Monday, May 30, 2011

Buenos Aires Crypts Full Of Lively Tales

Buenos Aires crypts full of unusual sights, tales

La Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires has named streets between the rows of aboveground vaults.
There's no telling whom you'll find in La Recoleta Cemetery.
Between the rows of 4,800 aboveground vaults and tombs lie the remains of past presidents and revolutionaries, poets and paupers, a few murderers here and some of their victims over there. From Evita, the most famous "resident-in-keeping" (buried four or five times, depending on whose history book you read), to Rufina, the young girl who mistakenly was buried alive.
Granted, going to a cemetery is not everyone's idea of a fun vacation, but La Recoleta in Buenos Aires is more like a museum than a burial ground and one of the top tourist attractions in Argentina.
But it didn't start out as the final resting ground for the rich and famous.
"This was Buenos Aires' first public cemetery back in 1732, when many poor people lived in the Recoleta area," our guide, Maisa, said. "But there was a yellow fever plague in the city in the 1870s and many wealthy residents moved here, where the epidemic had not spread.
"So the rich displaced the poor and the cemetery went upscale. Now you have to be somebody special to get in," she said with a smile. "In fact, Recoleta is the most expensive real estate in all of Argentina."
Truthfully, Recoleta is more like a little village than a cemetery, complete with street names on each corner. The entrance is adorned with tall Greek columns, and the architecture of the various tombs is a hodgepodge of neoclassical, neo-Gothic, Art Nouveau, Art Deco and a few that are just over-the-top tacky.
The shapes of some of the larger mausoleums resemble temples, pyramids, castles and towers. But you can easily walk by the stately mausoleum containing the remains of Eva Peron. The name above the entrance simply reads "Familia Duarte," Evita's family name.
Evita's coffin lies beneath her other family members, two trap doors down from the main marble floor - figuratively in the basement, for security reasons.
But how she got there is a posthumous adventure tale that lasted 35 years and included burials in Milan, Madrid and several spots in Buenos Aires, including the presidential palace grounds.
Not far from the Duarte mausoleum is the tomb of Rufina Cambaceres, an 18-year-old girl buried alive in 1902 after she suffered a cataleptic attack and was presumed dead.
The official report is that she woke up screaming and clawing at her coffin. Security guards heard her screams, but before they could reach her it was too late; she had died of a heart attack.
Rufina's coffin today, No. 35, has a sculptured rose on top. On the corner of the tomb is a carving of a young girl who looks as if she is about to break into tears. And it brings tears to many tourists' eyes when they hear the story.
A couple of "streets" away is the tomb of David Alleno, No. 81, who was night watchman at the cemetery for almost 30 years. He saved up enough money to buy his own tomb and had a sculpture made of himself with his keys, broom and watering can.
Soon after the tomb and sculpture were completed, Alleno committed suicide.
Many residents of the Recoleta area swear that the ghosts of Rufina and Alleno can still be heard on some nights - she screaming and he jingling his keys.
Then there is the "silent" tomb of a man and wife who, rumor has it, did not speak to each other for the last 30 years of their marriage. He died before her, and she stated in her will that their statues were to face in opposite directions.
There is something else about La Recoleta Cemetery that makes it unique - you can rent a grave here, by the day.
According to our guide, it is possible to rent one of the mausoleums - with the permission of the surviving family members and at an agreed price - arranged by cemetery officials (who also take their cut).
By-the-day tenants then place their own family names on the tomb, and pose for photos with other family members and friends - all appropriately grieving.
Location, location, location.
Freelance writer Dominick A. Merle lives in Montreal. E-mail comments to

Read more:

Armed conflict in Colombia: A concession to reality | The Economist

Armed conflict in Colombia: A concession to reality | The Economist

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Charms of Vina Del Mar, Along Chile's Coast


