Three months never went so fast.
My Uruguayan sojourn was everything I asked for and all that I needed. I powered through those painful first days at a new job, when I did’t know where the cling wrap is kept or how many limes make a gallon of juice–or in this case even possessed the words with which to ask. I remembered to relish in my own company, the deliciousness of being alone and answering to no one. No grand bank account balance could make me feel more rich than walking by myself on the beach beneath the moon, holding my dress up from the waves breaking at my knees. The proximity to nature turned me into a child again, wondering daily at the birds–the penguins! the parakeets! the flamingos!–that miraculously all coexist there. I was reminded of why I was a rider, that everything falls away when I am on horseback, sensitive to every twitch and step of the creature beneath me as I galloped through the hills and fields of Garzón.
I soared quietly there on my own, and like Icarus, flew perhaps a bit too close to the sun, burning my tanned wax wings. I sank, naturally, but the salty Atlantic buoyed me and carried me eventually home, eyes wide open, back to reality: my cold concrete city, thriving on the competitive sweat of its busy bees, to rejoin the forces.
These are the places that fed me and inspired me, and of which I will dream.
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Santa Teresita – The owners of La Huella–Martín Pittaluga, Gustavo Barbero, and Guzmán Artagaveytia–teamed with Argentine super chef Fernando Trocca for this irresistible, low-key canteen. Breakfast options include huevos Santa Teresita (scrambled eggs, charred tomatoes and toast) or a version with avocado, granola, and the freshest fruit salad on the peninsula. Lunch is served as it would be at home: big salads of sublime ingredients, platters of proteins and a vast array of sweets. Guests choose a grande or chiquito plate which a member of the Santa Teresita team fills up with delicacies. The crowd is laid back, sipping cortados and cold local wine, and always peppered with chefs, who know this is the best. I went everyday, sometimes twice. Open for prix-fixe dinner on Thursdays.
Marismo — Chef Federico Desseno, who worked with Francis Mallmann and his dream team at Los Negros, owns this romantic outdoor, sand-floored restaurant in “the woods,” less than 10-minutes from the center of town. Known for his 8-hour cooked cordero (lamb) and pizzas, everything on his menu is enhanced by the woodsmoke its cooked in. A simple dish of papas rosti becomes unforgettable when he served it with barely cooked green and yellow beans and oozing soft boiled egg. The char of the open fire elevates each ingredient, and the candlelight and fire pit amid tables makes for the coziest ambiance to drink wine and stargaze.
La Olada – Another local haunt where all cooking is done in a clay oven, La Olada serves up consistently delicious fare from local farms and fishermen, including their signature pumpkin salad–a roast half squash with cheese and arugula, excellent marisco-stuffed squid ink ravioli, pizzas and meat on the parilla (grill). Located in La Juanita, it feels like you are going to dinner in someone’s backyard…because you are.
La Huella – Certainly the most famous restaurant in José Ignacio, and perhaps in Uruguay, for that matter, La Huella offers so much more than its self-proclaimed “beach restaurant” status might suggest. Seemingly open 24-7, it’s great for an espresso en route to Playa Brava, on which it sits, or lunch of sushi and salads at 3pm after hours of sun & surf. Dinner, particularly in the high season is the place to see and be seen if you are a Brazilian model or the men who love them. A pile of woolen ponchos made from local lambs are always on hand in case there’s a cool breeze coming off the ocean. Playa Brava, José Ignacio +598 4486 2279
Almacen el Palmar – An institution for its garden, its croissants and its longevity, this spot in town and its brand new informal outpost outside the center are great for French staples and a quiet meal. A duo of live musicians reminiscent of the guys from Something About Mary and the occasionally available pale green marijuana madeleines are a must. 218 José Ignacio center square | +598 4486 2102
Posada Paradiso – My home while I was in Uruguay, this bohemian 23-room enclave around a delightful interior courtyard is perfect for an artistic traveler. Co-owner, chef Clo Dimet, serves excellent fare inspired by her travels to India, Morocco and beyond, but using the best local ingredients. She and her partner José Secco make every guest feel truly as though they are at home. Calle Picaflores esquina Biguas, Jose Ignacio | email@example.com | +598 4486 2112
La Susana -- This beach club-restaurant next to super swanky hotel Baiya Vik offers a panoply of favorites for big raucous lunches or quiet romantic dinners. Ceviche (which I made) from local brotola, corvina and lisa, a killer blue cheese burger, grilled meats and fish and wonderful salads and sushi enjoyed with the waves and the sunshine or starlight over your shoulder make this spot a must visit. firstname.lastname@example.org | +598 4486 2823
Santas Negras Bar y Tienda – Lovely ladies Negra and Paula own this chic little spot adjacent to their mammoth shop, selling beachy frocks, home wares and well-curated treasures. Camino Saiz Martinez esquina Los Lobos, José Ignacio | +598 4486 2662
Mutate – This gem located on the central square of town in José Ignacio is a fashionable café as well as a shop. Deco tea sets, vintage Argentine leather satchels, glass objets and bauhaus lamps are sold amid whimsical treasures and carefully chosen clothing. Expect New York prices for these one-of-a-kind finds. Frente a la plaza | +598 486 2585
Hugo González, Teler Artisinal — This legendary knitter sells throws, sweaters, ponchos, hats and much more out of a small shop near the lighthouse. All his wool is from local sheep and frankly feels like cashmere. I guess you could call him the Francis Mallmann of Uruguayan knitters, as he apparently has disciples all over Uruguay selling their handmade wares at local ferías. He’s a delight. Seasonal shop by el faro.
Lucifer – Chef-owner Lucía Soria’s intimate restaurant in the garden behind her home is worth the gorgeous half an hour drive inland from José Ignacio to Garzón. Charred sweet breads with criolla and bitter greens, eggplant tapenade on homemade hazlenut bread, whole roast fish from the Laguna Garzón and many more delights abound on the ever changing menu served up by the foxy women who cook them. A wonderful destination for a long lunch (or dinner) under the whispering vines. Cno. a la Estación Custiel, Pueblo Garzón. | +598 99 255249
Hotel & Restaurante Garzón – Francis Mallmann is a legend in his own time. There doesn’t seem to be a chef in Argentina or Uruguay who hasn’t worked for the cocinero who burns things to perfection. At his luxurious and stunning boutique hotel in Garzón British-Spanish chef de cuisine Gioconda Scott brings her passion for sourcing and attention to detail to every aspect of the experience. I spent many an evening enjoying this extraordinary place. Plaza Principal Pueblo Garzón. email@example.com | +598 4410 2811 / 00598 4410 2809
Alium – The chicest boutique in Uruguay, I’m guessing, featuring international creatives who all have found a home in this rugged country. Linen gaucho pants, knit line “Garzon” by Brit Tiggy Maconochie who fell in love with the ghost town; handmade patchwork leather bags by Ale Sly; and the finest wool knits from local lamb abound in this shop cum gallery cum event space owned by the adorable Carolyn Prevett and Mariano Piñeyrúa. Plaza Principal Pueblo Garzón. firstname.lastname@example.org | +598 99 128672
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Tags: Alium, Ceviche Girl, Clo Dimet, Fernando Trocca, Francis Mallmann, Garzón, Gioconda Scott, José Ignacio, La Huella, La Olada, Lucía Soria, Lucifer, Marismo, Posada Paradiso, Santa Teresita, Travel, Uruguay