If for some reason Cordoba hasn’t made its way onto your Argentina travel wishlist, you’re going to have to shift some things around. The underdog destination is finally starting to get the attention it deserves from the travel industry. Sure there’s competition, Iguazu has waterfalls, the south is tempting with glaciers and penguins, and winos still flock to Mendoza, but there is something undeniably alluring about Cordoba’s sierras. The landscape alone is enough reason to make the trip (a 9 hour bus ride for the more budget conscious among us) with rolling hills, swimmable rivers and lakes, but the cities and towns in Argentina’s lesser visited province have seemed to keep all of the good parts of yesteryear while still managing to get with the times in terms of style and food trends.
The easiest way of getting in on the action is arriving by plane or bus, then renting a car to explore the place for yourself. To get the inside scoop however, we turned to the ultimate the people behind La Ruta de Las Sierras. Not only do the folks behind La Ruta de Las Sierras know the landscape like the back of their hand, they’ve also figured out a way to tailor make each tour based on your travel style.
Cordoba has got something for everyone, and whether you leave all the planning up to these experts, or get it on your own with their free, comprehensive itinerary guide (click on Hacelo Por Tu Cuenta for each tour option), you have some seriously solid options at your disposal.
We made the incredible sacrifice of checking out La Ruta de las Sierras in person to be able give you the inside scoop (…you’re welcome), and the four-day adventure started in Colonia Caroya. If you’re unfamiliar, it’s the Italian immigrant hotspot just outside the city proper, and its famous tree-lined streets immediately transport you to a simpler time. It’s got plenty of great restaurants and quaint neighborhoods to check out, but the really important thing to do when you go to Colonia is to try the salame. There are a number of families who have been making it the old school way for generations, and our first stop was to spend some time with the experts at Norma Londero All you need to know is that once you try this version, it will never be the same again. With their careful aging process and signature blend of spices that hasn’t changed for over a hundred years, they’ve managed to produce the culmination of your salty fatty dreams.
We were reluctant to leave our salame tasting (yes, there is such a thing), but we had more delicious things to get to. Chacra de Luna was our next stop and the feasting continued with a spread of fabulous goodies from the vineyard and farm, including house made (headcheese), and Frico. If you’ve never heard of the stuff, the crispy, gooey combination of cheese and potatoes is about to up your fourthmeal game forever. We then got to tour the sulky museum and farm, and meet some of its residents, including a goat that could give an opera singer a run for their money, and a pig that weighed more than a car. Chacra de Luna is the kind of place that makes you wish you lived closer, to be able to spend your Sunday brunches noshing on whatever their chef has dreamed up that day and lazily sipping wine while poking around the grounds.
Since we didn’t have that luxury, we were whisked off to our next stop. There is nothing that can prepare you for the grandeur and stunning beauty that you find at the Pueblo Estancia La Paz. Once the old summer home of Julio Argentino Roca, the resort has everything you need to pretend like you’re royalty. No sooner had we dropped off our bags in one of the decadent guest rooms, we were taken out to meet the chief horse wrangler for an afternoon cabalgata.
Our trail took us through the trees and over the hills for spectacular views of the mountain, creek, and the grounds. Once they were close enough to the stalls to smell the food waiting for them, the horses lost any remaining desire to allow us to pretend we were in control, and all galloped back to where they really wanted to be.
Tailbone soreness aside, by that time we were all a little cold and weary, and the high tea that was waiting for us in the main hall was a sight for sore eyes. Little did we know the expertly executed tea cakes and finger sandwiches were but a taste of the food glory that was to come. After a much needed shower, we headed to the restaurant to continue to push the limits of normal daily food consumption.
The tasting menu’s theme was a playful take on tradition and local ingredients. The notable standouts were the tenderest little matambre squares topped with a grapefruit relish, and a trout filet with skin so crispy, you might be willing to trade your potato chip addiction for a fish skin one. We braved our now uncomfortably tight pants to head back to the rooms for a few glorious hours of the kind of sleep that only crisp hotel sheets can provide.