The Charms of Viña del Mar, Along Chile’s Coast

Tomas Munita for The New York Times
Danny Diaz, a South American skimboarding champion, called Viña del Mar, a resort town an hour and a half from Santiago, “the Chilean version of Laguna.” More Photos »
DANNY DIAZ stared out into the Pacific, scanning the water, ready to dash at the right moment. “We are here to catch a sider,” Mr. Diaz, 24, said, referring to what he considers the perfect wave, as he stood on the sandy embankment where the inlet Estero Marga Marga meets the ocean in Viña del Mar, Chile. He was with a group of friends, all skimboarders, a sport Mr. Diaz described as “a mix between skateboarding and surfing.”
Tomas Munita for The New York Times
Castillo Wulff, an example of the Germanic architecture along Viña del Mar's seaside cliffs. More Photos »
Mr. Diaz, a South American skimboarding champion, called Viña del Mar “the Chilean version of Laguna,” adding that “here you need to use more technique than in California.” The water is chilly — the reason he’s in a wetsuit — but that doesn’t stop wave fanatics in this stretch of the Pacific coast.
Up and down the coast from Viña, you’ll find other surfing hot spots, but the region is about more than just waves. It’s less expensive than some other well-known South American resorts, like Uruguay’s Punta del Este, and is popular with Argentines and Brazilians, who come for its family-friendly atmosphere. Media stars and cultural elite from Santiago, the Chilean capital, also head here during the summer high season, which runs from December to February, adding a touch of glamour. (Prices are generally lower and crowds smaller during the coming low season.)
Viña del Mar, Spanish for “vineyard by the sea,” is simply called “Viña” by Chileans, or sometimes “Garden City.” Among the largest resorts on the South American Pacific coast, with a population of about 300,000, the city is an hour and a half west of Santiago. Visitors from the United States and Canada often come only for a day, pairing it with a stop in neighboring Valparaíso, before returning to Santiago or their cruise ship. But as Chile opens its complex charms to more visitors, that routine is beginning to change. (Viña’s draw is well known to Chileans, including the president, whose summer residence is there.)
Viña began in the 1870s as a resort suburb of Valparaíso, connected to that city and to the capital by train. After a 1906 earthquake damaged Valparaíso, Viña expanded with newarchitecture transforming its seaside cliffs. One such structure is Castillo Wulff, a Germanic turreted granite castle set on a rocky point. Over the years, it has become a symbol of the city (much like the nearby giant floral clock that spells out the city’s name and faces the ocean, offering a brilliant greeting to passing cruise ships). Called Cerro Castillo, or Castle Hill, this part of town is one of the oldest, full of other century-old whimsical homes jutting from the cliffs. The city is divided by the Estero Marga Marga, lined with colorful midcentury high-rise towers, their facades faceted by balconies tilting to the sea.
Earthquakes are an ongoing part of Chile’s history, and though Viña suffered modest damage from the February 2010 quake, it is still overcoming perceptions of greater devastation, said Arturo Grez, the city’s tourism director. He added that he had told Argentine tour operators that “Viña del Mar and Valparaíso are still functioning normally,” with restaurants and hotels open. (Some museums in older structures, like the Museo de Bellas Artes, were damaged and remain closed.)
The other challenge, Mr. Grez said, is getting visitors from the United States and Canada to spend more than a day here. “If you sleep in Viña, you see more things,” he said, regardless of the season: the ski resort Portillo is only two hours away; the Casablanca Valley wineries, best visited during the harvest season in March, is a 45-minute trip. But Viña is a great place for some simple relaxation. Mr. Grez compared the city to Miami. Indeed, it’s not unusual to find health-conscious locals jogging on the waterfront promenade, which was refurbished in 2010 with beachside fitness areas.
Beyond the beach, Viña offers an interesting array of festivals, the most important being the decades-old Viña del Mar International Song Festival, held in February in Parque Quinta Vergara (Sting headlined the 2011 festival).
Quinta Vergara, a hilltop park and cultural complex overlooking the city, serves as a cultural hub for Viña. Every weekend in January, the same amphitheater where the Song Festival is held also hosts the Conciertos de Verano, or Summer Concerts, with performances by classical musicians from Santiago’s Municipal Theater.
It is also the site of the Feria de Artesanía de Viña del Mar, or Handicrafts Fair, held in January and February; this year’s edition featured artists from 15 countries. All through the summer, a local handicrafts market is open daily on the oceanfront promenade. (The park is open year-round for strolling, jogging and other activities.)
