Lots of U in Uruguay

Aboard the (delayed) buquebus (ferry) to Argentina (just an hour’s sail), drinking prosecco in the gently worn business class cabin, I have time to reflect on my all too rapid encounter with the welcoming, warm and utterly charming country of Uruguay. A pie-shaped country between Brazil and Argentina, Uruguay is a country comprised of rolling farmland, horses running free (behind fences) and a coastline that stretches across the whole base of the triangle. In just a few short days we drove, ate, drank, ate, drank and ate (and drove) almost the entirety of the shoreline.

Arriving in this southern playground required ten hours of plane travel, followed by an hours’ drive battling Buenos Aires traffic, a two-hour ferry to Montevideo (Uruguay’s capital with a dramatic seaside promenade and a reputation for being a pass-through city for foreigners), and then a 3.5 hour drive in the dark on partially unpaved roads until we (finally) found heaven—a ranch ten minutes from the sea and lightyears away from any sane sense of art. Built as a private home that got “too large,” the twelve rooms are situated around multiple courtyards, each designed by a different local artist, vibrating with color, charm and an incredible wacky sensibility.

Over 27 hours of travel. We enjoyed a last night of Hanukkah miracle as we were about to fall asleep in our car, lost, with drained cell phones and no GPS when voila! My iPhone woke up, and enough signal ignited to connect to the hotel. As a result we enjoyed a post-midnight meal and believed we might be the only ones to have found the respite in the middle of nowhere.

Morning! Breakfast (late). It’s 10:30 AM. And…we make it before the kitchen closes. Now another miracle. We are not the last ones to the meal. Wait…we know him, at the other table. Yup, guy played guitar at the Real Estate Rockers for Relief (a charity concert we recently attended). Next table? My Manhattan across the street neighbor! Ok. The place is filled with New Yorkers. Let’s go to the beach.

Jose Ignacio is laid back, sunny, a jumble of golf carts and jeeps and beautiful people wearing ponchos (!!) With belts (?!) Over their bathing suits (!?!?!). Those looking for true relaxation have fled here from Punta del Este which has high-rises, its own Trump Tower (the Donald’s picture is on it) and a feel more reminiscent of Miami. Jose Ignacio by contrast feels like Fire Island. Except there are yoga studios…and people in ponchos.

We decide to explore the “Vic Collection” – there are three hotels created by the witty, arty couple who hail from “Greenwich, New York.” Perhaps that’s why the Playa Vik has familiar dialects wafting thru the air. However this Vik is “green” with well-planted roofs, a beach side fire pit and an infinity pool that shoots over the rocky beach. Time to settle in. Two pisco sours and we are jettisoned back to our hike in Chili when the kids were small and the guide had a backpack with a shaker.

Getting into the Xmas eve day spirit, we sprint to Susanna’s for lunch, a beach club where we wiggle our toes in the sand and fish is less expensive than veggies.

Yum. Exhausting. Time for Vik three. The Vik Bahia. It’s painted the blue of my new chairs in NY. The very blue we couldn’t find in Manhattan fabric shops and clearly the blue the Viks bought out in the States so they could be unique here at the beach. We get lounge chairs around the three infinity pools and drift off for our naps, ignoring the large and effusive (loud and not very interesting) family from…NY!

Well rested, it’s time to return to our farm and change for dinner. When offered (back in NY) a chance to celebrate xmas eve at the Vik we opted for a local “sand” centered celebration. Wise move. All the Vik properties are coming to our ranch and the band is tuning up. It may be Yuletide, but the tunes are decidedly klezmer like—and really lovely. We leave anyway. We join the local revelers at La Huella.

Our culinary explorations continued the next day down dirt roads only to arrive at Lucifer, a seriously wonderful restaurant in the garden of a tiny, eight-tabled home in Pueblo Garzcon, a town which is experiencing a “gustatorial” revolution. Yup, 300 inhabitants and two Michelin grade eateries. Our fab chef is a tattooed, doc martin-clad young woman who honed her skills working in the Hamptons last summer. Clearly the darling of the foodie set, she studied under well-known kitchen maestros and now used her outdoor clay oven to delight and surprise us.

On the way back, we wandered by the little white building in town with people lined up outside. We walk over wondering if this is a famous ice cream parlor. Then I see Jesus. It’s Christmas Mass.

On the 26th, after my run with the cows and swim (with myself), we have our last breakfast. There are our countrymen—at breakfast in bathrobes, barefoot, carrying their chia seeds in ziploc bags from home. Ouch. When did I become so “proper” that I am kind of appalled?

We head off in the pouring rain to travel the coast to La Colonia. But first a stop in the outdoor mural museum that is (or at least is heralded to be) in the little town of Rosario. Turns out it’s not much competition of Bogota, Colombia or Bushwick, Brooklyn.

La Colonia is…colonial. Disputed territory for over a century and now home to day trippers from B.A. and those clever enough to stick around for the night crawling around on the cobblestones, taking in the local cheeses, wide pink sunsets and witty planting of old cars. True, the hotel in Jose Ignacia had green roofs, but we didn’t expect to find ancient VW’s running on “weed petrol.” What a wonderful sense of style this country has. Our hotel had six “white rooms” and a book of Art from the Highline. That’s the urban park…in NYC! The book seems to be the only bit of home we encounter though the hospitality we enjoyed certainly made us feel like family. We can’t wait to come back