By Lorie and Paul Bennett
here on the pampas. The only sounds are breezes tickling the eucalyptus leaves,
the sizzle of whole spitted lamb over hot coals, horses nickering in the
pasture, quiet conversation on the porch. We're at Estancia El Rocio, just over an hour
from frenetic Buenos Aires.
At Estancia Peuma Hue near Bariloche, in Argentina's Lake District, our eyes
feast on shafts of sunlight striking the hills, the antics of colourful
cauguén duck and Patagonian hares and, later, on the magnificence of a
full moon riding over Lago Guitérrez.
Off the beaten path, usually at the end of rough dirt roads, lie some elegant
havens of warm hospitality––the estancias of Argentina. We
visited two of them during the six weeks we travelled there. At both, we
experienced more than just room and meals at a five–star
hotel––we were privileged to feel, if only briefly, part of an
In Buenos Aires, taxis rush six–abreast on three–lane roadways and
tango music is everywhere. Just 60 miles away lies Estancia El
Rocio where life slows w–a–a–y down. Owners Patrice Graviêre and Macarena Llambi warmly welcome us into the refined life
of the pampas estancia.
We've been delayed because, to ensure the security of guests, El Rocio's
location is not well advertised. And Carmelo, our driver, forgot to bring the
However, after a number of stops to ask directions, we pull into the driveway
having enjoyed our tour of the countryside.
We've come for the day, but immediately wish it could be for a week. It's still
cool in the early spring, but the sun is shining and we sip coffee as we chat on
the porch of the Provençal–inspired home. Wisteria is in bloom,
grassy vistas stretch to the horizon and the espresso is superb.
© Estancia El Rocio
Of a French banking background, Patrice speaks three languages well. For
Spanish–Argentine Macarena, English is more difficult. Her flair as a
decorator and former buyer for Hermes shows throughout the dream home that is
their personal residence.
"The architect basically took my design of a house that I created when I was 12
years old and made it a reality," says Patrice. "Now we want visitors to feel
they are honored guests in our home." And we do.
We're shown mementos lovingly collected on travels throughout the world,
including whimsical bathroom scales in the shape of a pig, 18th–century
doors from a Jesuit monastery and striking Mexican ceramic lantern masks. A
19th–century armoire from Portugal serves as a well–stocked
liquor cabinet in the living room.
Here, Chef Ramón Perdomo presides over full cooked breakfasts and elegant
meals matched with fine wines. But today's lunch is outdoors, a
traditional asado (Argentinean barbeque).
© Estancia El Rocio
Fellow guests are a New York writer with his Russian–born wife who arrive
by taxi and a honeymooning couple from Washington, D.C. who came in by
helicopter from Buenos Aires' Ezeiza International Airport the day before.
Conversation is easy yet stimulating, staff are quietly attentive and the time
before lunch slips comfortably by. A large table is set picnic–style and
we're treated to ribs from a whole spring lamb, carefully tended for about four
hours by gaucho cook Luis Etehuest and his cheerful young assistant Eduardo
Ramón provides the "agregados" (side dishes) including a salad of local
greens and baby spring potatoes in minted butter. Our outdoor feast ends with
homemade vanilla ice cream and fresh strawberries.
At this elegant 260–acre ranch, horse–riding and polo are passions
pursued by the owners and many guests. But a charming solitude may also be
enjoyed. This is a perfect place for reading a book by the pool on a warm day or
by the fire if it's cold; for enjoying a glass of wine and good conversation
with guests from around the world, or for sinking into an easy chair for quiet
contemplation. Shutterbugs find the glorious sunsets a must.
© Tim Leffel
We tour the stables and meet some of the gauchos and horses, then drive a few
miles to a neighboring ranch where a scratch chukka of polo is under way.
The game ends as the sun is setting and Florencia, one of the lively riders,
introduces herself and invites us to join them at her table for more fine
Reluctantly, we leave, assuring Patrice––and
ourselves––that we will return to more fully experience his
wonderful home and
hospitality. But we don't think we'll play polo!
