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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Estancia La Porteña

The Big House at La Porteña
My mom and dad came to Argentina for their 6th and 3rd trip (respectively) to meet their new grandson. We wanted to show them a different part of the country without traveling too far (since our son doesn't have his documents yet...) so we decided on an estancia.  We've been to a few estancias in the past, but we wanted to try a new one, preferably a place that had more options for children. A few people had recommended La Porteña so I checked it out on Trip Advisor, and all of the reviews were raving. They also boasted an option to stay in one of their three houses, the Big House, the Small House and the Polo House - which has an apartment with two rooms, which sounded great for our family of four.

I sent the online booking form in English and a nice woman named Catalina responded in English as well. We booked a room for my parents in the Big House, and the Polo House apartment for us. When we arrived on Friday morning, the forecast called for rain and the weather was colder than normal for a weekend in late October. Catalina told me that we had been moved into the Big House (an upgrade free of charge) since the Polo House would be difficult to keep warm and we could be closer to my parents. Though this was a nice thought in theory, it also meant that all four of us were sleeping in the same room - a difficult venture considering my light-sleeping husband and our 5-week-old baby. I'm pretty sure that in the end, it was a better option for the staff as much (or more than) for us.

The estancia has beautiful grounds, lots of space, lots of animals and nice walking paths around the property. We arrived around noon on Friday, got settled in our rooms and met in a common area for what they refer to as a Welcoming Reception. There was wine, water and some snacks to choose from, along with hot empanadas, which were great after the ~1 hour 45 minute drive.

After the reception was over, you could choose to go horseback riding or just wander around the estancia. The day we arrived the weather was threatening rain so Catalina offered that we feed the animals before the rain came. We took a basket of bread to the horses, pigs, goat and sheep, though I'm convinced that as much bread went to feed Gretchen as the animals. Catalina was great, she helped Gretchen feed the horses and then when the rain started she shared that her two boys (ages 2 and 4) have a fantastic toy room that Gretchen could use during our stay.

Similar to many other estancias, La Porteña offers a dia del campo option for people that want to experience the estancia for the day without spending the night. This was never more obvious than at La Porteña where they had dia del campo visitors each of the three days that we were there. This is a great option for people on a tight schedule, but I felt like it forced us into an awkward schedule for people staying overnight. Each day before and after the dia del campo was very laid back and we could wander around the grounds, but since the very small staff was busy with the impending visitors and their own personal affairs, we felt kind of aimless during these times. We asked for a tour of the estancia grounds and were told that they were ready for this at any point - yet it took asking repeatedly for two days before we could get someone to show us around. They were so relaxed that we almost felt overlooked. Additionally, each afternoon had the same multi-hour lunch schedule: welcome reception, asado lunch, folk guitar singer and dance demonstration ending with the gaucho show. A great afternoon once, but we didn't need to repeat this experience to the letter on Saturday. No disrespect to the staff, the food was good and the singer/gaucho (Pablo, who is picture above) was great, but we would have preferred to take a hike or something else on the second day. Also, there is a great town nearby, San Antonio de Areco that we visited on Saturday morning, but we were told that they would wait for us to return for lunch, which meant that our food sat out on the table for a few hours (salads, vegetables, etc) since they didn't want to hold up the other folks visiting for the day. All this to say that it was not as accommodating as the other estancias we've been to in the past.

Once we finally went on a tour of the grounds, it was great! We could walk the trails and appreciate the history of the place.  There are trees from each continent in the world, many of them well over 150 years old.  Like this spruce from Lebanon in the background of the picture below.  This is the tree on the Lebanese flag yet it has been made virtually extinct in the country of it's birth. This was was enormous, beautiful and very old.

The original entrance to the estancia was used in a movie starring Antonio Banderas, Imagining Argentina, and is impressive with the large trees and the beautiful canopy:

 And after we knew what paths to take, we went walking on our own around.  Some of us got to ride...

 La Porteña is a beautiful location, it is very traditional and was named a national monument back in 1999, so it legally must stay true to its history. The weekend stay there was a mixed bag, the food ranged from mediocre (breakfast) to quite good (the asado) and the dinners were OK. All beverages were included in the cost of your stay, which was preferable to sorting out how many waters, cokes and glasses of wine everyone drank at the end of the weekend. The accommodations left a bit to be desired; the beds were nice and the rooms spacious, but the showers were laughable (we all skipped at least one shower, the water pressure was so bad) and the bathrooms in desperate need of renovation.

The staff was extremely nice and well-intentioned, but I felt like the stay could have been much better if there was more of a process for those staying overnight. Give us information about the town (how to get there, when the shops close, a recommendation for shopping or lunch...), find out what we are looking to get out of the weekend, and provide a general time table for what they offer (when is the tour, when can you ride horses, when are the animals fed, etc).  For the cost per person, I'm pretty sure we will not be back.

That's not to say we had a bad time, it was really fun and a clear window into traditional life in the 1700s. It was a nice way to spend time together as a family, and we were never crowded or bothered by anyone. The little ones liked it too, though Gretchen's favorite part was playing with the other children's toys that Catalina offered us. Playing with someone else's stuff is exhausting!

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