Isabella Castro Freudenthal, a college professor living in Viña, recommended using the city as a home base to explore Chile’s seaside and the neighboring towns. “I always tell people ‘See Valparaíso because it’s beautiful and romantic, but stay in Viña del Mar because it is comfortable and safe,’ ” she said.
One lodging option for travelers is the 142-room waterfront Sheraton Miramar. Ms. Castro Freudenthal is a regular at its spa: “I can work out and look at the ocean,” she said. (It will soon have competition from a property under construction on the promenade. Currently in negotiations to be branded a Hyatt, it is scheduled to open in 2014.)
As one might expect from a resort town, Viña offers a variety of night-life options, much of which is centered at the 1930s-era Casino and Hotel del Mar, set in a palm-lined oceanfront park, and Ovo, its weekend nightclub. But there’s plenty to enjoy beyond the casino. Young locals, in fact, can recommend something for any weeknight. Prisilla La Rivera, 22, a part-time clothing designer who also works in the casino’s office, likes the boisterous Bar Spartako. “I come with my friends to share beers,” she said, “and the musicis great.”
A few blocks away, Café Journal is quiet during the day. But at night, D.J.’s spinning pop and rock classics from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s liven up the place. There’s not always dancing, but the bar’s manager, Francisco Araya, said, “if the people feel like moving, yes, there is.”
And there are plenty of options for those recovering from night-life jaunts. Tiffany Norwood, from Washington, D.C., said staying in Viña over a long weekend gave her time to savor the city on a trip with friends. “We ate brunch for hours; the pace reminded me so much of Italy, just swap pasta for seafood and grappa for pisco,” she said, adding, “when it comes to the wine, there’s no swapping needed.”
But it was the setting she liked most about Viña. “The beach is beautiful,” she said. “You have the sea with a mountain backdrop.”
Though it hosts familiar chains like McDonald’s and Starbucks along its main restaurant strip Avenida San Martín, Viña also offers semihidden culinary spots. In the cluster of narrow dead-end streets called Pasajes, several blocks from the casino, you’ll find family restaurants like the lunch-only Donde Willy, run by Miguel Valdivia. “People in Viña eat too many fast things,” Mr. Valdivia, 22, said. “The idea was to have a place where people could eat traditional food of Chile.”
During a recent visit, Mr. Valdivia showed off plates of cazuela de vacuno (beef slow-cooked in a stew of pumpkin, potato and choclo, a thick native corn) and merluza frita (fried hake, served in a sauce of tomatoes, onions and cilantro) — dishes culled from his mother’s recipes.
Right on the oceanfront, the food gets even fresher. In the small beach resort of Concón, a few miles north of Viña, fish are caught offshore in small boats and brought to Restaurante La Gatita, built on a rocky outcrop overlooking the ocean.
Claudia Kravetz, a 35-year-old lawyer based in Santiago, grew up in Viña and likes to visit the restaurant on weekends. “There’s a phrase we use in Chile — ‘bueno, bonito, barato’— good, pretty and cheap,” she said. “Gatita is like this.” (She warned that in season, Gatita, which doesn’t take reservations, might have a two-hour wait. You can put your name on a list and take a leisurely walk, she said.)
Gatita is also a favorite of Ms. Castro Freudenthal’s — and not just for the food. She said driving and looking at the vistas all along Avenida Borgoño, the shore-hugging road that leads from Viña to Concón, were pleasures all their own. “This is a real Chilean view,” she said. “There’s the beach, then a hill, a valley, then the mountains in the distance. It’s what makes me love living in Viña.”
A bus ride of about 90 minutes connects Santiago’s Central Station to Viña del Mar ( TurBus (; 56-2-822-7500) has buses every 15 to 20 minutes, about 1,900 pesos, or $4.15 at 460 pesos to the dollar, each way.
The waterfront Sheraton Miramar Hotel & Convention Center (Avenida Marina 15; 56-32-238-8600; has 142 rooms, all with ocean views. Doubles from $220. (Hotels in Chile generally accept dollars.)
The 60-room Casino and Hotel del Mar complex (Avenida Perú at Avenida Los Héroes; 56-32-250-0800; offers several restaurants, a spa and a nightclub, Ovo. Doubles from $667.
Hotel Monterilla (Avenida Dos Norte 65; 56-32-297-6950; is a boutique hotel off Plaza Mexico. Doubles from $159.
Ristorante San Marco (Avenida San Martín 597; 56-32-297-5304; offers Italian and seafood specialties. Main courses from 7,200 pesos.
Donde Willy (Avenida Seis Norte 353, No 17 Pasaje Borgoño; 56-32-269-7971) has main courses starting at 2,000 pesos.
Restaurante La Gatita (Avenida Borgoño at Higuerillas, Concón) specializes in freshly caught fish; main courses start at 2,000 Chilean pesos.
Ovo (56-32-284-6100; is a weekends-only disco at the casino.
Bar Spartako (Avenida Valparaíso 90) is a rock bar popular with young locals that’s open from 2 p.m. to 3 a.m. daily.
Café Journal (Variante Agua Santa 4; 56-32-266-6654) hosts D.J.’s at night.

