This Argentinean city offers the purest rural traditions and a rich cultural heritage....
The Charms of Córdoba
In the heart of Argentina, the province of Córdoba is home to a wealth of history and beautiful mountain landscapes. It’s the perfect combination of culture, nature and sports.
With some 63,700 square miles to explore, the best place to start your tour of Córdoba is the region’s capital, the second most populous city in Argentina, after Buenos Aires, 441 miles away. The city of Córdoba offers great shopping, lovely hotels and excellent dining, but its finest feature has to be the Manzana Jesuítica. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000, the “Jesuit Square” includes five buildings constructed by the order beginning in 1599, when they arrived to convert and educate the local indigenous peoples. The Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús is the oldest place of worship in the country. Built between 1640 and 1676, the church’s vaulted ceiling is accentuated by gleaming gold leaf. The complex also includes the Residencia de los Padres (where the Jesuits lived), the Capilla Doméstica, the Colegio Nacional Montserrat and the former offices of the chancellor of the Universidad Nacional de Córdoba, now a museum with more than 2,000 books brought over by the Jesuits (the oldest date back to the 16th century).
Five estates in the interior of the province – Caroya, Jesús María, Alta Gracia, La Candelaria and Santa Catalina – used to provide economic sustenance for the order and are also part of the World Heritage Site. Start your tour of the Camino de las Estancias Jesuíticas by taking Ruta Nacional 9 to Colonia Caroya. In 1878, immigrants from the Italian region of Friuli brought over recipes for salami and pasta, which are the basis for the town’s famous cuisine. The next town on the route is Jesús María and, just 12 miles further on, is the Santa Catalina estate. Founded in 1622, Santa Catalina is considered the most important stop on the circuit because has the largest Jesuit complex outside of the city of Córdoba. Visitors are welcome to enter the dove-white church, with its two Baroque towers, and view a few of the courtyards in the private area. Further northeast is La Candelaria, 143 miles from Córdoba, while the most isolated of the estates is Alta Gracia, south of the capital.
Back in the city, another interesting excursion lies underneath Córdoba. Tunnels, cells, cellars and crypts make up the labyrinths of a parallel city. Excavations were carried out beginning in the colonial period and on into the 19th century.
Valle de Punilla
In addition to four of the Jesuit estates, Valle de Punilla has a wealth of other attractions. This area northeast of the city of Córdoba is full of streams, dams, lakes and mountains ranging from 2,000 to 6,560 feet above sea level. Natural beauty is evident at every turn, in the wildflowers by the sides of the road, in the groves of old-growth trees and especially in the rugged horizon. Valle de Punilla is a great place to golf (there are several courses), ride horses, fish, climb, trek and mountain bike.
In the town of Ascochinga, 37 miles from the capital, polo is king. The town’s famous fields have received many illustrious visitors. In 1966, Jackie Kennedy and her two children stayed at the Cárcano family’s San Miguel estate. The La Paz estate nearby boasts an Italian neo-classical style and belonged to two-time President of the Republic, Julio Argentino Roca. Now converted into a hotel, La Paz dazzles with its park, design by France’s Charles Thays, and its 20-acre artificial lagoon, with shady tipa trees lining the banks.
There are also plenty of great spots to picnic and cool off along the riverbanks of the Carapé and San Miguel rivers, which meet to form the Ascochinga River. Three miles from town, the area called Tres Cascadas is busiest in the summer, thanks to its waterfalls and natural pools. A little further on is Pozo Azul, an enormous, 26-foot-deep, natural pool filled with peacefully swimming trout.
For mountain adventures, take the Camino Del Pungo, a 24-mile road that crosses the Sierras Chicas and ends at La Cumbre (The Summit). Each rise and fall of the road offers a varied landscape of green hills, with grazing cows and undulating paths. At an altitude of 3,747 feet, La Cumbre is the highest point in Valle de Punilla and perhaps the clearest evidence of the English immigrants who built the railroad in the first half of the 20th century. Their influence can be seen in the façades of the houses and buildings, especially the clubhouse of the Golf Club.
