Latin loving - detail is everything

BEN STUBBS
Last updated 11:29 28/05/2012
Buenos Aires
Mario Brindicci/ Reuters
Buenos Aires is the home of tango.

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Ben Stubbs gives 20 reasons to visit Buenos Aires, the birthplace of the tango, and a place where attention to detail is everything.

Milonga

Buenos Aires is synonymous with tango - and if you want to see more than just the tourist traps in La Boca, head for El Nino Bien (The Good Boy), where locals strut across the wooden dance floor in a fury. Everything has meaning here - be careful checking out that woman across the hall as it is a milonga invitation to dance with her on centre stage.

Centro Cultural Borges

Argentina's most notable writer, Jorge Luis Borges, once said that his idea of paradise would be inside a library and the cultural centre built in his honour is close to it.

Filled with Borges' finest works, it also has regular art exhibitions, creative workshops, Argentinian art and literature appreciation evenings, and dance performances showcasing the finest from the local community.

River Plate

Football is life in Argentina and you have to experience it once.

While all the other tourists are watching Boca Juniors on the other side of the city, head for the Estadio Monumental in Nunez.

Argentina won the World Cup here in 1978 and this is the national stadium.

It's also the home of Boca's greatest rival, River Plate. The national stadium is a great place to watch the drama of Argentinian football. cariverplate.com

La Bomba de Tiempo

This percussion extravaganza is one of the most enjoyable nights out you can have in Buenos Aires.

Held at the Centro Cultural Konex in the rustic surrounds of an old oil factory, it takes place every Monday evening from 8pm with a mix of locals and tourists there.

The first hour is devoted to the 17 local drummers of the ensemble and the second is an improvisation with a guest artist (can be a singer, guitarist or a DJ). It's great in the warmer months.

Asado

While people automatically associate Argentina with great steak (and so they should), it isn't the carne of choice for the portenos (locals). Asado, the short rib, is what leaves the locals salivating every Sunday and the men arguing over how to barbecue it properly.

Those in the know will tell you that the only way to do it is seasoned with salt and slow cooked for three hours on the grill. The best place to eat it is the traditional restaurant 1880 in Barracas on Calle Defensa.

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Manzana de las Luces

Hidden in the bowels of the inner- city suburb of Monserrat is this bizarre collection of tunnels and chambers known as the "Manzana de las Luces" or "square of enlightenment", which dates back to the 17th century and the era of the Jesuits.

Many of the questions as to how and why these tunnels, thought to be a stealthy way to connect the key areas of the city, were built six metres under Buenos Aires are still a mystery, though the daily Spanish tour (or English on request) can help answer a few.

Feria de Mataderos

Take a step back in time with the Feria de Mataderos on the western edges of the city.

Watch traditional folkloric dances, gaucho contests on horseback and browse the local markets, where you can eat slabs of local cheese and drink home-made wine or mate, and buy an authentic pair of leather chaps or even a horseshoe ashtray if you're so inclined.

Tigre

The weekend destination of choice for people looking to get away from the chaos of downtown Buenos Aires, Tigre is 28 kilometres north of the city (though still part of greater Buenos Aires), on the Parana Delta.

It is full of antique paddle boats, boutiques, restaurants on the water and open spaces to relax on the grass and read a book.

Take the Tren de la Costa and make a day of it.

La Farmacia

If traditional dining is what you want, La Farmacia is a gem that is popular with portenos and a few canny tourists.

It is built in an old pharmacy in the suburb of Flores and this intimate restaurant serves the best picadas in the city (plates of locally made salami and cheese, olives, artichokes and home-made prosciutto) along with pastel de papas and a great selection of malbec, the red wine that defines Argentina.

Palermo

Home to markets, outdoor eateries, parks and cobbled lanes full of life, Palermo is a Buenos Aires must.

It is packed on weekends as the markets in Plaza Serrano and Plaza Armenia open their stalls, so visiting during the week can be a great option.

Many restaurants have daily lunch specials on their open-air terraces - try El Manto on Costa Rica.