$100 Weekend In Rio de Janeiro

May 10, 2011, 3:38 PM

$100 Weekend in Rio de Janeiro

A Matte Leão salesman, iced tea in one tank, lemonade in the other on Ipanema BeachSeth Kugel for The New York TimesA salesman with Matte Leão iced tea in one tank and lemonade in the other, on Ipanema Beach.
Filling your time during a cheap weekend in Rio de Janeiro would seem like a no-brainer: head to Ipanema beach on Saturday, spend a couple of bucks to rent a beach chair and a couple more on tempting snacks from roaming vendors. Rinse (in the on-beach showers) and repeat (on Sunday).
But if you want to eat actual meals, drink the local grog (ice-cold beer), listen to music and get around town, too, you’re asking for trouble. The Brazilian real is at its strongest this century – the weekend I was there $1 got you 1.57 reais – and by one consulting group’s measure life for expatriates in Rio is more expensive than anywhere else in the Western Hemisphere, except São Paulo and New York. Tourists will feel that pain as well, especially when it comes to restaurant meals, taxis and entrance costs to attractions.
That made it a great candidate for a Frugal Traveler $100 Weekend, in which I attempt to prove that $100 in walking-around money is all you need for a great time anywhere in the world. (That excludes lodging, of course: If you don’t have friends there and shy away from Couchsurfing, other hotel alternatives include the brand-new Z.Bra Hostel in chic Leblon or the Cama e Café bed and breakfast service.) Here is where my money went.

Friday Night

The scene at Bar do Peixe in downtown Rio.Seth Kugel for The New York TimesThe scene at Bar do Peixe in downtown Rio.
My crash pad – the couch of a female friend’s apartment in the centrally located Urca neighborhood – fell through at the last minute, so I stayed with old friends in the lovely but distant Barra da Tijuca area. I thought that any attempt to use public transportation from there would prove disastrous but then I learned about the quick Barra Expresso bus, which takes you to the Ipanema subway stop in about 30 to 45 minutes and gives you a transfer to the subway for 3.80 reais ($2.42). I couldn’t help stopping into the Big Nectar juice stand near the subway where I bought a soursop juice for 4 reais and brought it along for the ride.
Visitors will find the subway, which now runs from Ipanema through Copacabana and to most attractions in the city center, easy to use. Signs are in English, and there are only two lines. Buses are trickier, but note that Google Maps works quite well to show you which lines to take, and you can pay in cash as you get on.
After getting settled, my plan was to head to a dive bar in Rio’s crumbling but lively downtown for beer and dinner, then meet another old friend, Carolina Barreto, for her birthday. I got off the train in the Cinelândia stop, where streets were packed with cheap outdoor bars and even cheaper drinks from entrepreneurs hawking beer by the latinha (350 milliliter cans, two reais) or the latão (473 milliliter cans, two for 5 reais). Music from samba to Brazilian funk wafted in from various directions.
My destination was the Bar do Peixe (the Fish Bar), which the restaurant critic for the weekly magazine Veja Rio, Fábio Codeço, had recommended to me as a top dive bar. It was a huge, bustling affair, stretching out over at least three storefronts with plastic tables encroaching on the narrow street and packed with the Rio residents that tourists don’t always see: normal people (as opposed to the superhuman, impossibly toned crowds in trendier neighborhoods.)
A samba band at Parada da Lapa.Seth Kugel for The New York TimesA samba band at Parada da Lapa.
After about 15 minutes, I scored a streetside table, ordered a 4-real half-liter of Skol beer and the cheapest fish on the menu, a plate of freshly fried, butterflied sardines for 10 reais. Aside from the two times that a stinking garbage truck came within a foot or so of my chair, it was a great meal.
Next, I was to meet Carolina and her friends at Parada da Lapa, a samba club that’s walking distance from Bar do Peixe. Carolina had assured me that the place was frugal enough for my budget, and she was right: the cover was 20 reais but included 15 reais worth of drinks (read: one caipirinha cocktail and two beers, plenty for me) and two live bands. I made my way home by late-night bus at 1:30 a.m. – a long haul, but worth it.
Friday total: 57.10 reais. Remaining: 99.90.


