Winter Wonderland - Bariloche Revisited

Trip Start Jan 20, 2004
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Argentina  ,
Sunday, May 29, 2005

With several snowy mountain passes behind us - thankfully successfully negotiated - we dropped down to Lago Nahuel Huapi and arrived in a very different Bariloche than the one we remembered from our visit in February. The summer season is now over and the ski slopes have yet to open, so the crowds of visitors have thinned dramatically. The hustle and bustle and jam-packed traffic that we experienced last time have eased for the time being, and the town seemed to be taking a well-earned breather before the next onslaught. Its location perched on the steep hillside overlooking the lake is still superb, but is now enhanced by the surrounding majestic panorama of snow-capped peaks. We decided that this time it was more our kind of town, and that it would suit us well as a base to explore the pristine and picturesque scenery of the lake district countryside. Besides, our tastebuds seemed to be insistently jogging some not-too-distant memories that almost every other shop in town was bursting with all manner of heavenly hand-made chocolate!

The cold weather has definitely affected our style of accommodation, and for several weeks now we have given up looking for campsites and have concentrated on seeking out small cabins. This area of Argentina is very much geared to tourism for both summer and winter activities, and is well endowed with cabañas, cottages and ski chalets. Since we are between seasons, we have been able to take advantage of these cozy but very inexpensive lodgings at several of our recent stops. The fully-equipped kitchens have also enabled us to prepare delicious oven-roast meals - a luxury that the van unfortunately denies us. This time we were lucky again, and on our way to the tourist office - located in the architect-designed and handsomely constructed hardwood and stone Civic Centre - we encountered the owner of a cabaña with a grand view of snowy Cerro Otto. It didn't take us long to settle in and then head out to the local carniceria to pick out a succulent leg of Patagonian lamb to roast for supper.

We spent several days exploring the area, including some hiking and a trip to retrace our steps around the Circuito Chico to visit Llao Llao. This time Cheddar's was closed for the season so we missed out on our afternoon tea treat, but the views across the lake with frosty summits in all directions were quite stupendous. Even though the Llao Llao Resort Spa was very tempting in its picture-perfect setting nestled under the craggy frigid heights of Cerro López, we again decided against staying over - a suite or cabaña here would set us back a mere US$650 for the night! Instead we opted to head back into town and spend the evening relaxing over a Swiss fondue at La Alpina restaurant with a bottle of Argentinean Malbec warming ourselves beside the crackling wood fire.

One more job before we left town was to look into booking flights back to Ottawa, now that a date has been set for Sharon's appointment with the Eye Surgeon (thanks Audrey and Ursula!). After checking out internet options we visited a few travel agencies and eventually lucked into meeting up with a cracker-jack travel agent at Viajes Dannemann. By the next day Liliana had found us a really good deal on LAN Chile through Santiago and New York, which allows us three months or more to spend with family and friends during the summer. Unfortunately, by the afternoon the clouds had settled down around the mountains and so we had to cancel our planned trip in the teleférico (gondola ski-lift) up to Confitería Otto - the rotunda perched at the very summit that we could see from the picture window of our cabaña.

Before we set out the next morning we decided that it might be prudent to pay a visit to the local office of the Automóvil Club Argentino. We had debated about whether to continue following RN40 along the eastern foot of the Andes as we headed further north, and were not surprised to hear that at this time of year there were several passes that might be totally blocked with early winter snowfalls. For once in our lives we decided to heed some wise words of caution, and planned a somewhat more sedate and easterly route along RN237 via Neuquén, eventually rejoining RN40 again at San Rafael. Although this would be a much less scenic route, it would be a lot faster and on better roads, and we would stand a much better chance of arriving in good shape to sample the oenological delights of Mendoza!
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