Amiable little Uruguay, wedged between its giant neighbours Brazil and Argentina, is a fine place to unwind in both rural and coastal settings, enjoy good food and wine and the freedom to self-drive between some very inviting places to stay. Seasoned visitors to South America particularly appreciate the relaxing and authentic experiences Uruguay can offer. On this diverse holiday we give you a few days in Argentina's grand capital, Buenos Aires, one of Latin America's highlights in itself, before taking you on the short sailing over the River Plate to Uruguay. This is a Latin country which has a history of social strife but is now politically stable and the people particularly cultured and friendly. Never cutting edge contemporary neither is it pretentious: style and pace of life have a vintage appeal; mid-20th century cars line the streets, fashions are homely and parts of Montevideo are an art-deco time warp; but there's an increasingly imaginative range of upmarket places to stay. It's easy to get around and there is a surprisingly wide range of things to do.
Day 1: Transfer to your hotel in the San Telmo district of Buenos Aires
You will be met at the airport and escorted to your boutique hotel in the San Telmo district by one of our local representatives. The historically bohemian quarter is full of quaint old houses interspersed with antiques shops, tango bars and classy restaurants. 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. Slightly further out of the centre is the Recoleta district, even more evocative of the French influence, where Evita Perón was laid to rest.
Day 2: City tour with a visit to Teatro Colón.
Your guided city tour takes you along Avenida 9 de Julio, one of the widest boulevards in the world and studded by the Obelisk, an emblematic symbol of the city. Along this majestic highway is the 19th century Teatro Colón (guided tour included) which, in terms of its architecture and design, as well as its excellent acoustics, is considered one of world's best. On to the Plaza de Mayo, enclosed on 3 sides by the metropolitan cathedral, the town hall and the Casa Rosada, the presidential palace. The tour continues to bohemian, arty La Boca, which was settled and built by Italian immigrants and has streets lined with brightly painted corrugated iron-clad houses. Visit the district of Recoleta.
Day 3: Guided excursion to a colonial estancia on the pampas.
Guided day trip into the pampas, home of the gaucho and Argentina's famous beef cattle. Drive to the colonial town San Antonio de Areco, only 113km from Buenos Aires. Here, you'll visit a couple of museums devoted to the region's arts and crafts. Later, continue to the peaceful and charming La Bamba, an exclusive estancia, where you will experience a taste of Argentina's rural lifestyle. The dusky rose-pink, colonial-style former post house, set in its own attractive parkland, projects a real feel for estancia history, harking back to more opulent times when they were the backbone of a thriving economy. Following its acquisition by French proprietors, it now resembles a grand countryside chateau. Public areas are cosy and crammed full of plush sofas and old artefacts, accentuating the country house ambience. The estancia has a lovely swimming pool set in neat lawns. You can venture off horse riding, or walk around the property identifying many bird species.
Day 4: Buenos Aires By Night guided excursion.
The daylight hours leave you at leisure to explore Buenos Aires further: you might stroll around one or two of the lovely parks, such as the delightful Japanese Gardens, and maybe have an al fresco snack or lunch in trendy Puerto Madero, the sensitively restored Buenos Aires' docklands, which has promenades festooned with industrial architecture, bars and cafés and a pretty little marina crammed with sailing boats. In the evening you have a culinary-themed private walking tour. 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 of an authentic tango or peña venue. The evening usually takes place in the smart neighbourhood of Palermo. Following dinner, visit a milonga - a traditional tango hall - or a peña, similarly popular among locals but specialising in traditional music from the Andean north-west of Argentina.
Day 5: By hydrofoil to Colonia, Uruguay.
Take the hydrofoil ferry across the River Plate to Colonia in Uruguay. Travel along a forest-fringed estuary, dotted with upmarket residences, to this peaceful little port, and its UNESCO-protected historic centre where you can wander among cobbled streets lined with colonial houses, or have a meal or drink in the yacht club overlooking the sparkling water, where little boats gaily bob around. You might climb the lighthouse for a view over the town and estuary beyond.
Day 6: Guided excursion to Los Cerros de San Juan winery.
Take a guided tour of the historic Los Cerros de San Juan Winery, a Uruguayan vineyard which dates back to the 1850s. The winery is still going strong today, exporting its produce worldwide. You start off with a short yet scenic drive passing the San Benito Chapel and the vestiges of the former bullring. At the winery you'll learn about its heritage and the wine-making process. You'll visit the various cellars, the beautifully preserved colonial buildings and the vines. Finally you'll be invited to a wine tasting session to complete your outing.
Day 7: By road to Montevideo; guided tour of the capital.
By road to the capital of Uruguay, Montevideo, a journey of 2.5hrs. In the lively waterfront city modern skyscrapers jostle with art deco façades and grand, monumental colonial buildings. Born of the competing interests of colonial powers, the city, on the shores of a fine natural harbour on the River Plate, grew to be a prosperous port devoted to overseas trade. It attracted immigrants from all of Europe, resulting in an eclectic cultural mix which survives to this day. You'll have a guided tour in the afternoon, passing through the colonial centre, viewing some of the historic public building and monuments.
Day 8: Drive to working estancia.
By road into the countryside to reach Estancia el Charabon (4hrs), tucked away in the countryside of Uruguay's eastern limits. This peaceful family-owned hideaway is 20 mins' drive inland from the coast and surrounded by the hills of Rocha. The peacock-dotted estate is blanketed with open fields, meadows, forest and streams. Hereford cattle and Hampshire Down sheep are bred here. The atmosphere at El Charabon is welcoming, sociable and informal. It's especially popular with guests who enjoy horse riding but there is something here for everyone.
Days 9-10: Activities at the countryside ranch.
At leisure on the estancia. It is a great place just to relax, go riding with one of the gauchos, on countryside walks and also a base from which to explore some of Uruguay's wilder stretches of coast. We recommend an optional excursion to Cabo Polonio, 20km away. Its village and lighthouse have a real end-of-the-earth feel, on a hauntingly windswept peninsula with glistening beaches on either side. The village's sea lion colony outnumbers the 100 inhabitants, there are no roads and access is only by authorised 4x4 vehicles, on foot or on horseback. It is one of Uruguay's best birding spots. There are other trips which can be arranged out to visit forts, islands and beaches.
Day 11: By road to Punta del Este on the coast.
Drive to Punta del Este, a glamorous and sophisticated beach resort on a lovely stretch of Atlantic coast, particularly popular amongst Argentines. It dominates a narrow peninsular with a calm bay side, the rougher Atlantic waters on the other, and forests of pine and eucalyptus further up inland. Other than its excellent bathing, 'Punta' has a top class yacht marina, and offers premier fishing.
Days 12-13: At leisure on the beach.
The resort is packed with classy hotels, holiday residences, casinos, boutiques, chic bars and restaurants. You have a couple of days at leisure to enjoy your attractive hotel and its grounds, explore the beaches and maybe indulge in some water sports.
Day 14: Transfer to Montevideo airport for international flight home.
Transfer to Montevideo airport (2hrs) for your international flight home.