I rode the Barra Expresso back to town the next day to hit the weekly 11 a.m. crafts market on Rua General Glicério in Laranjeiras, a leafy neighborhood that is a 15-minute walk from the Largo do Machado subway.
Chorinho musicians at the crafts fair on Rua General Glicério.Seth Kugel for The New York TimesChorinho musicians at a crafts fair on Rua General Glicério.
Though the crafts are nice and the “pastéis” — fried dough filled with meat or cheese — are delicious with sugar cane juice (5 reais for the combo), the highlight of the market was a group of string, percussion and wind instruments playing upbeat yet calming chorinho in the middle of the crowd.
An older couple struck up a conversation with me about my fancy camera (Canon 7D digital SLR), and I ended up joining them for the rest of the afternoon. We went on to Santa Teresa, the Bohemian hilltop neighborhood where we stopped at their favorite spot, the Bar do Serginho, and the quirky Atelier Chamego Bonzolandia, a trolley-shaped streetside workshop where Getúlio Damado makes art from trash. I bought an anatomically correct dog made from an old shampoo bottle, a corkscrew and other doodads for 10 reais.
I always try to fit in a little high culture into a $100 weekend. In New York, that meant a Shakespeare performance. In Paris, a play at La Comédie Française. In Rio, I thought I had found the perfect event: a piano concert, utterly free, part of a regular January-to-May series called Música no Museu (Music in the Museum). Turns out, however, that this week’s event was not in a museum, but at the Portuguese consulate, which does not admit concertgoers in sweaty T-shirts and shorts bearing a shampoo-and-corkscrew dog. I wasn’t let in.
So I went for the low culture, dining in a bar called Cachambeer in the distant Zona Norte, the northern zone of the city where few tourists go. I went by subway, but it’s much easier to go there via the 457 bus, which goes straight from Ipanema and Copacabana to Cachambeer’s very block. When I got there, it was packed — Cachambeer was participating in Comida di Buteco, the bar food festival that sweeps many cities in Brazil this time of year. I got out of there for only 28 reais – for a few beers and two appetizers  – but mostly because I bribed the waiter for some free food when he wanted to move me to make room for a large group. Desperate budgets require desperate measures.
Saturday: 76.20 reais. Remaining: 23.70


