LUGARES MAGAZINE Nro. 46
Page. 28 - 39
By: Rossana Acquasanta
Pictures: Gustavo Castaing
Founded in 1582 by Hernando de Lenna on the the old Inca Trail, it was first named after its founder, but later changed to "Salta", and "Lerma" became the name of the fertile valley where he first settled.
At siesta time, an unfailing slumber falls over Salta city. As from two in the afternoon, the town virtually unplugs and a soothing peacefulness takes over, unveiling its dormant past. The doors of the public buildings remain silently closed: the Cathedral, where Martín de Güemes is buried; the neocolonial Archiepiscopal Palace; the Cabildo's asymmetrical
facade; the North Historical Museum; San Francisco Church and Convent on the comer of Córdoba and Caseros, the dividing line where streets change name.
The 9th of July Square is surrounded by shady arcades where shops offer the crafts of skilfull artisans as Bertero, the silversmith, religious wooden images, tapestries, ponchos, barracanes, the fine Indian tweed of vicuña wool, and fine pottery.
The city is dotted with notable manors: the Arias Rengel, nowadays the Provincial Fine Arts Museum which has been declared National Historical Monument; the house that belonged to Doctor José Evaristo Uriburu(1773), an example of wellpreserved colonial architecture with its projecting balcony; the cobbled-stone courtyard of the Moldes' house; and the small colonial building of El Tribuno Folk Museum with its wooden corner balcony protruding over the sidewalk. San Bernardo Convent is a true landmark with its beautiful carved door. The recently restored
La Viña church with its pale-blue tiled dome, front and bell-tower in three fading tones (ivory - pale blue - salmon) festooned with bougainvillea make a delightful sight.
Salta's hospitality at its best
A flagrant allegory of Christian blood and wine is the emblem of the Etchart family manor, El Lagar: Christ is depicted crushing the grape as a group of saints collect the juice; from his body spurts blood like wine from a cask riddled with holes. The painting is a replica of the original which hangs in the restored La Viña church.
Mariana Etchart, a 33 year old bright and charming lawyer, and her husband, run the one and only private house-hotel in Salta, They only receive guests under guaranteed recommendation and with rigorous advance reservation. The comfortable house brims with art and history.
Only breakfast is served at El Lagar and regional food upon request. María del Pino Lecuona is the author of ancestral delights. Cocktails are served in the intriguing cellar with the flair of a Spanish tavern
accompanied with goat cheese from "La Flor del Pago", tasty olives and home-made bread. The house-wine, that miracle from the Calchaquí Valleys called San Pedro de Yacochuya after the 11 thousand hectare finca that don Arnaldo owns at the foothills of the Pre-Cordillera, comes from the 14 hectares dedicated to Malbec and Torrontés vines.
The roads of hospitality
San Lorenzo, with its church and tranquil countryside is the traditional retreat of the well-off salteños who quench the summer heat fifteen kilometres out of town. Many have moved this way in search of sovereign peace. The properties spread over a vast green landscape overgrown with lush ferns with streaks of water running in between rocks. The
main road meanders uphill passing by the comfortable Selva Montana hotel (Lugares 38), owned by Herr Werner Grafe, and further on by a Tuscan castle which serves as hotel and restaurant.
A boulevard of plane trees in the yellow fall lights the way to Arnaga, the home of Inés Ortiz de Cárdenas. A steep hill covered with amber canes, regal calla-lilies and over-measured maidenhair ferns leads to the main house, the swimming-pool at grass level, the guardian
dog and doña Inés herself, the perfect host. Everything in sight is remarkably impeccable. All the windows open to the surrounding mountains and the mornings are flooded with sunshine.
In Basque, Arnaga stands for "place from where water springs". To the right of the slope lies the ram which continually pumps crystal clear water from the neighbouring Castellanos river to quench the thirst of the whole property at null cost. It was from this riverbed that Inés' father took the stones to build the house in 1940. As we leave this magic haven, warm memories of delicious treats and true hospitality linger on.
On the road from Salta to Cafayate, after passing El Carril, lies the detour that leads to Los Los. The house made of stone and adobe stands atop a hill with vast soothing green views of the fertile Lerma Valley blending in the misty horizon. The Chicoana river runs along the foothill, lined with shady trees, a spectacular setting. An airy veranda surrounds the house and calls for lounging at uttermost ease in the charming company of its owners: Guiyo and Sara Josefina Patrón Costas.
