LUGARES MAGAZINE Nro. 56
Page: 72 - 79
By: Julia Caprara
Pictures: Carolina Aldao
FROM CORDOBA TO CALAMUCHITA
Our tour around the valley began in Santa Rosa de Calamuchita, having arrived from Córdoba on Route 5. There we found the Mediterranean style Yporá Hotel standing in its 10-hectare parkland. "This hotel, as the Sierras de Alta Gracia and the Edén in La Falda, date from the golden age of tourism in the region. Its story began in 1938, when Don Diego Garzón ordered the building to house the potential lit yers of his lands and to get tourism in the area started", says Mónica Bongiuvani, the current manager.
The hotel opened on 1 January 1940 and was sold to the Rottini y Bessio company in 1947. It had its golden age at a time when people took three or four month holidays. One illustrious visitor was Eva Perón who arrived in 1945 to work cm the film La Pródiga After becoming first lady she then returned in 1949 and stayed in the same room - no. 10 - after the inauguration of the hotel, in Embalse. Times were good for the hotel until 1958, when it fell into comparative abandonment for more than 30 years. In 1994 it was bought by a Mexican company - Internacional Azteca - and re-opened in 1996.
On Sunday morning we left for the Sierras Chicas in order to listen to the Benedictine brothers mass in the beautiful monastery of Nuestra Señora de la Paz Three kilometres south on Route 5 we took
a dirt road to the left that climbs to some 800m above sea level.
From the heights the view was irresistible. The thick forests of pine trees and, on the horizon, the Altas Cumbres (high peaks) and the Champaquí mountain. A narrow zigzag with steep stretches between trees, led us to a fork in the road where a sign indicates the town of Calmayo two kilometres to the left and the monastery another four to the right.
The mass had already begun. It was very moving to enter the convent, two buildings surrounded by gardens with their stone walls, all slightly medieval, and the pitched roofs, with the Gregorian chants of the monks sounding in the background.
On the way back we stopped for a cup of coffee at the Parador de la Montaña. A large terrace looks on to the garden and in the interior a series of murals illustrate the history of the valley with images of Indians and peasants.
We were starving by the time we returned to Santa Rosa and feasted on a delicious "parrillada" in La Pulpería owned by the Ferreyra family. That Sunday afternoon continued with a visit to the Santa Rosa de Lima church and the Musuem of Religious Art. Both were built in 1784, in the grounds of the old estancia Santa Rosa de Lima, belonging to the Carranza family. The statue of the Virgin and of Christ carved by the Indians from part of its historical patrimony. It is best to see it by night, with the almost theatrical floodlighting.
We left Santa Rosa and passed resolutely through Los Reartes. It rained incessantly, and almost 27 of the 40km distance to the Estancia Las Cañitas, were on gravel roads. We encountered no difficulties however.
We crossed the swollen river Del Medio and were greeted by Sr. Vázquez and his wife Graciela, who received us warmly. Of the estancia's 1000 hectares, 80 are used for tourism. The rest is reserved for cattle rearing. Ideal for romantic interludes, Las Cañitas is a perfect combination of lovely landscape, intimacy and architecture. A group of cabins - 10 in total - were built and scattered in the woods. They are 120 square metre cabins, each with two bathrooms, some with a Jacuzzi, and lovely wooden furniture. The food in Las Cañitas is simple and delicious. You mustn't miss the cheese tasting, or the home-baked bread.
We left behind the charm of the woods and entered that of Villa Berna, in between two very typical villages: Villa General Bclgrano and La Cumbrecita. We arrived at this Alpinestyle village, which strikes one as the perfect setting for a fairy tale as you see the millions of little flowers, pink, white, and the amanita muscaria, red mushrooms with white dots, all along the side of the road. It was such a pleasure to walk the streets of this dreamlike village and to get to know some of the locals. People like Gladys Guevara, who feeds a pack of foxes every day, or Doctor Hans Vogt who awaited us with many local stories: "After WWI, many central Europeans came out here. They settled amongst the locals, Spaniards and Indians, where the two rivers, the Medio and the Ambah, meet. But the history of Villa Berna begins with Samuel and Orfeo Zamora, owners of two large farms: El Arribo and El Bañado. A bitter quarrel led these two brothers to sell out to Margarita Kellemberg, who founded Villa Berna in 1940".
We left Hans and his memories behind and moved on to La Domanda, the hostel with the best view in the valley, some 1,400 metres above sea level. Our next trip was to visit the picturesque Villa General Belgrano, at some 23 km distance, and delve into the phenomenon of the Central European cultural influence of the survivors of the battleship Graf Spee, which sunk off the Uruguayan coast in 1939. We began, I must admit, with gastronomical research. We went first to the micro-brewery Viejo Munich, to try the home-brewed beer, extra premium because of the pureness of the malt, and to see the production process. Later, we tried home-made cold cuts at Federico's, en route: smoked hams, meat loaf, leberwurst all made by Fritz Neuner.
Only 30km away lies yet another Germanic bastion, La Cumbrecita. We crossed the bridge over the River del Medio to reach the town founded by Helmut Cabjolsky, who in 1934 bought a 500hectare farm and established this summer resort. It is impossible to tour the city by car, unless you are a resident. The mandatory tour includes going to the Cascade, cross the Wildbach - a wild stream -for tea and cakes at Frau Liesbeth's, or to enjoy the comforts of the La Cumbrecita Hotel.
On the road towards Alta Gracia, we skirted the Los Molinos dam and took the detour on the secondary road to San Clemente, a small town near the Altas Cumbres. In colonial times this place was a mule trail to the Traslatierra valley and the estancia we were heading for, La Granadilla, is as old as those trails.
We immediately accepted to explore the estancia on horseback, as suggested by our hosts, the Inaudi family, on our arrival. It was a glorious day and we fully enjoyed the landscape of the valley. A delightfully served table awaited us on our return. The lunchtime menu was succulent etnpanadas, followed by delicious lamb. We had our coffee in the garden so as not to miss the autumn sun. There are many activities on this estancia, which is ideal for children. Walks, fly fishing, tennis, and the nearby Quebrada de los Condoritos are some of the activities which ensure that the visitor has a good time.
That evening Javier Zuberbuhler was expecting us at El Potrerillo de Larreta, so we hit the road again and drove to Alta Gracia to see the finished 9-hole golf course that his father Don Ignacio, inaugurated last year. It is a real pleasure to sleep in the enormous house, a cross between a museum and a monastery, which used to form part of the Alta Gracia Jesuit estancia. There are few places quite as authentic as Potrerilla - paintings of the Alto Peru and furniture from the days of the Viceroyalty are part of the décor. In every corner of the house one can perceive the spirit of the writer Enrique Larreta, Ignacio's grandfather.