Views of the Ipanema neighborhood and sea beyond from the Cantagalo favela.Seth Kugel for The New York TimesViews of the Ipanema neighborhood and sea beyond from the Cantagalo favela.
For many years visitors to Rio have had the option of taking a “favela tour”, a guided walk through the labyrinthine hillside slums long ruled by drug gangs but almost legendary sources of artistic and musical talent. Exploring them alone was considered folly, but several are now under control of “Police Pacification Units” and are – police officers and local residents agree – safe to visit.
And they are incredible to visit, too, I might add. The Santa Marta favela is the most popular – there’s even a tourist map in English and an information booth at the entrance, but I went to Cantagalo, right next to Ipanema, where I was planning to hit the beach later. A sparkling new elevator ferries residents (and visitors) the equivalent of 23 stories up, depositing them in the middle of random winding alleys and staircases with electric wires crisscrossing everywhere. For anyone – especially anyone who has gazed up at the hillside slums from below for years but never dared enter – it’s incredible. I wandered by neighbors chatting, people shopping (“How much for the watermelon?”) and children playing marbles; none gave me a second look unless I greeted them, and then they were almost heartbreakingly kind. When I asked a man named André where the best view of the city below was; he simply pulled me into his house and showed me the stunning mountain-ocean-lagoon panorama from his unfinished upper floor.
After a quick lunch of acarajé (a black-eyed pea fritter topped with shrimp and all kinds of other goodies) and tapioca cake, I headed to Ipanema beach to end my weekend in the sun, surrounded by the iconic Rio beach scenes of tiny bikinis, amazing no-hands soccer-volleyball and a social scene so bustling that many people never even bother to sit down.
I didn’t know anybody, though, and with enough money for either a beach chair or a drink, I opted for the latter, spread out my T-shirt on the sand and plopped down on it. Guiga had told me that any man who sits on a towel will instantly be pegged as a tourist: the horror! They’d have to turn to other evidence – like my lily-white torso – to smoke me out.
With my remaining change, I flagged down a vendor with a metal tin over each shoulder. Everyone on the beach knows what they’re selling: ice cold Matte Leão iced-tea in one, and lemonade in the other. It’s a choose-your-own-ratio Arnold Palmer, and it tastes better than a beach chair any day.
Sunday: 22.80 reais. Left over: 0.90