An outstanding program at Los Los is a good horse ride with Guiyo, either 3-4 hours uphill to the ruins of an Indian foundry, or 5 days to Molinos, stopping for hearty barbecues in the heights and sleeping in the gaucho outposts. The cuisine at Los Los is delicious and typical of the region. The house breathes country atmosphere. Wonderful gaucho knives hang over the mantle-piece, glasscabinets display arrowheads, stone beads of Indian spindles and diverse Indian artifacts, all treasures unearthed from the finca.
A good way to experience the history and tradition of pure Salteño lineage is staying at El Bordo de las Lanzas. Its owners, Darío Arias and Graziela Iturrieta, have truly preserved their colonial heritage. Religious altarpieces from Cuzco, ancient woodcarvings, centenary paintings from Alto Perú and furniture from the 17th and 18th century are displayed in full splendour. The immaculate silverware shines in the diningroom, a collection of topos, the silver pins that were used to fasten the mantles, cover one wall. An impressive library, historical documents, archaeological findings found in the ranch, the framed coin of Fernando V which was the currency of the property
at the time, armadillo shells, puma and ocelot hides and trophies are exhibited with the dedication of a museum. The finca dates back to 1609 and the elegant manor belonged to the mother of General Güemes. Nowadays it covers 2,500 fruitful hectares that produce all types of vegetables, tobacco, sugar, cotton, wheat, corn, sorghum... even the beef is slaughtered at the estancia.
Courtesy and tradition are rules of thumb in this house: formal attire at dinner-time and a prayer to bless the meals. Airy verandas, exquisitely appointed bedrooms and the colonial patio open to the endless ountryside.
Gourmet cuisine features delicious fried empanadas sprinkled with sugar and carbonada, a perfect blend of American and Iberian flavours.
The farm is best visited either riding on the dainty Peruvian Paso horses raised on the farm, or on board a 4x4 driven by Agustín, one of the ten children of the Arias- Iturrieta family, traversing plantations to the lagoon teeming with yacarés, the American alligator. Teodoro, "el Gringo" Cornejo and his wife Josefina Patron own San Antonio, a pretty finca located 40 km from Salta city. The house was built by the Jesuits in 1659 and in the hazardous times of Felipe Varela it served as hospital for the soldiers. Josefina's delicious fruit preserves are welt known around the country. Livestock is raised and tobacco grown on the farm's 360 hectares. Partaking in the rural chores and horseriding are two activities that appeal to most visitors. An attractive swimming-pool gleams in the green gardens and a lagoon used as reservoir makes the ideal scenery for bird-watching.
The Calchaquí passion
Alberto and Nuni Durand received us at El Molino de Cachi with such warmth under a myriad stars, that our fatigue instantly melted upon the encounter. Here is where they live, happy and healthy since 1995 and master the art of hosting to perfection. The place houses a 17th century grain mill which has been turned with absolute charm into a comfortable hostel. Still nowadays, the stone mill is powered by water coming down from the Andes. Indigenous delights include Calchaquí lamb, fruit crullers, empanadas with green beans and tomato, white corn ground in the mill, squash and goat cheese. Cachi means "salt" in the Indian Quechua language. It is hard to leave a place as magic as this one.
The road continues south along the Calchaquí river to Molinos, a breath-taking scenery. Molinos is a tiny village embedded in the most stunning landscape,
at 2,020 metres of altitude. The church of San Pedro Nolasco stands out with its three adobe altars and the image of the Virgin. Next to it, the Hostal Provincial de Molinos, also dating from the 18th century, is a jewel of local architecture, the house of the last Spanish
governor of Salta, Nicolás Severo Isasmendi. A large aguaribay tree grows in the inner courtyard. Marcelo Comejo Isamendi runs the inn. The rooms shine with neatness, devoid of luxury. The beds are handsomely
dressed with blankets hand-woven on looms. Marcelín is a real character, temperamental, charming, and the best night-cap companion. He organises
wonderful horseback expeditions, oversees the cuisine and is a true lover of this magic village which gathers less than 500 souls.