Friday, April 18, 2014

The Garden of the City---Villa Devoto, Buenos Aires

By Roy Heale

Tree-Lined Streets
A short train ride from the heart of downtown Buenos Aires is the upscale neighbourhood of Villa Devoto which is also known as ‘El Jardin de la Ciudad’----The Garden of the City---due to its tree-lined streets. In fact, Villa Devoto famously boasts more trees than any other barrio of Buenos Aires. It derives its name from Count Antonio Devoto, a member of the Buenos Aires elite society from the late 1800s and early 1900s. Devoto, an Italian immigrant and philanthropist, owned the majority of the land that today makes up the barrio, which he acquired in 1888 when sections of the town of San Martin were incorporated into Buenos Aires Capital Federal.

In 1910, Count Antonio Devoto commissioned the building of Palacio Devoto, one of biggest mansions in Buenos Aires spread over more than 10,000 square meters. An icon of the barrio, the palace was designed by Italian architect Juan Antonio Buschiazzo and adorned with Florentine mosaics and gold, silver, and bronze trimmings. Unfortunately, Devoto died in 1916 before Buschiazzo had finished his work and completed the construction.

Today, Villa Devoto is famed for being the home of football icon Diego Maradona’s family members and the childhood neighborhood of tennis star Gabriela Sabatini.

Plaza Arenales

At the heart and center of Villa Devoto is Plaza Arenales, a large public square and park occupying the equivalent of four blocks. Here you will find a vast array of pine, walnut, eucalyptus, and magnolia trees, and history proclaims that at the turn of the 20th century the plaza was a popular meeting place of the Italian mafia. The plaza is named after General Juan Antonio Alvarez de Arenales, to whom a commemorative monument was built in 1958. There is also a statue of Antonio Devoto. Today, the plaza is a favorite evening and weekend hang out spot of Villa Devoto residents. Walking one block north along Nueva York street from Plaza Arenales you will discover the imposing Palacio Devoto.

Many other historic and grand mansions known as palacios can also be found in this barrio as you wander around the tree-lined streets. Of particular historic interest is the ornate, decorative style of Palacio Ceci built cerca 1895 and located on Lincoln between Gualeguaychú and Havana.

Palacio Ceci

Visit the Café de Garcia (Sanabria 3302) which opened in 1900 and is like a journey back in time as little has changed since its early beginnings. With walls adorned with football and tango memorabilia, it is as porteño as a café can get.

Café da la Plaza

The Café da la Plaza (Lincoln and Nueva York) offers a superb bistro-styled menu mixing Argentine, Armenian, and European ingredients. Overlooking the Plaza Arenales, it has become a Devoto institution for coffee, lunch, or dinner since opening in 1988.

A final delight can be found at the Vagon Devoto Bar and Restaurant beside the train station. Enjoy this unique dining experience on board an old historic British 1906 train wagon from the original Kassel Express. The food is excellent and the atmosphere is charming in this antique dining car. Choose from appetizers including bruschettas, pate de maison, or smoked salmon with cream cheese. Then enjoy traditional Argentina parilla cooked meats of beef, pork or lamb. For lighter appetites there is a selection of fresh salads, pastas, or fish dishes. The desert selection is varied and includes a wonderful cheesecake with red berries sauce.

Vagon Devoto Dining Car

Discover the proud inhabitants and a classic Buenos Aires lifestyle in Villa Devoto which is served by both the FC Urquiza and FC San Martin train lines with frequent service to the city center. A few hours spent in the Garden of the City Villa Devoto barrio will make for a unique Argentine experience undiscovered by most tourists but a genuine local education to be enjoyed.

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