Despite our reluctance to leave our new post in the lap of luxury, we packed up the SUV and headed out on our next adventure. We set out to see the mountains and did a little of what can only be referred to as car hiking. Luckily, the weather and the 4-wheel drive were cooperative, so our efforts were rewarded with some unbelievable sights. For the most part the route followed what the trail of the Rally de Argentina, which fostered a deep, newfound respect for anyone willing to maneuver a car at high speeds through those tight turns. We stopped at the Estación Astrofísica de Bosque Alegre (EABA) astronomy observatory on our way, and even though it was closed, we were lucky enough to run into its caretaker who graciously gave us a tour of the tower. Fun fact, if the Argentines had moved a little bit more quickly, they would have been host to the largest telescope of their time. The pinnacle of our mountain climbing ended at the peak, where we were privy to the most breathtaking vista we had encountered thus far. Once we got our pictures in, our all-knowing tour guide busted out a table, chairs, picada, and a bottle of wine, and we picnicked on top of the world.
Our lodging for the night was called Calma Nono (right outside the town of Nono), and its name was more than appropriate for the refuge it provided. Tucked in the shadow of the mountain, the amount of instagrammable views from the grounds become overwhelming so we retired to our rooms to focus on the easy comfort they provided. Dinner at the resort came in the form of the kind of food that makes you wish you lived with your grandma. The most unctuous morsel came in the form of a rich lamb lasagna, which paired perfectly with the wine from the local vineyard up the street. After not two, but three desserts, we all decided it was high time to succumb to the imminent food coma that was threatening to leave us asleep at the dinner table.
After struggling a bit to get going, our lethargic bellies were demoted from their position as the center of our attention the second we walked through the doors of the Museo Polifacético Rocsen. Filled with over 55,000 oddities and trinkets, the museum is one of the world’s largest private collections. We walked through room after room of everything from old farm tools, to antique medical equipment, to a preserved two-headed calf. We took advantage of the photo ops it provided, and then headed in the direction of Los Duraznos.
We made our final stop for the afternoon in the village of La Cumbrecita. Completely off-limits for cars, the little pedestrian German town is a tiny, picturesque gem. Its whimsical streets beg to be wandered down, and there’s a hidden pristine lagoon towards the back of the town where you can cool off your tired feet. Best of all, there’s beer around every corner, so you couldn’t possibly go thirsty.
We arrived at Patio del Durazno at dusk and as usual, couldn’t fathom how a place could be so gorgeous. The homey resort is the labor of love of a hospitable couple from Rosario, who recognized paradise when they saw it and decided to make it available to the rest of the world. After a picada and quick tour of the grounds, it was once again time to eat! We feasted on homemade cannelloni before giving in to a night of pure quiet and peace.
Our last full day of Cordoba perfection began with a trip back to the big city. We made our first stop at our final lodging place, Azur Real Hotel Boutique. If you blink, you’ll drive by this tremendous little hotel, so don’t. Its interesting history, striking decor, profoundly comfortable rooms, and private spa, will make you consider selling your soul to become a permanent resident.
We wisely invested in an afternoon nap to best prepare for our evening ahead. The night started with a whirlwind tour of the Feria de Antigüedades, which is conveniently located next to the ultra hip Güemes district (Cordoba’s very own Williamsburg). After exploring some of its open-air galleries, we started to feel a bit peckish and overstimulated, so we sat down for a couple of beers and snacks under a canopy of lights to rest up and prepare our stomachs for the intense eating experience waiting for us back at the hotel.
Our final meal in Cordoba was nothing short of monumental. We had reservations at the República restaurant for their ten course tasting menu, and the experience was one for the books. Every combination of flavors seemed to have been meticulously created to make you question the very idea of harmony, and each bite was an adventure. We devoured everything from perfectly balanced mustard macarons to steak with a velvety seso mousse and perfect asparagus. The only struggle we faced was keeping the postprandial somnolence at bay long enough to reach dessert. At around 2:00 am, with a happy heart and full bellies, we called it a night and tried not to think about how our adventure was coming to an end.
We had one final order of business before heading back to the big city and a bike tour provided the perfect way to see the highlights of Cordoba’s historic sites and hidden treasures. With helmets on and snacks in tow, we pedaled across the cobblestones and the tree lined streets to uncover the secrets of the city. It was the perfect end to an eye-opening experience, and hopefully undid some of the caloric damage done in the previous days.
So, what did we learn? It seems as though we owe Cordoba an apology for focusing our energy on the tired Mendoza vineyard tours and run of the mill Bariloche treks, and overlooking its vacation glory potential. Should you go to Cordoba? If you have any sort of affinity for beauty, adventure, chill people, and delicious food, then the answer is a resounding yes. Your ticket to adventure is a mere hour away, and you couldn’t possibly leave unfulfilled.