“Uruguay has licensed growing and selling pot, given a laptop to every child and renamed Christmas as Family Day. Definitely a place that thinks differently.”
As Brazil hosts the 2014 World Cup with great fanfare, tiny Uruguay can quietly remind football fans that it hosted – and actually won – the first such event in 1930. And if this interesting historical footnote passes unnoticed, Uruguayans will take it in stride; South America’s second-smallest country is used to receiving meagre credit for its cultural contributions. Back when North American Baby Boomers were going mad for British Invasion music in the early 1960s, the rockers of Montevideo unleashed the Uruguayan Invasion on neighbouring Argentina – sadly, with somewhat less impact. Today the country’s musicians can console themselves by playing the world’s longest national anthem: 11 deathless verses (as Stuart Heritage noted in a fun Guardian piece on Uruguay’s quirks), including the memorable line, “No one insults the image of the Sun!”
All this to say that Uruguay is an interesting place that too often gets overlooked – and therefore an ideal destination for a bespoke luxury holiday. A land of lush river basins, quiet colonial towns and pristine Atlantic coastline, the Oriental Republic of Uruguay (as it’s officially known) is also distinguished by the laidback style of its people. So to get you into a Uruguayan state of mind, we’d suggest you start by dialling back your internal clock a little.
We’ll fly you from Montevideo along the coast to luxurious Estancia Vik, where the surrounding ranch encompasses 4,000 acres of sweeping grasslands, winding rivers and untouched beaches. You can learn the finer points of polo from the gauchos, traditional cowboys of the Pampas. Or mount one of the estancia’s stocky Criollan horses (said to be the world’s hardiest breed) and ride among herds of wild ostriches to picnic on a secluded coastal estuary. And naturally you’ll want to enjoy some grilled Angus beef (equal to any on Argentine barbecues) and a glass or two of the region’s distinctive Tannat wine.
Uruguay’s party capital is Punta del Este, known as the Cote d’Azur of South America – a sun-drenched resort area where the cool South Atlantic rolls onto pristine white-sand beaches. We’ll arrange a private seaside villa for you and your group, flying in top DJs from Rio and cocktail champions from Montevideo for a buzzing night under the southern stars. Then jump into your roll-top four-wheel-drives and follow the coast north to Cabo Polonio, flying over the dunes to visit a remote colony of sea lions.
When it comes to colonial history, Uruguay is a bit like the favourite toy fought over by squabbling siblings. Britain, Spain and Portugal all tried to gain a foothold here through the 17th and 18th centuries (well ahead of the guidebook writers), and many of their towns and fortifications have been beautifully preserved. We can fly you by helicopter along the Rio de La Plata to Colonia del Sacramento, where a local historian will guide you through the cobbled streets. Or you can explore the charming barrios of Montevideo, the Uruguay’s historic capital, learning about the long battle for independence and enjoying a private visit to the fascinating Artigas Mausoleum. Uruguay also has a lot to offer lovers of art and design: we’ll introduce you to some of the country’s leading painters, sculptors and architects at their studios – maybe with a master class or two, if you’re up for it.
And of course we can always get you great seats at a football game – maybe against Argentina or Brazil – where you can fortify yourself with a beer as we round the final bend into verse 11. Just remember: “No one insults the image of the Sun!”
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