Written by Michael Luongo | Posted on November, 2013 - National Geographic Traveler
National Geographic Traveler presents the New Year's must-see places. From Argentina to Oz, the final lineup reflects what’s authentic, culturally rich, sustainably minded—and, of course, superlative in the world of travel today.
“Insider Tip From Michael Luongo: Borello Travel has a Following in the Footsteps of Pope Francis tour encompassing Buenos Aires and Cordoba. Owner Sandra Borello recommends the 14-room Azur Real Boutique Hotel in a renovated turn-of-the-last-century structure in the heart of the colonial district, a few streets from the Jesuit Block.”
For Whom the Bells Toll
The election of the first Jesuit pope has piqued interest in Jesuit history, and there are few better places to explore it than Argentina, homeland of Pope Francis I. Though the former Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio hails from Buenos Aires, the city of Córdoba, 435 miles to the northwest, contains one of the world’s richest depositories of Jesuit lore and architecture.
Once the largest Spanish city in Argentina, Córdoba still rings with the tolling from more than 80 bell towers and churches. UNESCO named the city’s historic core a World Heritage site based on its sheer density of mostly 17th-century Jesuit structures, including Argentina’s oldest university. On the other hand, many of those grand church buildings were built by African and indigenous slaves, a point of history long obscured by Argentina’s historians. A UNESCO-sponsored African heritage route is in the works, with stops in Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay.
One of the locations can be found outside Córdoba, at a well-preserved former ranch town established by the Jesuits called Alta Gracia—which also happens to be where another of Argentina’s most famous sons, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, lived in his younger days. —Michael Luongo
When to Go: Fall (March-May) and spring (September-November) are the best times to visit. In fall, days are generally clear with average high temperatures in the 60s and 70s. In spring, humidity, rainfall, and temperatures increase, with average highs in the 80s.
How to Get Around: The international airport is located about nine miles north of Córdoba. If staying in the city, take a taxi to your hotel, then walk or use public buses (purchase tokens in advance at kiosks) to visit old city historic sites centered on Plaza San Martín. Rent a car for travel outside Córdoba.
Where to Stay: For an upscale gaucho experience, drive 45 minutes north of the city to the exclusive El Colibri Estancia de Charme. The 420-acre Relais & Chateaux ranch has nine individually styled guest rooms (hand-painted wall designs, wood-burning fireplaces), and offers polo lessons and gaucho-led horseback rides through the countryside.
Where to Eat or Drink: Bring your appetite and cash (no credit cards accepted) to El Faro de Garrido, a traditional Argentine parrilla (steak house) where barbecue beef and kid goat are served sizzling off the grill. Follow dinner with Argentina’s go-to mixed drink, Fernet con Cola. The somewhat medicinal Fernet-Branca and Coca-Cola blend is an acquired taste, purported by many to be a remedy for hangovers.
What to Buy: On Saturday and Sunday afternoons, local artists set up stalls in Paseo de Las Artes to sell ceramics, jewelry, paintings, and other original pieces at the city’s most renowned arts and crafts market.
Cultural Tip: Pay in cash (Argentine pesos and, in many tourist areas, U.S. dollars) to avoid credit card surcharges. ATMs are readily available in Córdoba.
What to Read or Watch Before You Go: Labyrinths (New Directions, 2007) is a representative selection of classics by Argentine short story writer, poet, and essayist Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986).
Fun Fact: The Jesuits of Córdoba planted Argentina’s first vineyards in the 16th century. In addition to supplying the grapes needed to produce sacramental wine, the orchards (along with the Jesuits' ranches and farms) helped generate the funds to build churches, university buildings, and residences.
Insider Tip From Michael Luongo: Borello Travel has a Following in the Footsteps of Pope Francis tour encompassing Buenos Aires and Cordoba. Owner Sandra Borello recommends the 14-room Azur Real Boutique Hotel in a renovated turn-of-the-last-century structure in the heart of the colonial district, a few streets from the Jesuit Block.