Argentina can be divided into two parts: Buenos Aires and everywhere else. The capital has long reigned as one of South America's most tempting destinations and remains as dynamic as ever, but an enormous hinterland rolls out beyond city limits—and it is equally worthy of a journey. This is, after all, the eighth-largest country in the world. That's more than a million square miles of spectacular terrain—ranging from cactus forests and subtropical jungles to crystalline lakes and colossal glaciers—and the potential for unparalleled outdoor adventures. Traditional estancias, or rural estates, abound in the countryside, but many of these country refuges are uncomfortably outdated. Here, instead, a handful of intimate escapes: a 17th-century granary turned hideaway, a fishing lodge for sybarites, a resurrected Patagonian retreat, and three modern estancias with every 21st-century amenity. Even if hiking boots and wet suits are not your idea of relaxation, never fear: those who are after a luxurious leave of absence will feel right at home.
Pirá Lodge, Corrientes Province
THE VIBE Back to Nature MAIN ATTRACTION Fishing
Many eyebrows arched when I said I was off to Corrientes, the northeastern province famous for the Iberá Marshlands, a freshwater swamp more than twice the size of the Florida Everglades that crawls with creatures like black caimans (South American crocodiles), bone-crushing anacondas, capybaras (the world's largest rodents), and the dorado, a golden beast of a fish so unpredictable that the monster trout in Patagonia seem docile by comparison. Four years ago, Nervous Waters, outfitters specializing in ultra-luxe boutique fishing lairs, staked out a 2,470-acre property about 11/2 hours from the city of Mercedes. They hired Pablo Sánchez Eliá and Laura Orcoyen, a husband-and-wife design team renowned for chic shops and restaurants in Argentina and Uruguay, to create a luxuriously understated aesthetic for the new Pirá Lodge. The result: sienna-hued stones; raw acaciawood canopy supports; plush, pillowed sofa swings; and heavy wooden furnishings from the nearby province Santiago del Estero. But those cloudlike white-on-white beds and pedestal sinks in gloriously oversized bathrooms aren't the end of the story. Neither are the ambitious chef, the inviting self-service bar, the come-hither 70-foot pool, or all those hammocks and poetry books. Pirá Lodge is, first and foremost, a fishing destination, and guests have five multilingual Argentine guides (waders never looked so sexy) and five speedy American skiffs (the only such boats in the country) at their service for no fewer than eight hours of angling a day. (That means an alfresco breakfast at 7 a.m. sharp; fortunately, naps are worked into the schedule.) At least, this is the stress-melting routine November through April. The rest of the year, when the dorado disappears, Pirá is all about bird-watching (there are more than 350 species here), leisurely horseback rides, and curling up poolside with the likes of Pablo Neruda and Jorge Luis Borges.
Paraje Tacuaral, Mercedes, Corrientes; 54-3773/420-399; www.nervouswaters.com; doubles from US $ 5,250 for 7 nights and 6 days of fishing, all-inclusive.
Hostería Isla Victoria, Nahuel Province
THE VIBE Island Getaway MAIN ATTRACTION Mountain Biking
Imagine an all but uninhabited island, with intensely dark forests, rocky hills, hidden lagoons, and pebbly beaches. Make it over 13 miles long and about a mile wide (almost the size of Manhattan) and put it on a giant glacial lake. This is Isla Victoria; in the middle of Lake Nahuel Huapí, the island has been a cherished chunk of Nahuel Huapí National Park, in northern Patagonia, since 1934. That means you'll find none of the lawless sprawl of bungalows, cabins, and souvenir shops that threaten to stifle the charm of Bariloche, Argentina's equivalent of an alpine village. An hour's drive from Bariloche's airport, then another 40 minutes by boat, Isla Victoria's virginal timberland is filled with swaying, squeaking 150-foot evergreens and one solitary hotel, Hostería Isla Victoria, a modern reinvention of what was, from the early 194o's until a devastating fire in 1982, the ultimate romantic getaway for Buenos Aires's well-to-do. After five years as a dismal mound of ashes, then 15 years of reconstruction, the new property opened in 2002, on the same sheer-cliff perch, with the same symmetrical cypress-and-stone façade. This time, though, there are 22 spacious rooms, done up in jewel tones to complement the lake and treetop views and designed with a minimalist sensibility: padded headboards, contemporary paintings by local artist Karina Craff, Mapuche rugs woven in traditional styles, and oversized windows. There is also a decadent spa, a screening room, an ample wine cellar (stocked with a number of Argentine exclusives such as a Malbec from Felipe Rutini, Enzo Bianchi's Cabernet, and Angélica Zapata, a Cabernet-Malbec blend), and a library that serves as a perfect refuge-inside-the-refuge, with leather club chairs and game tables. Rest, if you must, but island expeditions are irresistible, whether taken in a state-of-the-art kayak, by mountain bike, on horseback, or on foot. Don't worry about inclement weather: Windbreakers, wet suits, and even black wool Patagonian ponchos and wide-brimmed sombreros are yours for the borrowing. And don't pack the trail mix. One of five gracious guides will whip up mid-excursion tea and pastries, complete with tablecloths and crisp linen napkins.
Isla Victoria, Nahuel Huapí National Park, Nahuel; 54-11/4394-9605; www.islavictoria.com; minimum two-night stay $1,140, double, all-inclusive.