Arriving at the Bariloche airport from Buenos Aires, we're greeted by guide
Martin who drives us to Estancia Peuma Hue, pointing out the sights along
the way. It's early springtime and there's still skiing on nearby Catedral
In less than an hour, we turn off the paved highway and bump over 1.5 miles of
rough single–lane gravel track to the property, spotting colorful ducks,
wild hares, horses and sheep along the way. Clouds soon hide the sun and the
weather turns cool and windy. But the warm welcome at the estancia, at the far
end of Lake Gutiérrez from Bariloche, more than makes up for the day's
Owner Evelyn Hoter and manager Marcelo Marpegán join us for a late lunch
and, over homemade pasta and a glass of wine, we're introduced to our
surroundings and the activities that are offered.
The 500–acre lakefront property sits within Nahuel Huapi National Park's
near–pristine forests, amid creeks and waterfalls. The scenery is
ever–changing as scudding clouds give way to shafts of sunlight,
spotlighting a cataract splashing down the D'Agostin peak that looms over us.
© Lorie and Paul Bennett
The Mapuche words "peuma hue" mean "place of dreams." A psychologist, Evelyn now
lives her dream and graciously shares it with her guests. We feel we've
been invited to spend time with a friend.
The estancia's beautifully–decorated rooms and common areas are in several
buildings scattered over the property. All have been custom–built
and lovingly furnished, often with pieces crafted in the estancia's carpentry
shop. And all enjoy spectacular views.
The main house has four bedrooms as well as dining and sitting rooms. We're
offered the large upstairs master suite. Wide windows offer stunning views in
almost all directions including up––there's a unique glass ceiling over the
tub! We take photographs from the balcony.
A guest house is reached over a hanging bridge and the creek cabin is the
original house on the property, appropriately restored. Another cabin well up
mountainside is totally secluded and "suitable for honeymooners or others
seeking privacy," says Evelyn. A separate board room offers facilities for
gatherings and a lovely non–denominational temple is ready for weddings,
concerts and other events.
At 2,500 feet above sea level, it's pleasantly cool here in summer and winters
are almost snow–free. Evelyn tells us that the lake is swimmable on very
hot days. "This area is very safe. No snakes, no big cats, nothing here will
harm you," she adds with a grin. Guests may go trekking, horseback riding,
kayaking, fishing, bird–watching or rope–climbing right on the
© Lorie and Paul Bennett
Evelyn introduces us to Cristhianna Barrett, her "horse whisperer." Cris will
match a horse to a guest's needs––so Paul is offered the quietest
and oldest mount on the estancia! She encourages local children to ride and
learn to play polo. She fashions mallets from local bamboo, making them lighter
for smaller hands.
Opportunities for other activities include rock climbing on the peaks and
whitewater rafting in the valleys. Evelyn belongs to Al Sur de Nahuel Huapi, a
of the area's hotel owners and tour operators, and can connect guests with
whatever they wish to do and professionals who will help them do it.
On a day of wind and rain, we give up our planned raft ride on the Moreno River
and settle for a drive through the country with Martin and his rafting friend,
Andre. The valleys of the Continental Divide are visible when we set out, but not the mountaintops.
We stop to admire "Chinese lanterns"—a form of parasite that lights
up the trees. Calafate bushes hold promise of edible berries in late
summer. Trees include myrtle and Patagonian beech, prized for its timber.
At a private riverside cabin we're served paté and wine as we chat about
Argentinian politics and lifestyles with the two young men. Both hail from big
cities but choose northern Patagonia's close–to–nature lifestyle. On
our return to Peuma Hue, the mountains reassert themselves under a clear
On our final night, we choose to dine out at the charming restaurant, Cassis,
overlooking Lago Gutiérrez. The setting is lovely, the lamb strudel and
loin of venison are superb, the Malbec is a fine pairing and the desserts are
Marcelo welcomes us back to the estancia with a brandy nightcap as the brilliant
full moon makes its transit over Lago Gutiérrez. It will be hard to
leave in the morning for our lake crossing into Chile.
Estancia El Rocio, www.estanciaelrocio.com
Estancia Peuma Hue, www.Peuma–hue.com
Story by Paul and Lorie Bennett
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