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Saturday, May 7, 2011

$3.6 Million US Will Buy You The Most Expensive Apartment In Buenos Aires

It takes $3.6m to tango

By Nick Foster
Published: May 6 2011 22:02 | Last updated: May 6 2011 22:02
Levenfiche’s apartment in the Kavanagh Building
Levenfiche’s apartment in the modernist Kavanagh Building
Nowhere in Buenos Aires captures the city’s mid 20th-century aspirations better than the Kavanagh Building. It’s an apartment block that – at 120 metres – was South America’s tallest building and the highest reinforced concrete structure in the world when it was completed in 1936.
So it’s fitting that the Kavanagh’s largest unit – occupying the whole of the 14th floor – is the most expensive apartment on sale in the city, with five en-suite bedrooms and a series of spacious reception rooms spread over 1,980 sq ft. Private terraces and gardens add a further 820 sq ft. Local agency Tierra Estates has the property on its books for US$3.6m (property prices are routinely quoted in US dollars in Argentina).
Since 2005 it has been the Argentine pied-à-terre of Alain Levenfiche, an Englishman born in France and raised in London. “The apartment was in a rather dilapidated state when I bought it,” says Levenfiche. “But there was no doubting its elegance.”
Cue a full makeover: Levenfiche ordered new bathrooms with marble from Italy, Pakistan and the Ivory Coast. He built a reinforced glass dance floor in one of the reception rooms and installed a floor-to-ceiling aquarium in another. One of two master bedrooms has a bedstead decorated with Swarovski crystal. It has been the venue for a number of glamorous events, including the launch party for Paco Rabanne’s new perfume in March.
Levenfiche’s polo estate
His polo estate at Santa María de Lobos
On a clear day you can spot the coastline of Uruguay across the River Plate estuary. In any weather, you can see Puerto Madero, a riverfront residential, office and entertainment district, and a weather vane for confidence in the city’s real estate market. Here, new-build luxury apartments sell for an average of $5,000 per sq m. Across town in the trendy Palermo neighbourhood, the entry-level price for a three-bedroom townhouse ripe for renovation is about $250,000. “You could call this an orderly property market,” says Levenfiche. “People tend to avoid distress sales and there are no outlandish levels of credit.”
In spite of Argentina’s record of political instability and the absence of anything resembling a mature mortgage market, the country’s growing economy triggered residential price rises of 9 per cent in 2010, according to the Cámara Argentina de la Construcción (chamber for the construction industry), which also predicts a 7 per cent increase in 2011. There were 16 per cent more property transactions in the city in 2010 than in 2009.
Soon after buying and refurbishing his apartment in the Kavanagh Building, Levenfiche embarked on a different challenge: “I wanted to build not so much a home as a dream – my vision of the perfect polo estate house.” The result is a sumptuous residence in a private estate at Santa María de Lobos, 1 hour 15 minutes’ drive from the city. Levenfiche’s neighbours include US actor Tommy Lee Jones, who is rebuilding his mansion on the estate. But with Levenfiche’s property – including swimming pool, helipad, outhouses and vegetable garden – covering 7.5 hectares, there is little chance of residents bumping into each other.
Polo is the main attraction of the estate, which has a number of polo fields and attracts some of the country’s top players. The house is on sale for $4.2m. According to Andrew Rae McCance of Tierra Estates, which is selling the property, it rents for $3,000 to $5,000 per week depending on the season and the schedule for polo games. Levenfiche, who cut his teeth in the UK property sector in the 1970s, is one of an increasing number of British entrepreneurs (McCance is another) operating in the Argentine capital’s high-end home and lifestyle market. “Luxury property is generally undervalued in Argentina,” says McCance. “And the country has a great potential for growth.”
A map of Buenos AiresNigel Tollerman quit a job in London’s financial sector in 2002 and came to Argentina to retrain as a sommelier before completing an MBA. Four years ago he set up 0800-Vino, a specialist wine supplier. “I underestimated the variety and quality of the wines here before I arrived. It’s something that has helped the local restaurant scene improve and diversify, which in turn makes Buenos Aires a more interesting and agreeable place to live.”
Surprisingly, Tollerman was the first commercial wine dealer to install a temperature- and humidity-controlled wine cellar at his premises. Film director Francis Ford Coppola, who has a townhouse in the Palermo district (which is rented to paying guests as the Jardín Escondido, or “Hidden Garden”, when its owner is out of town) entrusts Tollerman with storing the most valuable bottles in his collection.
Homebuyers in the city are advised to apply the perfect Buenos Aires look – which hovers at present between hacienda chic and a contemporary, industrial feel – to furnishings and fittings. “You can’t very easily go and buy things off the shelf,” says Emma Balch, an interior designer from Yorkshire who has set up home in the edgy neighbourhood of San Telmo and runs her own company, Doble M Design. “Many things are custom-made by blacksmiths and carpenters. Sofas, for instance, tend to be handmade but you need contacts to find the right craftsmen – they don’t necessarily advertise their services widely.”
One of the city’s most original homes is a 10-bedroom, seven-bathroom residence on a quiet street in San Telmo, with a cone-shaped brick chimney and metal staircase with a screen constructed from a collage of abstract shapes and cut-outs in place of a handrail. Its US owner is planning to return to New York after bringing up her family in Buenos Aires; the asking price is $890,000 (through the Leticia Firpo agency).
Otherwise, you can go shopping for antiques. “There is a wealth of early 20th-century European furniture on sale in the city, brought over by immigrants,” says Balch, who also recommends making use of traditional textiles from the north of Argentina: “They are wonderful and, thanks to the intensity of the light here, you can get away with their strong colours in a way that wouldn’t be straightforward in Britain.”
Buying guide
● Buenos Aires is a vibrant city with excellent restaurants, boutiques, street markets and art galleries.
● It has a pleasant subtropical climate with many sunny days and cool evenings.
● It has architectural and design styles to suit everyone – from rationalism to art deco, and from neoclassical to minimalist.
● Inflation is running at 20-25 per cent.
● The country feels politically volatile and the authorities cannot even get some simple things right, eg there is a chronic lack of small change.
● Although not a dangerous city, muggings and bag snatchings are on the rise.
What you can buy for
 $100,000 A one-bedroom apartment in middle-class Barrio Norte, or an 8,500 sq ft building plot at the Estancia Villa María, a residential estate outside the city.
 $1m A five-bedroom apartment in Recoleta, a short walk from the famous cemetery where Eva Perón is buried.
Tierra Estates tel: +54 11 4807 9046,
Leticia Firpo tel: +54 11 4343 4414,
Estancia Villa María estate tel: +54 11 4334 1000,
En Buenos Aires (property search engine):