Graham and Sandra were thrilled by the vibrancy and colour of Buenos Aires, where they have been researching a new tour itinerary.
Graham shares some of their discoveries.
The Cabildo and Clock Tower at Plaza de Mayo with jacaranda trees in Buenos Aires. Photo - photolibrary.com
There are many things about Argentina’s capital that will surprise you. For me a big surprise was the brilliant landscape design of Carlos (Charles) Thays (1849-1934), whom I had never heard of. Thays arrived from his native Paris and fell in love with the fledgling, vibrant city. He stayed in Argentina for the rest of his life and designed BA’s parks and broad boulevards. Being a graduate of French architecture and landscape design he brought a strong European influence to the design of the city for which, incredibly, he was given carte blanche approval, by the city fathers, to do as he wished.
The result is kilometres of tree-lined plazas, flower-filled parklands and broad, jacaranda-lined city avenues. It is possibly the Buenos Aires Botanical Gardens for which he is best known as it is all that has been left substantially intact. His English Gothic Revival-style mansion (1881) is used today as the administration building and houses the Herbarium. The garden was laid out with Roman, French and Oriental Gardens and filled with plants from those countries. Also remaining are five glasshouses, the largest and grandest, designed in Art Nouveau style, is filled with 2,500 tropical plants and is considered to be the only one of its kind in the world.
Plaza de Mayo. Photo - photolibrary.com
In downtown Palermo, Thays was given square kilometres to design and he filled the space with thousands of trees, formal flower and rose beds, fountains and monuments in a grand style. The metropolis has overtaken his designs today and tall buildings and retail centres now sadly occupy his well-planned open spaces. But his legacy can still be seen in several large, mature tree-filled parks and pocket-handkerchief plantings around the city. Sandra and I greatly enjoyed strolling through both the Botanical Gardens and the inner city parks; cool and welcoming and still greatly appreciated by the citizenry over a hundred years after their creation.
Gaucho dances. Photo - photolibrary.com
Meeting a living legend
Many months of planning went into this reconnoitre trip, and friends in Argentina, many expats from Australia, helped with our itinerary. We are greatly indebted to them all; Kirsty Noble, Monica and Bruce Brown, Masako Worsnop, and Muriel Hussin, the wife of the Australian Ambassador.
Throughout our preparatory communications the same name kept popping: Elsie Rivero Haedo. On arrival in BA we made contact with this ‘must meet’ lady. She invited us to her home where Sandra and I enjoyed an enlightening, enjoyable and fascinating encounter! Elsie is an author who writes under the pseudonym Virginia Carreno, and she is hugely knowledgeable about Argentina’s history and BA’s gardening past and present.
Now in her nineties, Elsie is still a powerful player in Argentinean politics. She was beautiful, articulate and passionate and her life has criss-crossed the complex worlds of Argentinean affairs of state, civic life, public spaces, gardens, charities, the business world, tourism, exports and the extensive beef industry. To us, Elsie was an inspiration, and a delight.
Gloves for sale in an antiques shop, San Telmo. Photo - photolibrary.com
Argentina’s soul is music, or to be more accurate dance, and not just any dance, it has to be the tango. We enjoyed an incredible night out at the Carlos Gardel theatre restaurant. Carlos Gardel was one of Argentina’s tango masters and this evening celebrated his tango skills and prowess. It is impossible in a paragraph to describe the excitement and fun these dancers generated. Needless to say we have included such a classic night in our South American tour.
The tango is all-pervasive in the life of Buenos Aires. We visited the Caminito, an area in the La Boca neighbourhood, famous for its pedestrian streets and houses made from sheet metal with tiny balconies all painted in vibrant colours, inspired by the artist, Jaun Quinquela Benito. As we walked around we encountered a complete orchestra moving through the street playing tango music. Dancers whirled around in between the art and craft vendors. It was a thrilling experience.
It is fair to say that Elsie Rivero Haedo isn’t impressed by the modern architecture or the new landscapes of Buenos Aires but we found them fascinating. The derelict industrial wharf areas of Puerto Madero alongside the Rio de la Plata have been dramatically restored into a spacious tourist, entertainment and business precinct. The designer, a clever landscape architect by the name of Valentina Casuchi, has used modern mass-plantings of standard white crepe myrtles and jacarandas. The old dockland warehouses have been beautifully renovated with climbing plants, shrubs and trees now engulfing the walkways around them.
We also visited a recent addition to Buenos Aires, the Rose Garden in Palermo, also designed by Valentina Casuchi. It is most impressive and will quickly establish itself as a fine city rose garden of international standard. We loved the ceramic tiled features within the garden and a magnificent specimen of the floral emblem of Buenos Aries, the Erythrina crista-galli, a deep-red flowering relative of the coral tree.
There are many ‘must-sees’ in Buenos Aires, but here are just two more you must include. The city centre is called Plaza De Mayo and has a fascinating Spanish feel. A white, marked pavement where mothers still mourn their children ‘lost’ in the so-called ‘Dirty War’ surrounds a central fountain. Ironically the government administration buildings, the ‘Pink House’ or Casa Rosada, which includes the veranda where Evita Peron performed her famous speech to millions, overlook this sorrowful site. Opposite are the old Cabildo, Buenos Aries’ first city building (1580), and the newer, 18th Century Metropolitan Cathedral.
The second area not to be missed is the elite Recoleta neighbourhood with its restaurants, churches and incredible cemetery. Yes, a cemetery you shouldn’t miss! It is here that Evita is buried, along with Presidents, dictators, Argentinean legends, war heroes and scoundrels all buried side by side. It is parkland of unusual proportions and even rarer architecture.
Vivid colours in La Boca. Photo - photolibrary.com
Come with us!
We head to Argentina in October. Our tour will visit Buenos Aires, San Carlose de Bariloche, Iguazu Falls and Rio De Janerio, and highlights include private gardens in Buenos Aires; an alpine forest walk; the home and parks of Roberto Burle Marx; a Tijuca forest tour and Rio harbour cruise. To find out more about the tour call Ross Garden Tours on 1800 809 348 or visit www.rosstours.com