A long weekend in Buenos Aires with Nacho Figueras

From the “best steak in the world” to boots fit for a prince, the polo champion and Ralph Lauren ambassador shares his local secrets with Christina Ohly Evans. Portrait by Javier Pierini

Nacho Figueras at his Cría Yatay polo club
Nacho Figueras at his Cría Yatay polo club | Image: Javier Pierini

Architecturally and spiritually, Buenos Aires is a very European city, so it’s often referred to as ‘the Paris of South America’. There are a lot of similarities between the two, for sure – many of the parks and streets were designed by the same people – but in the end, the feel here is distinctly Latin. I think we have a very Spanish/Italian flair, with our love of food, style and overall enthusiasm for life. I travel the world, and no matter where else I visit, I always love BA best. It’s a magical city and it seems to exceed expectations every time.

There has been a rich mix of people and cultures over the past 100 years, and you really see that in the diverse architectural styles and neighbourhoods, as well as in the art and different cuisines. One of the most beautiful periods for Buenos Aires was the belle époque era in the early 1900s, when Argentina was one of the wealthiest countries in the world. During this time some spectacular buildings, such as the Alvear Palace Hotel in Recoleta, were built, and I always recommend a stay here if you want to feel the magic of old‑world Buenos Aires. It was totally renovated recently, but the big top-floor suites still have a classical feel and some have terraces overlooking the city.

The colourful façades of the city’s La Boca district
The colourful façades of the city’s La Boca district | Image: Estock/4Corners Images

The Palacio Duhau – Park Hyatt is another grand hotel that’s set in a former mansion, but it has a more minimalist feel than the Alvear. The unique thing here is the rear garden; it’s a complete urban oasis, and a great place to meet for drinks on a warm evening. Then there is the Home Hotel, in Palermo – our version of Williamsburg, Brooklyn – which has a more boutique-y feel, a Nordic-meets-South America design. The very simple but beautiful pool is surrounded by jasmine and all kinds of greenery. But of all the places to stay, one of the best-kept secrets is Estancia La Bamba de Areco, which is just an hour or so outside the city. If you’re looking for horseback riding, a real asado, authentic gauchos and polo playing, this place is just incredible.

The heart of Buenos Aires is the French heritage district of Recoleta, where you’ll find the more formal hotels and shops, as well as some of the best restaurants in the city. One of the most impressive sights here is Recoleta cemetery, which dates from the 18th century and is packed with mausoleums – some beautifully maintained and others in disrepair. Recoleta is the perfect area to shop, and Arandú is a great resource for all kinds of equestrian things; you’ll find cowboy boots, saddles and traditional gaucho bags in bright colours among three floors of gear. Florería Atlántico in Retiro is another favourite. It’s an incredibly fragrant flower shop by day and a lively bar by night, and they serve their own gin that’s flavoured with Argentinian yerba mate tea.

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For a slightly more fun, funkier feel I like Palermo Soho and also the tree-lined streets of Palermo Chico. The best steak in the world is at La Cabrera, where the huge slabs of ojo de bife – or ribeye steak – are served with traditional sides and a chimichurri sauce made of garlic, chilli and coriander. The room will be packed with Argentines and tourists alike, and it’s a real taste of local life. Nicky NY is the place for sushi with a lot of ambience, but what I really love is the Harrison Speakeasy bar that’s downstairs. It has a very special, festive vibe, though getting in can be tricky.

This area has culture to offer as well, including the Museum of Latin American Art of Buenos Aires – or MALBA – where the modern and contemporary Latin American art is world class, and so is the granite building that contains the collection. The restaurant here – Ninina – is a perfect spot for a relaxing lunch outside on the patio.

Tango in San Telmo
Tango in San Telmo | Image: Getty Images

One of the best additions to Palermo Chico in the past few years is the concept boutique Casa Cavia. It’s set in a beautiful white mansion from the 1920s that’s been updated and now includes a restaurant, bar, flower shop and bookstore. I like to have lunch here because not only is the food excellent, the architecture is a mix of historical and contemporary features, and the scene is always lively.

If you’re looking for an haute cuisine experience, then Tegui in Palermo Viejo is the place to try star chef Germán Martitegui’s set menus, which include unique takes on Argentine classics. The chef is often there, making it feel intimate and special, and while the entrance is unassuming, it is regarded as one of the best restaurants in South America. So is Francis Mallmann’s Patagonia Sur in the colourful La Boca neighbourhood. It’s set in a brightly painted private house that only has space for a few people and offers a fixed six-course menu. I take every special guest here – Ralph Lauren, for example – and it’s a wow every time.

Congress Square in the heart of the city
Congress Square in the heart of the city | Image: Getty Images/EyeEm

The more eclectic San Telmo neighbourhood is another area for exploration, and one of the best shops there is Juan Carlos Pallarols. This silversmith has an international following, and he makes things like the Pope’s chalice – Pope Francis is Argentinian – as well as silver roses and sets of steak knives. He is a true craftsman and his work is so intricate and specific to Buenos Aires. The area comes to life on Sundays, when the Feria de San Telmo antiques fair is held. It’s like our version of the Marché aux Puces, and you can find treasures ranging from early-20th-century linens to full sets of silverware to leather bags and furniture.

There are certain things associated with Buenos Aires, and tango, polo and football are all top of the list. For football fans, a Boca Juniors game is a must; the atmosphere is electric. You’ll find tango all over the city, but the performance at the Faena Hotel in Puerto Madero is among the best, as Rojo Tango gets the top dancers. Although it’s a modern hotel, this is the place to see this musical art form.

Recoleta’s Alvear Palace Hotel recently had a total renovation
Recoleta’s Alvear Palace Hotel recently had a total renovation

Polo is a huge part of my life, but also life in Buenos Aires generally. In November, the Argentine Open is played in fields in the middle of the city and everyone turns out. Polo is played every day at the Cría Yatay polo club, on one of my estancias outside the city, where I also give lessons on occasion and where we host various club matches. This city is a great place to buy kit for the sport, and for polo boots there is none better than Casa Fagliano in Hurlingham. It’s about an hour outside the city, but worth it for the custom boots that are favoured by Prince Charles and the Sultan of Brunei. The family that runs it is amazing; three generations work in the shop, fitting and sewing the boots, and the whole experience feels like being in Geppetto’s workshop.

In the General Díaz area, where I live, there is a great shop for all things to do with tack, called Logi Polo. You’ll find everything here – from helmets to cool T-shirts to polo mallets, of course. For visitors to this area, I always recommend Fettuccine Mario for dinner. It’s a very special restaurant that gives any Italian trattoria a run for its money. This place is old-school; the knowledgeable waiters – most of whom have been there for 25 years – wear white jackets and there is nothing fussy or corporate in sight.

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We’re still a little slower here than the rest of the world, and I mean this in the best sense. In general, it’s stayed the same over the years and that’s a good thing. It still feels special and historical, minus the cellphones. Honestly, an excellent cellphone service is a modern curse. I hope people will come here and put away their phones for just a little while, because there is so much beauty to see and so much to experience.

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