The relatively small and unknown Uruguay has had a tough time. Often overlooked by travellers in favour of its larger, louder neighbour Argentina, or seen as an extension of their own country by the Argentines, this diverse and friendly country is finally coming into the limelight.
Punta del Este has held international acclaim for some years now. Party goers, polo players and the international elite all head to the Ibiza of the south for the “January season”, to enjoy the golden beaches and lavish social events. But Uruguay has more to offer than simply a playground for the rich and famous. It serves up arguably better steak than Argentina, its Tannat wine has won many an award, and if as a tourist you want to experience true gaucho and country living, Uruguay offers a more intimate, unexploited alternative to the pricey and commercialised Pampas.
La Esmeralda is one of Uruguay’s gems. Located only three hours from Buenos Aires or Montevideo, yet blissfully secluded, this stunning traditional estancia combines rustic charm with understated luxury. It is run by Marcela and David Stirling, and has been in their family for over 100 years. It’s the ideal place to unwind and enjoy the peaceful and expansive countryside that surrounds you, read a book by the pool or tuck into one of David’s spectacular asados (BBQ). For those more actively inclined, the basic room rate includes a ‘hack’, where you can ride one of the estancia’s carefully trained horses on an exploration of their fertile farm and beyond. Heading over rolling hills, through lakes and streams; you will see an abundance of bird life and feel the stress of everyday life fall away.
More adventurous still is the gaucho experience. This day activity is perfect for anyone who wishes to get to know more about local culture and spend a day riding. For the experienced riders you will be offered the opportunity to help with the herding of the cattle, one of the most challenging, yet unique experiences I’ve ever tried. If that doesn’t appeal, how about an authentic polo lesson? The sport has been part of the Stirling family for generations and David Junior’s team, La Dolfina, won the Palermo Open in 2011.
La Esmeralda strikes the almost impossible balance of being a home away from home, whilst providing you with the luxury, facilities and service of a boutique hotel. The Stirling family are warm and welcoming experts on Uruguayan life, culture and history, and will go out of their way to make sure your every need is catered to.
Anna Templeton is usually found across the border in Argentina, but it takes very little to convince her to visit Uruguay and soak up some estancia hospitality.