Straddling a peninsula flanked by the Atlantic Ocean and the Rio de la Plata, “Punta,” as South Americans call it, has reigned for decades as the continent’s premiere jet-set mecca. A former fishing village now full of high-rise hotels and condominiums, it has lost some of its exclusive air. Yet it still has a whiff of St-Tropez about it with its long stretches of white sandy beaches, elegant designer boutiques, and chic nightclubs. To escape and towering condos, try neighbouring Punta Ballena and Bara de Maldonado (simple known as La Barra) or a day trip to Isla Gorriti or Isla de Lobos to glimpse sea lions instead of beautiful people.
Where to eat is the day’s pressing decision. Of the plethora of possibilities, La Bourgogne, overseen by Jean-Paul Bondoux, is a favourite. This casual Provencal outpost, with an outdoor garden patio, is the sister to the more formal version in Buenos Aires’s grand Alvear Palace Hotel. Simple, French-inspired cuisine emphasizes local ingredients – many from the chef’s own farm – and a wildly popular bakery features French bread and pastries.
One of the most surreal hotels in South America is Casa Pueblo in Punta Ballena, a cliff-top Gaudiesque structure built over a period of 36 years by the Uruguayan sculptor and painter Carlos Paez Vilaro. Rooms are small and simple but all have magnificent views of the sunset over the Rio de la Plata and the Atlantic waters famous for migrating whales (ballenas in Spanish) that give this area its name. For a glamorous beach holiday, the sophisticate Mantra Resort is the grande dame of Punta. Situated right on the coast, in the relatively less congested La Barra area, it features a spa, a lively pool scene, a casino, and its own cinema.
Join local families and knowing Argentines who show up at L’Auberge for late-afternoon tea and the legendary Belgian waffles drizzled with warm dulce de leche. Think about unpacking you bag here: The redbrick, Tudor-style mansion in a secluded residential neighbourhood enchants with 36 cozy rooms, a popular barbecue lunch pavilion, and a pool surrounded by immaculate grounds. All make you feel a world away from Punta’s beach scene.
WHERE: 60 miles/96 km east of Montevideo.
BEST TIME: Nov – Apr for summer weather; mid-Dec – Jan for peak season.