Thursday, May 13, 2010

El Bolson, Argentina---Mountain Magic!

Beautiful "Mirror Reflections" in the Lakes
By Roy Heale

One of the most memorable parts of any visit to Argentina's Lake District is driving around the countryside, enjoying the Andes' mountain and lake vistas, plus visiting the small townships. Although San Carlos de Bariloche is the heart of this region, within a few hours journey there are many smaller and distinctive communities with their own unique characteristics. Any time spent traveling around this domain is rewarded with spectacular views of snow-capped mountains, crystal clear blue lakes, and villages with a definite Alpine flair.

During my recent visit to this area I was fortunate enough to have local gay travel expert Cristian Signorelli, of Bariloche Gay Travel, guiding me around the Lake District. One of our leisurely day trips was a journey south into Patagonia to the small town of El Bolson where the specialties are local crafts, home-brewed beers, and the most amazing fresh fruit juice cocktails. It's a short two-hour drive from Bariloche and the mountain roads weave through the immense “mirror reflection” Lakes Guttierrez, Mascardi, and Guillelmo alongside numerous meandering mountain streams and rivulets. With such breathtaking vistas the journey seems much shorter than the actual time lapsed.
El Bolson Village

Upon arrival in the town of El Bolson the Alpine-styled architecture and historical buildings are immediately apparent. In the heart of the town is the Plaza Pagano. It's a beautiful park with grassy banks and a large central pond surrounded by the local artisans' stalls of the world famous El Bolson Regional Fair. This open-air market brings together artisans, a farmer's market---which includes freshly picked wild fruits---musicians, painters, sculptors, writers, and all kinds of talented artists, plus a street band. This fair is a cultural gathering and an historical part of El Bolson, dating back to the early '70s. Today it retains the style and aura of that decade. It is a world-renowned artisan market and provides approximately four hundred year-round jobs, increasing to six hundred during the tourist season. Visitors journey from all over Argentina and around the world for this traditional Latin experience.

After strolling the pathways of this Fair, numerous outdoor caf├ęs and restaurants are ready and waiting to give you a real taste of El Bolson local cuisine. A variety of cheese boards with smoked salmon, trout, venison, hare, wild boar, and locally made pickles can be found on the gourmet menus. Plus local dishes such as homemade pasta with cream sauce and morels---wild mushrooms---or rolls of Patagonian lamb, a trout Roquefort, vegetable strudel, a delicious plate of endive gratin, or Sorrento stuffed with smoked trout smothered in walnut cream sauce, will tempt any discriminating palate. And of course some wonderful Argentine Malbec wines must be sampled or one of the ten varieties of locally brewed beers will refresh you on a hot summer day. The gentle pace of life in this small community becomes instantly infectious.

If you prefer an extended visit to this magical mountain community then Bariloche Gay Travel can assist you with bookings at gay-friendly hotels. They have carefully selected charming Alpine-style accommodations where a warm welcome is extended to all LGBT travelers.

Before heading back to Bariloche a short drive up the mountain dirt roads will reward you with spectacular views of the River Quemquemtreu valley and mountains. Along this short journey many colorful wild flowers and bushes flourish and you will observe the locals fruit-picking to create those wonderful fresh juice drinks back at the fairgrounds.

River Quemquemtreu Valley and Mountains

A day trip to El Bolson is more than just a tour around Argentina's Lake District---rather it is an Argentine cultural experience with a journey back in time to a relaxed and gentle pace of life.

Relaxing in El Bolson Village Restaurants and Cafes

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Sunday, May 2, 2010

Spectacular Vistas of Mountains and Lakes

View From Aldebaran Hotel

By Roy Heale

In San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina the snow-capped Andes mountains and expansive blue-water lakes are a major tourist attraction. In fact the region is known as the Argentina Lake District and covers a very large domain at the gateway to Patagonia.

I stayed at one of the gay-friendly boutique hotels the Aldebaran Hotel and Spa situated 23km, about a 20 minute drive, from the heart of Bariloche on the San Pedro Peninsula. The property is very private and secluded with great views especially at sunset. A car rental is recommended but not essential. The local Remis service---a cheaper form of Taxi where you share the ride and costs with other passengers---is convenient and inexpensive plus readily available.

Aldebaran Hotel Living Room

I booked my room with Cristian Signorelli of Bariloche Gay Travel who is very knowledgeable of the whole Lake District region and an excellent tour guide. There are so many options available to enjoy in this region a local expert tour guide is very helpful to see everything possible or arrange guided tours and boat trips to smaller islands.

Aldebaran was originally a private home until extra rooms were added to make it a ten-bedroom boutique hotel. The warmth and charm of the home still exist with beautiful stone masonry work and wonderful use of local wood. The common areas include a grand living room, small study and computer work station for guests, entertainment lounge, and small bar adjacent to the restaurant.

The rooms are very large with comfortable beds, cozy furnishings plus some great views and balconies overlooking the lake. The hotel grounds include a waterfront jetty, gardens with outdoor solarium, indoor/outdoor swimming pool, jacuzzi, and full spa facilities. Massages are available by appointment. The cozy restaurant serves a buffet breakfast plus lunch and dinner. On special occasions there are gourmet treats like roast suckling pig cooked on the open fire oven.

All of the staff are extremely gay-friendly and speak some English to assist travelers.

Whether it's for a winter ski vacation or a year-round outdoor get-away to nature this hotel is a perfect home-away-from-home with great ambiance.

Bariloche Gay Travel specializes in bookings here and have some special rates available for the LGBT community.

Aldebaran is the name of a giant bright star in the zodiac constellation of Taurus and the Aldebaran Hotel and Spa is the shining star of Bariloche's accommodations.
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