonado, the hills give way to a rugged region that is rightly called the Tuscany of Uruguay. there it is Sacromonte Landscape Hotel. In 2014, his owner, Edmond Borit, left a career as a senior executive at a European multinational to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, a French vintner. He bought 100 hectares with the seemingly idiosyncratic goal of leaving 85% of the property uncultivated to return the land to its natural state and preserve local traditions: “Everyone thought I had a mid-life crisis,” Borit confesses. laughing, but the truth is that he just wanted to live in peace with nature again and it is impossible not to have that feeling of tranquility when the silence of Sacramonte crosses you.
An hour’s drive from there is Garzon Town. With less than 300 inhabitants, it seems an unlikely place for a culturally refined experience. Dying for nearly a century before being “rediscovered” by Mallmann, the site now houses a hotel, two restaurants, and an artists’ residence. The Garzón de Mallmann hotel and restaurant, along with Casa Anna, its adjoining guesthouse, take the classic deco design aesthetic of Argentina and Uruguay and mix it with homey, rustic French touches.
To close this visit, we can stop to eat at Choto, the restaurant of the Argentine humorist Fabio Alberti who opens it when he feels like it and where you never know what you are going to eat in advance, but you are always sure that you will not be disappointed. It is a peculiar place, like its owner, in a bucolic and unpretentious setting, with dishes made from raw materials from local producers. We recommend the duck confit, a very unusual meat in Uruguay.
Do not miss this walk through the interior of Maldonado to delight yourself with its rural landscapes, taste the best wine in the country, rediscover the silence of nature and rediscover yourself.