Argentina and Chile both have a robust and tasty cuisine born of age-old recipes conceived in the countryside. You are probably familiar with a few of them: meaty empanadas, chunky soups, gratinated shellfish; tender sirloin steaks; especially agreeable when washed down with one of the ever-improving local wines.
On this mouth-watering holiday you have a taste of the variety of fresh savoury dishes in the two capital cities - of course more than worth a visit in their own right. Then we take you to the lesser-known northwest: a region of the deserts, oases, fertile plains and foothills on the eastern flank of the Andes. Here you will be introduced to stunning landscapes displaying nature in the raw, wind carved cliffs and blood-red canyons, the vestiges of the historical Andean indigenous communities. You will also be given many opportunities to sample the cuisine and wines. Cookery classes and demonstrations will immediately expand your repertoire in the kitchen at home.
You’ll be staying at intimate, characterful properties with a unique local ambience and small wineries, many with beautiful locations. Your private tour begins in cosmopolitan Buenos Aires, considered to be Latin America’s most sophisticated and European city, with its wide boulevards, colonial architecture and café society. It ends on the other side of the Andes at Santiago, capital of Chile, also a developing destination for visitors.
You will be met at the airport and escorted to your boutique hotel in San Telmo by one of our local representatives. San Telmo is a villagey neighbourhood not far from the colonial centre, renowned for its antique shops, tango bars and markets.
Buenos Aires is an elegant, cultured and cosmopolitan city famed for its interesting museums and the fascinating port district of La Boca, with its cobbled streets and brightly painted houses. It was here that the tango was born, and Diego Maradona honed his footballing skills.
The centre of town is home to the colonial heartland, government buildings and churches, as well as chic shopping districts, which have a nostalgic Parisian feel. Further out from the centre is the Recoleta district, even more evocative of the French influence, where Evita Perón was laid to rest.
Avenida del Mayo is one of Buenos Aires' principal stately arteries, linking the capital's colonial and political heart at Plaza de Mayo with the Plaza de Congreso, crossing the even more grandiose Avenida 9 de Julio. Built in the 1880s and often compared with similar boulevards in European capitals, it has a definite Old World ambience, with art deco, art nouveau and neo-classical façades shaded by leafy trees lining the route.
Your guided walk includes a stop at the world famous Café Tortoni, crammed with memorabilia. Visit the very ornate Barolo Palace, designed in accordance with the cosmology of Dante's Divine Comedy with floors representing heaven, purgatory and hell.
In the evening, you’ll embark on a culinary and cultural-themed private walking tour accompanied by an English-speaking expert. Shunning smart restaurants and tourist spots, you'll dine out local-style, tasting authentic Argentine dishes in a variety of settings and experience the excitement an authentic tango or peña venue. The evening usually takes place in the neighbourhood of Palermo.
Starting with traditional street food, you move on to a feast of grilled meats from one of the city's traditional hole-in-the-wall parrillas, accompanied by Argentine wine. To round off, sweeten your palette with artisanal ice cream.
Later, visit a milonga - a traditional tango hall - or a peña, similarly popular among Porteños but specialising in traditional music from the Andean northwest to which you will be travelling. These can be wonderfully atmospheric venues, especially late at night when they tend to get busy with dancing into the early hours.
Inspired by the renowned Argentine gaucho - the lonely rider of the Pampas and the characteristic national icon, today’s excursion starts with a private transfer to the colonial town of San Antonio de Areco, 113km from Buenos Aires. A highlight is the exploration of the Ricardo Güiraldes museum, a converted ranch housing an imitation pulpería - a type of store where gauchos used to gather, and which displays knives, books, paintings, clothes and utensils.
Later you move on to the peaceful and charming La Bamba, an exclusive estancia, where you can relax by the pool, glimpse at rural country life, venture off horse riding, enjoy a trek and spot the various local birds. You'll enjoy welcome drinks and regional snacks, followed by a delicious asado (a traditional Argentine barbeque) lunch before heading back to the hustle and bustle of city life.
From the local city centre airport you’ll fly to Salta (just over 2hrs). The city is renowned for its colonial architecture, friendly population and elegant claret-red ponchos. It lies in the arid eastern foothills of the Andes, the only Argentine region where vestiges of indian heritage are still visible.
Take a guided tour around this relaxed city, with its colonial architecture and leafy plazas. The Spanish legacy remains obvious with numerous attractive squares, cathedrals and convents, while being so far north you may detect an affinity with neighbouring Bolivia.
You'll visit the jam-packed, covered market Mercado San Miguel, which offers an array of street food-style eateries, before you head to the MAAM museum. This institution is considered one of the best in northern Argentina, with a serious and informative exhibition highlighting Inca culture and in particular, the child sacrificing ritual. Then, in the evening you'll enjoy an authentic asado criollo (meat on an open barbeque) in a traditional family home.