The town and its surrounding areas boast a rich cultural life. Need a dose of art? Check out the latest exhibit at the noted Sala Miguel Ocampo art gallery. On a literary bend? El Paraíso, the house that belonged to 20th-century author Manuel Mujica Lainez, has been converted into a museum where you can appreciate the » intimate world of this eccentric writer. To shop for ceramics, silver and more, visit the Camino de los Artesanos. Adventure seekers should head to the Cuchi Corral lookout, a glider-launching pad over a natural, 1,300-foot drop. The panoramic view of the mountains, with the Pintos River below, is alone worth the trip.
Continuing north through the valley, Capilla del Monte (63 miles from Córdoba) is home to the legendary Cerro Uritorco, the highest peak in the valley (6,493 feet). Considered an energy center by mystically inclined tourists, the site has had a number of reported UFO sightings. Just six miles away, in the hippie refuge of San Marcos Sierra, women in flowing skirts from India and homemade jewelry stroll along the dirt roads.
Valle de Calamuchita
On the other side of the provincial capital, southeast along Route 5, the Valle de Calamuchita is a haven of lakes and forests filled with pine, cypress and fir. No wonder the area attracted immigrants from Central Europe who were looking for settlements that reminded them of their native lands.
The first city, 22 miles from Córdoba, is Alta Gracia (the site of one of the Jesuit estates). Continuing south, you’ll come to Villa General Belgrano, 56 miles from the capital. In the 1930s, German immigrants settled here, followed by Swiss, Austrians and Hungarians after World War II. Their legacy is visible along the main street, Avenida Roca, where carobwood signs advertise traditional cuisine, homebrewed beer and souvenirs. For the best view of the valley, head to the top of Pico Alemán. Another popular outing is the neighboring town of La Cumbrecita, 25 miles away.
Clearly, the landscapes of Córdoba are infinite, but the real treasure is its people, with their unmistakable tonada music and their famous storytelling.
WHERE TO STAY
Buenos Aires 214
$$$ Windsor Hotel & Tower: Four-star establishment with a spa, gym, swimming pool and a terrace overlooking the old part of town.
$$$ NH Urbano: Located downtown, perfect for business travelers.Marcelo T. de Alvear 363 Tel. 54-351-410-3960 www.nh-hoteles.es
ESTANCIA SANTA CATALINA
$$$ Estancia El Colibrí: This luxurious Argentinean estate is a Relais Chateaux location with polo for all ages and skill levels.Camino a Santa Catalina, kilómetro 7 Tel. 54-3525-465-999 www.estanciaelcolibri.com
$$$ Estancia La Paz: Twenty-two rooms (some older, others renovated), a restaurant, swimming pools, a spa and quality service.Ruta E66, kilómetro 14 Tel. 54-3525-492-073 / 424-468 www.estancialapaz.com
$$$ Angelus Hotel Boutique: This cozy, elegant, unique hotel is managed by the owner, Josefina Menéndez Behety.
$$$ El Castillo de Mandl: This hillside hotel boasts a magnificent view and art-deco style.San José María Escrivá 73 Tel. 54-3548-452-727 / 452-001 www.elcastillodemandl.com
VILLA GENERAL BELGRANO
$$$ Altos de Belgrano: Hotel rooms or cabins, as well as a spa, restaurant and a six-hole golf course.
WHERE TO EAT
La revolución: Traditional cuisine, served in a carefully decorated manor house.
Kasbah: ethnic fusion cuisine at this tiny restaurant on a lovely corner downtown.
Mobile 54-3548-15-401-926 / 336-386
El pájaro goloso: French cuisine, with some Asian-inspired dishes.Belgrano 564
Tel. celular 54-3548-15-579-952
Macadam: A natural fusion of local produce with recipes brought over by Friuli immigrants. On-site wine shop.
Café Escondido: Small and charming. Enjoy a variety of homemade cakes and cookies with a cup of tea under the pergola.
VILLA GENERAL BELGRANO
Café Rissen: Their traditional cakes are a local delicacy.Julio A. Roca 36
WHAT TO DO
CIUDAD DE CÓRDOBA
Manzana jesuítica (Jesuit Square)
Parapente Toti Lopez (paragliding)
mobile 54-3548-15-636-592 www.parapenteenlacumbre.com
Casa Museo de Mujica LainezMobile 54-3548-15-630-043 www.fundacionmujicalainez.org
$$ Moderately Priced