Only a two-hour flight from Buenos Aires (and the stifling 90 degrees temperatures), Bariloche was a welcome respite for our two families traveling to Argentina for the winter holiday break. Often referred as the Zermatt of Argentina, this tourist resort in Northern Patagonia, settled by Swiss and German immigrants (hence the Tyrolean influence in architecture, abundance of chocolate shops – Bariloche IS the chocolate capital of Argentina – and beer halls!), is known world-wide for its stunning scenery with multitudes of lakes and mountains. It was also, unbeknownst to us, a haven after WWII for Nazis (most notably Mengele and Eichmann) fleeing persecution. Understandably, it is not something that is promoted in tourist literature but interesting if you were able to visit the Holocaust Museum in Buenos Aires. Sadly for us, the museum was closed until mid-January.
Where: Llao Llao Resort in Bariloche, Argentina
What: Large alpine-influenced lodge in the foothills of the Andes in Northern Patagonia
Who: Two families of four
When: Christmas break 2014/2015
Why: A four-day nature escape after Buenos Aires
Our home for the next four nights was the impressive and family-friendly, 169-room Llao Llao resort (pronounced ‘zhao zhao’ which means ‘sweet, sweet’ in the language of the indigeneous Mapuche indians) – incidentally run by the same family who runs the Alvear Palace where we stayed in Buenos Aires. A grand mountain lodge sitting atop a hill in the heart of stunning Nahuel Huapi National Park and the foothills of the Andes mountains, Llao Llao is perfectly situated with easy access to a mind-numbing quantity of outdoor activities such as mountain biking, forest hiking, 18-hole golf, kayaking and zip-lining. I learned after our departure that the original resort – made entirely out of wood – was completely destroyed by fire only one year after it was completed in 1938. What was rebuilt shortly after is the current edifice made from a combination of locally-sourced stone, concrete and wood.
The scenery as we approached this hotel on a hilltop was simply breathtaking. Equally stunning are the views from the hotel once you arrive. From the lakes to the mountains and snow-capped Tronador Glacier beyond, you are surrounded 360 degrees by natural beauty.
WHAT WE LOVED
- The breathtaking views and setting of the hotel – the most defining element of the resort in my view.
- The myriad of activities (most complimentary) to enjoy on the hotel’s 111-acre property: archery, boating, golf, hiking, mountain-biking and more. There is something for everyone and a kids club for younger tots allowing for adults to go off on their own. We do wish, however, that archery was offered for the kids (the bows are too big for children under 12). Likewise, the indoor gym/spa activities (spinning, yoga) could use an upgrade but a minor grievance as you really don’t want to be indoors here.
- The afternoon high tea (included in our Andrew Harper rate) in the glass-enclosed Winter Garden and daily Happy Hours (50% off drinks!).
- The ample breakfast buffets (included in the room rate) with assorted fruits, breads and to-order omelette/waffle station in the main dining room with massive windows overlooking the outside scenery. This is the only time of the day when all the guests come together to carb up in the large dining hall before dispersing for the day’s activities.
- The appealing design of the entrance hall and main lounge –very mountain lodge-esqe with hewn cyprus log walls, rugged timber ceilings, pine floors and massive stone fireplaces (sadly, the hotel does not utilize the many fireplaces throughout the hotel in the summer even though evenings dipped to into the 30s. They should rethink that one as it would truly have perfected the ambience).
- The spacious Moreno suites with picture frame windows (see below in Rooms To Get).
- The indoor/outdoor pool overlooking the glacier is kid (and adult) heaven.
- Truly global mix of clientele – people come from all over the world (U.S., Brazil, Australia, and Europe) to experience this blissful spot.
- Bring mucho U.S. dollars with you to Argentina to take advantage of the ‘blue dollar’ unofficial exchange rate, which is considerably better than the official rate. Before arriving in Bariloche, go to a dealer in Buenos Aires to exchange your dollars (go with a guide to make sure you get the best rate from a reliable source). To give you an idea of the difference, the official exchange rate when we were there was about 8.4 pesos to the dollar, while the blue rate was 12.75 pesos to one dollar. Most stores and restaurants will take dollars for a rate between 12 and 13 pesos to the dollar (make sure to ask before purchasing or dining) and are all more than happy to take U.S. dollars. However, in hotels and airports, the exchange rate is the less attractive official rate. Paying for our incidentals during hotel check-out in pesos (rooms are pre paid in U.S. dollars, unfortunately) literally saved us hundreds of dollars. We just wish we had exchanged more beforehand.
- Pack appropriately. The weather in Bariloche fluctuated between 40 and 80 degrees fahrenheit during our brief stay and can change in minutes from cold and windy to sunny. Leave your heels at home – think Patagonia for clothing.
- We didn’t book any activities in advance and were able to do most everything we wanted with some flexibility. If you are going in high season (remember our winter is their summer) and want to make the most of your time there, book the essentials such as massages (the spa is small relative to other large resorts), golf, boating and restaurants outside the resort, in advance. The sun does not set until 10 p.m. at night during December and January, so there is plenty of time to get as much as you want in.
ROOMS TO GET
We chose our accommodations in the new Moreno wing, a 4-story addition added in 2007 that connects to the main lodge through elevators and hallways. The newer wing offers very spacious connecting suites, quite suitable for families, featuring wood burning fireplaces, large bathrooms and over-sized portrait windows overlooking the Moreno lake and Andean peaks.
These deluxe suites are larger and offer a more contemporary aesthetic than the traditional ones in the Main lodge. It is, however, a bit farther walk to the main hub of activity– lounges, restaurants and main entrance – but worth the sacrifice. Both of our families had connecting suites (one king to two twins with a main living room with a balcony and entry between the two rooms) in the 07/08 configuration on the 2nd and 3rd floors, providing dead-on unobstructed views of the mountains and beyond.
Our only wish is that the pillows and mattresses were more comfortable and the towels a bit softer in the room.
As we booked our accommodations through Andrew Harper Travel, we were able to receive amenities such as free golf and high tea. The children’s connecting room was offered at a 30 percent discount and the hotel often runs special rates so make sure to check what offers are valid.
|Rooms to Get||Tips|
Llao Llao Resort and Spa
Avenue Ezequiel Bustillo KM 35,
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