San Telmo

The cobbled streets of the suburb of San Telmo on a Sunday afternoon are hard to beat. Wander through the market on Calle Defensa and down to the Parque Lezama, which has some of the oldest cafes in the city on its edges (Hipopotamo is a fantastic place from which to watch the city go by).

From here it is an easy walk down to Puerto Madero, the new development in the city, with restaurants, a casino and walkways along the canals.

Recoleta

The affluent area of Recoleta is the cultural hub of the city. There are numerous galleries and museums, though the unusual art is what draws many people.

Bypass the groups heading for Evita's final resting place in the Cementerio de Recoleta (the cemetery) and get lost among the enormous temples, crypts and tombs.

Explore the intricate sculptures around the parks and plazas of Recoleta, including The Last Centaur by Bourdelle, in Plaza Justo Jose de Urquiza.

Algodon Mansion

Buenos Aires is a city where attention to detail counts. You'll notice it while watching the beautiful men and women strutting through Recoleta and along the streets of neo-classical architecture in the downtown area.

The hidden Algodon Mansion in Recoleta is a great example of this attention to detail.

A simple door to the outside world leads into a restored mansion with 10 luxury suites, 24-hour butlers and a menu that goes beyond all expectations.

Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes

The fascinating museum of fine art in Recoleta (on Avenida Libertador, among the jacaranda trees) holds an enormous collection of Argentinian and Latin American artwork referencing pre-Colombian works through to the River Plate's avant- gardes, and also an extensive display of international artists, including Kandinsky, Pollock and Gauguin. The MNBA is a great place to spend an afternoon before dining out in Recoleta.

Choripan

This is the archetypal street food of Buenos Aires. A chorizo sausage inside a freshly made bread roll sounds simple enough but wait until you try one (or two or three).

The best place to sample a choripan is from the vans and simple eateries on the pavement in the Costanera Sur past Puerto Madero. Join the couples wandering along the green, open spaces of the lovely La Reserva Ecologica when you're finished.

Teatro Colon

The most beautiful building in Buenos Aires was covered in scaffolding for years as it underwent a massive renovation.

Now is the time to visit and see an opera, ballet or performance. Built in 1908, it has more than 3km of underground rooms and tunnels, and a classical French and Italian horseshoe design in the main hall.

The Buenos Aires theatre hosts some of the most renowned opera singers and performers in the world, including the New York Symphony Orchestra and, in the past, Pavarotti, Carreras and Domingo.

Las Violetas

While Argentina is known for its wonderful food, it has the opposite reputation for coffee.

Many places serve a beverage resembling dirty dishwater and call it "cafe", so if you need a caffeine fix and you want something of a higher quality, head to Las Violetas.

This historic coffee house on Rivadavia, with Italian marble and French stained glass, dates back to 1884. It also does the best Devonshire tea interpretation in Argentina.

Gibraltar

Buenos Aires is full of notable pubs, though this is my favourite. Marked by a solitary lantern outside on Calle Peru in San Telmo, inside it is full of wood- panelled nooks, Argentinian boutique beer on tap from El Bolson and a sitting room and cigar lounge upstairs.

During the day it is suited to reading the newspaper and having a quiet pint and at night it's a standing room-only sort of pub. A perfect place to try the herbal liquor fernet, the local drink of choice.

Plaza de Mayo

The most famous plaza in Argentina, it was the site of the nation's independence in 1810.

It sits in the centre of Monserrat looking out to the Casa Rosada, the Buenos Aires cathedral and the beautiful cabildo (council) building.

This is where Evita Peron made her plea to the Argentinian people in 1951 and Diego Maradona presented the 1986 World Cup soccer trophy to the portenos.

It is a great place to sit in the sun and observe Argentina's history. Often filled with the Madres de Mayo and Malvinas War veterans.

Museo de la ESMA

This chilling museum in Nunez recognises the "light and shade" of the democratic process in Latin America, with particular reference to the "dirty war" from the military dictatorship in the 1970s and 80s, in which 30,000 citizens disappeared.

Photo exhibitions, films and an interactive city map of former detention centres tell the story of the Guerra Sucia. It is a must-see venue.

- Sunday Star Times

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