Bariloche – Rio Negro, Argentina

In the Switzerland of South America

Detractors bemoan the loss of much of the old-world character of this developing ski resort in the heart of Argentina’s Lake District, but no one criticizes its enviable location in one of the continent’s most scenic areas. Modeled after an Alpine village, Bariloche is full of chalets and gingerbread-style shops; and restaurants serve up Austrian-German cuisine – this is chocolate and fondue coun­try.

If you prefer natural beauty to man-made quaintness, head out of town and follow the signs for any of three driving tours that begin and end in Bariloche: The mountain and lake scenery is uniquely beautiful in each of the four seasons. The three-hour Circuito Chico (Short Circuit) is a lovely afternoon’s excur­sion, while the lengthier 150-mile Circuito Grande makes for a full day of gorgeous land­scape. Both drives include excellent views of Patagonia’s Nahuel Huapí National Park, where you’ll find some of the world’s most dramatic peaks. And tucked away here in Argentina’s largest and oldest national park is the Llao Llao Hotel, uniquely situated on 40 spectacular private acres.

The hotel is in perfect harmony with its Andean location: There are ethnic fabrics, open fireplaces, and gleaming cypress logwork, all in an elegant hunting-lodge atmosphere – and everywhere, those views. Built in 1937 on the island-stud­ded glacial Lake Nahuel Huapí (where Argen­tina’s record salmon weighed in at 35 pounds), the Llao Llao has recently been resuscitated after having been closed for fifteen years. Privatized and impeccably renovated, it is once again one of the stellar hotel-resorts of South America, with a new 18-hole golf course and lakeside tennis courts for guests who visit at the height of the summer, and nearby Bariloche’s sixteen ski runs for those who come in the austral winter. The cable car ride to the 7,000-foot peak of the Cerro Catedral is breathtaking in any season.

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