LUGARES MAGAZINE Nro. 53
Page. 80 - 85
By: Julia Caprara
Pictures: Carolina Aldao
Cobbled streets, narrow sidewalks and perfectly preserved turn-of-the-century buildings; perfumed forests of eucalyptus and citrus orchards; the beach, fishing and water sports on the river or the lake; thermal waters and golf. To simply list them is obviously insufficient. Concordia, in the north of Entre Ríos Province and 431 kilometers from Buenos Aires, is all this and much more.
For many tourists the history and vibrant cultural life of this city, founded in 1832 and built on the banks of the River Uruguay, is a surprise. When by chance he reached Concordia in the 30s, during one of his flights, the well-known traveller and author of "The Little
Prince", Antoine de Saint Exúpery said, "I have discovered a mysterious place in the world". It is difficult to know what exactly it was that seduced the writer and pilot. Perhaps it was the French style architecture of some of the buildings, undoubtedly surprising - "mysterious" to use his word, for a European in the middle of a trip through the eastern
coast of Argentina. What is certain is that he left his mark in Concordia, that even today has its own Association of Friends of Saint Exúpery, created by Elsa Pico, one of the residents.
Stories and Legends.
The care of the architectural heritage of the city, today the second city of the Province and the largest city on the river Uruguay, is an example of historical conservation. One incentive is that residents enjoy a discount on their property tax if they maintain their property's original facade Obligatory stops on any tour of the city are the Cathedral and the Arraubarrena Palace, in an eclectic French style, built in 1919 and home to the Regional Museum since 1984. An important collection of the River Uruguay is displayed there; including Jesuit ceramics and archaeological pieces. Local and regional artists exhibit their work in the Museum of Visual Arts. The Anthropological and Natural Sciences museum is also worth a visit, located in what used to be the old central railway station.
A tour could then continue with the Court of Justice (1904) where, in years gone by, the city's social club was located, and several buildings on Pellegrini street, like the Banco Nación, the Club Progreso - as traditional as Buenos Aires' Jockey Club - and the asa Zorraquin (1910), the residence of the first mayor. Ones curiosity is aroused when one then passes an enigmatic house, the Temple of the Masonic Lodge. One can only see the front of the house with its coat of arms showing the eye and compass which represents a peculiar view of the world, according to the guide's explanation.
At sunset the pedestrian street Entre Rios is full of people - tourists and residents - shopping. This is also the best time for a stroll through the elegant Nebel neighbourhood with its two storey houses and tidy gardens. Situated on the river, this district has its own
beach, the favourite in the town. Scarcely 400m across the river one can see the Uruguayan town of Salto.
The Rivadavia Park is surprising with its 70 hectares of abundant vegetation spread along the cliffs and terraced forests beside the River Uruguay. Once there one can visit what is left of the San Carlos Castle, built in 1888 by the French Count Edouard de Machy who, together with his wife, a beautiful actress and their entourage arrived in Concordia in his own ship. Many years later the house was acquired by the Fuchs Valon family who, according to the legend, accommodated Saint Exupéry after he made an emergency landing in his aeroplane near the castle. From this point on there are two versions of the
story, both doubtful but fun. The most candid and ambitious says that the girls of the house, Eda - with short blonde hair - and Susanne Fuchs Valon, spoke perfect French and that amongst other animals a
snake and a fox used to live in the house. The obvious conclusion to be drawn is that the situation inspired the great French book "The Little Prince". The second, more modest and less flowery version is
that San Carlos was the place that inspired another of his books, "The Land of Men".
Baths and Golf.
Twelve kilometres north of the city, on Monseñor Rossch avenue, the Vertientes de la Concordia complex offers five thermal baths, with water between 35°-C and 43°-C, surrounded by eucalyptus trees that
add their rich aroma to embellish the scenery. Before beginning the routine it is necessary to be advised on the correct use of the baths. The heart rhythm accelerates and one must be cautious with the temperatures. It is recommended that one begins in the pool with the lowest temperature and stay in it for no less than 10 minutes. Then move to the next
hottest and so on, until one reaches the sweet inferno of the final bath. For complete relaxation a session of massage and shiatsu are also offered there. A word of advice: go there in the late afternoon, almost at night. There are fewer people and, if the moon allows, there
is nothing better than enjoying a beer under its reflection. After the baths of course.
One the same road as one takes to the baths, golfers have a place in the 53 hectare Golf Club - with its par 70, 18 hole course. You do not have to be a member to play. However if you do not master this sport, it is best not to attempt it here.
The Sea of Waters.
Further to the north is the Salto Grande artificial lake created by the construction of the eponymous hydroelectric dam situated a few kilometres further on. The visit includes a documentary film and a guided tour that shows details of the construction and of the gigantic turbines that generate electricity for the whole of Uruguay and a good part of Argentina.
The lake, with snack bars, campsites and bonfires on its shores, covers an area of nearly 80,000 hectares and is surrounded by eucalyptus and pine forests. Puerto Luis is the point of departure and arrival for the cruises on the lake. In summer one can rent kayaks, canoes and jet skis. Between the palms and the jetty the multicoloured bunting of the yacht club flutter in the wind.
The comiche along the banks of the River Uruguay begins eight blocks from the centre of the city. Childrens' playgrounds, viewing points, beaches, campsites and the old port can be enjoyed by both residents and visitors. However, during the winter the river rises to a height of 14 metres, flooding the avenue. After following the river road to the north for 15 minutes one arrives at La Tortuga Alegre, a municipal resort and campsite, where the Fiesta de la Boga (Bream Festival) takes place every January. But throughout the year lovers of sport fishing seek - and find - excellent shad, catfish and "pejerrey". As I returned to Buenos Aires on Route 14, I asked myself whether a couple of days was sufficient to enjoy the sunsets and deep greens of Concordia; the aroma of the citrus fruits and the complete pleasure of the thermal baths; the stories and the countryside that perhaps had inspired the muses of an adventurer and writer.