Last week, my husband and I needed an escape. Quite simply, Chile is not our home and therefore like a good friend or relative that you have been spending far too much time with lately, sometimes you need to a bit of distance to recover.
Not ready to go back into the glorious madness that is Buenos Aires, and after learning that Peru – despite being close by – would require multiple flights, multiple days to acclimatize, tour guides and possibly elevation sickness, we opted for something simpler. We decided we wanted a few things: green trees, coffee (for me) and meat (for my husband), and some pretty things to look at. So, we hopped on a plane to Santiago, and after another quick 40 minute jaunt by air across the Andes mountains, we found ourselves amongst the glorious spring green landscape of Córdoba, Argentina – and in a city that met all of our needs for an escape.
Córdoba is quite literally in the middle of Argentina – and the middle of South America, for that matter. Nestled next to the foothills of the Sierra Chicas mountains, Córdoba is also a really, really old city. It was founded in 1573 and its first map dates back to 1577, and a lot of the architecture we saw in Córdoba had actually once appeared on that map. The Universidad nacional de Cordoba is the earliest university in Argentina, founded in 1613 by Jesuits, and I would also hazard to guess, probably one of the first universities in any of the Americas.
The remnants of this early settlement can still be seen in the downtown Jesuit block (Manzana Jesuítica), designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. These Spanish colonial buildings are extremely well preserved and maintained and still are very functioning parts of the city landscape. They still house some university buildings, a secondary school, an order of nuns, and more. The residents of Córdoba use the cathedrals, stopping in to pray and to worship. It is truly a treasure when parts of a city that are so old are still so functional and integral to the everyday life of its residents.
Over the years, Córdoba has been an important center of the agricultural industry in Argentina (it is, after all, surrounded by tons of beautiful, rich soil), the meat industry, and later in the 20th century, it became a hub for the auto industry. Naturally, we sought out steak and were not disappointed. A restaurant called Alcorta served us a perfectly cooked steak with delicious potatoes con crema and roasted vegetables as a side. We enjoyed this all with a bottle of Argentina’s trademark red wine, Malbec, of course… and went back again another night for seconds.
We spent the better part of the four days we were there just walking. The city has a very pedestrian friendly center, with endless shops, plazas and malls. This expansive pedestrian area, with its historic Spanish colonial and trademark “French meets Italian meets Spanish colonial meets eclectic” Argentinean architecture, is also very functional – every day we saw tons of locals shopping and eating gelato in this area. The pedestrian area was almost completely shaded thanks to archways draped with soft green plants, and the sidewalks with marble accents gave it a lovely feel. This area though old and worn around its edges, is still charming, reasonably well maintained and very functional with tons of shops and very cute, affordable made-in-Argentina fashion boutiques and lovely, lovely leather shoes (that were actually too nice for me to buy – I have no where to wear them!). It was a pleasure to walk around there and people watch (I loved watching the women walking around in their impractical and highly fashionable footwear).
When we first arrived in Córdoba, it was a Sunday night so after checking into our hotel (with its well-maintained historical Spanish Colonial features and art gallery featuring local artists) we went to the city’s famous arts fair. There were endless booths selling very high quality art, glassware, jewelry, pottery and other decorations for the home. I loved the fused glass lamps and the handmade lanterns, although unfortunately those would have been impossible for me to get back in one piece in my luggage. I also loved all of the flowers, plants and handmade flower pots being sold (and bought by the locals), although again those would have been impractical to bring home. Instead, my husband bought me a beautiful pair of handmade glass earrings and I picked up a small mug and salt and pepper shakers made by a talented young potter. The eclectic atmosphere was really fun.
The rest of the days we walked, ate, had a coffee break in the afternoons, ate some more, walked some more… we loved ducking into all of the baroque cathedrals and exploring the endless little shopping malls tucked away in the downtown. I am saving some of my pictures of cathedrals for a future post. We also visited the town of Alta Gracia, just outside of Córdoba, and soaked in the lush green springtime countryside… which I am looking forward to sharing with you in next week’s post!
Overall, it is such a treat to find a city like Córdoba, a functional, “real” city – hardly a tourist in sight – and a place that truly makes use of and embraces its historical features in its day to day life. Needless to say, it was a very well appreciated escape from our everyday life.