Uruguay is the South America you don’t expect: laid-back with a mix of beauty and sophistication.
The Four Seasons Resort Carmelo, Uruguay is a hideaway set amid a woodland of soaring pine and eucalyptus on the fabled River Plate. Balinese themes abound, and are eye-catching, particularly in the brightly colored Shiva Lounge.
The 24 Bi-level Suites (1,300 square feet each) with wooden floors and loft bedrooms have carved four-poster beds. The ground-floor living rooms have private terraces, dining tables and guest bathrooms. We especially enjoyed the spacious open bathrooms with oversize bath tubs, not to mention the twin sinks, separate slate shower rooms, heated floors and L’Occitane amenities.
The 20,970-square-foot Bungalows that dot the hotel have living/sleeping areas and a second, outdoor shower. As Uruguay is as famous for its sunsets as it is for its beef, book the River Front Bungalows for fantastic sunset views. Insider Secret: We liked Bungalow 18, whose riverside patio is perfect for tête-à-tête dinners.
For families, ask for Bungalows 10 and 11, also on the river and not far from the double-cascade pool. They connect and can sleep up to 6. Tip: Book a forest bungalow for clients who like to feel nobody else is around.
General Manager Borja Manchedo suggests booking 45 days ahead for the December-January holidays. He says kids from five to 12 are catered for in the Kids Club and that the property is pet-friendly.
Carnivores will quickly find out why Uruguay has some of the best beef going. The chivito beef sandwich is the signature dish in the Pura restaurant where the country’s finest beef and seafood feature daily. Manchedo says the nearby Finca Narbona, set in a vineyard, is popular for its homemade pastas and fine wines.
The Mandara Restaurant serves Italian specialties, and has design touches like a sinuous seating banquette and a black and red coral chandelier over the bar.
|The Muss o Suite is one of 12 suites at Estancia Vik.|
The fitness center has a large heated indoor pool and deck, along with a whirlpool. There are six treatments rooms in the spa, and Spa Director Francisco Vindas says the most popular treatment is the South American Beat (think blend of massage techniques).
Golfers who thought South America didn’t have great golf courses are in for a treat: The par-72 Carmelo Golf Club is right next to the resort and has bent-grass putting surfaces, maintained at 1/8 of an inch year-round, and hybrid Bermuda fairways.
Head Concierge Maximiliano Burgos arranges romantic room setups with rose petals and candles, and can book helicopter shopping trips to Buenos Aires, a 20-minute flight away. He can also organize horseback riding, polo, canoeing and sailing excursions.
Off the hotel’s premises, we loved our visit to historical Colonia, a UNESCO World Heritage site just an hour away by car, and to Montevideo, Uruguay’s capital, which is a three-hour drive away. For an aperitif we dropped into Café Roldós in the trendy Mercado del Puerto, which is chockablock with asado BBQ restaurants, for a glass of the traditional medio y medio, half-white wine and half moscato.
The fastest way to get from Carmelo to Uruguay’s east coast, and its best beaches, is by private plane or helicopter from Carmelo’s small airport to Punta del Este. By car, the journey takes about four hours.
The chic seaside town of José Ignacio (the small El Jaguel airport fills up with private jets in summer) is an hour’s drive from the high-rise sophistication of Punta del Este. And not even 10 miles away is Estancia Vik.
Clean, white lines of Spanish-style architecture, brightly painted corridors, red tin roofs, and contemporary art make for a strong visual impact. But Vik’s unique appeal is the exhilarating feeling of isolation and space that overtakes you as you approach the hilltop property, which has sweeping views across 4,000 acres of ranchlands and the Atlantic Ocean.
Each of Vik’s 12 rooms—four are Master Suites—is unique and has original Uruguayan artwork. (Note: The large nude paintings in the Trujillo Suite may not be to everyone’s taste.) Old picket fencing used for the bed head gives the Cardozo Suite a rustic charm. The Musso Suite has vibrant frescoed walls inspired by Pompeii’s Villa dei Misteri. Top Choice: the Master Suite Vik, which is very macho with dark paneled walls. Like all the rooms in the Blue West wing, it has the best sunset views.
General Manager Maximilian Broquen says the Barea, Amangual and Lacy Duarte suites can accommodate up to four people, and that all guests are obliged butler service. Contact Maximilian or Experience Manager Agustin Leone for VIP arrangements. There is no GDS code, so travel advisors should book directly through [email protected] or call 011-598-94-605-212.
The menu, which changes daily in the brick-vaulted dining room and on the terrace, relies heavily on local organic produce and fresh seafood. Vegetarian menus are also available. Nice Touch: The parillero, a ramshackle tin hut with graffiti walls, where a large fire pit blazes at lunch and dinner, turns out sizzling meats and char-grilled seafood.
|Est ancia Vik’s pool area has views of the plains just beyond the garden’s archways.|
The main room has comfortable couches and an eye-catching Google-map ceiling, and the hacienda-style swimming pool is a real suntrap. There is a small spa and gym, and guests can take polo lessons or play on the private polo field.
They are also welcome at the new Vik Playa in José Ignacio, which has six individual casas with “living roofs” carpeted with colorful wild flowers, and an infinity pool fronting a stretch of clean, unspoiled beach.
If you have clients who crave retail therapy, Head Concierge Daniela Rizzo will arrange transport to Punta del Este’s smart boutiques. Gourmands will not want to miss the buzz in the trendy Parador La Huella, which is nestled into José Ignacio’s sand dunes and the place to be seen, or star chef Francis Mallman’s fine dining in nearby Pueblo Garzon.