Today takes you north to the otherworldly landscape of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Humahuaca gorge, with its candy-striped rock faces and inhospitable desert terrain. Take time to appreciate this striking setting, spliced with canyons and dotted with cacti.
Then, you'll continue on to Tilcara to try your hands at a typical Andean cooking class. Depending on the day of the week, you can expect to cook either quinoa pudding, tamales or humitas - all popular dishes in this region. After, you'll wander the town and explore the ruins of a pre-Inca fortress high on a hilltop affording superb view. From here, continue on to the village of Purmamarca where you spend the night.
Drive from Purmamarca, picturesquely located beneath the aptly named Hill of Seven Colours, and traverse the spectacular canyon scenery. You'll ascend the sinuous Lipán road, the engineering of which represents a feat of human inventiveness, and head to vast salt lakes (salinas grandes).
Continue south to the traditional highland town of San Antonio de los Cobres and reach the stunning Polvorilla viaduct - definitely a highlight. You have the opportunity to try llama steaks for lunch, before heading out along the Toro gorge visiting the indian ruins in Santa Rosa de Tastil, if daylight permits.
Drive to Cachí, a small highland village surrounded by stark, skeletal and uninhabited snow-capped mountains, overlooking bright green oasis. Try your hand at making empanadas, the typical Argentinian pasty. Roam the lanes of this quaint village comprising white adobe houses, paved streets and neat Spanish colonial architecture. Of particular interest are the 16th century church in the central plaza and the Pio Pablo Díaz Archaeological Museum which houses over 5,000 artefacts spanning 10,000 years.
Take a two hour leisurely guided-walk along the dirt road to Cachi Adentro, a tiny authentic village. You'll pass arresting views over crumpled sheets of wind-eroded rock to arrive at this remote, peaceful settlement. Stroll around the small plaza and or pop into the one shop.
Drive out through the stunningly fertile landscapes of the wine growing region of the Calchaquíes valley, in a picturesque and photogenic ruptured landscape of cactus-dotted canyons. As you pass the sun-drenched vineyards you'll stop off at local villages and admire Las Flechas gorge.
On arrival at the elegant Viñas de Cafayate wine lodge, you'll learn to make locro, a traditional hearty thick stew. Then, once you've put your skills into practice you'll enjoy this sumptuous dish in the atmospheric wine cellar of the hotel.
Fly to Mendoza in Argentina’s wine country in the shadow of the eastern flank of the Andes. The celebrated vineyards in this region provide the perfect place to enjoy fine vintages and a superb gastronomic experience. You’ll be spending three nights at a boutique hotel situated on an award-winning vineyard.
This full day tour will include a visit to 3 different vineyards in the Luján de Cuyo or Maipú areas of Mendoza province. Within the rain shadow of the Andes, these zones have been transformed over generations into world-class wine producing regions using both traditional and modern methods of irrigation. You'll have the opportunity to understand more about the processes involved in the cultivation and production of wine as well as the chance to taste the different varieties. Lunch at one of the wineries is included (with wine, of course).
At leisure. Outdoors, you can enjoy the rural scenery on one of the bikes provided free for guests, or cool off in the swimming pool looking out over the vineyards and the wooden sundeck. As well as wine, the estate produces high quality olive oil, and you are welcome to watch the production process in action. You can also participate in the daily optional activities of the vineyard, from pruning the vines to harvesting the ripe grapes depending on the season.
By road on a scheduled public bus service to Santiago - on a clear day, a truly spectacular trip over the mountains across the continental divide (7-8hrs). The route taken is not along the high old road past the Christ of the Andes, but through what was originally the railway tunnel. At this point, Aconcagua, at 6,962m the highest peak in the Americas, feels almost within touching distance.
Once over the frontier into Chile, the road snakes down past El Portillo ski resort, then flattens out for the last hour before finally reaching Santiago de Chile, the cosmopolitan capital, which has as its backdrop the immense wall of rock of the Andes - snow-capped in winter, a pass through which you have just travelled.
For a panoramic view of the city, If you have time during your stay there, visit the Cerro Santa Lucía, a hilltop park, or take the funicular tram or cable car to the top of Cerro San Cristóbal. A mixture of chic, pleasant tree-lined residential areas and smart office towers surround a compact colonial centre.
Take this tantalising gastronomic tour through the bustling lanes of a traditional Chilean market to learn about, and purchase, fresh merchandise ahead of your culinary experience. Begin at the Mercado Central with an introduction into the history of the places you'll be visiting.
You'll head into the historic and fascinating market to buy groceries and watch residents avidly buying and selling their freshly sourced marine produce.
From here, you'll continue on to the El Galeón restaurant, enjoy a refreshing pisco sour while meeting the enthusiastic chef and his team. Observe a cooking demonstration which will follow nicely into lunch.
Transfer to Santiago airport.