Undiscovered Uruguay
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Undiscovered Uruguay

Río de la Plata, Four Seasons Resort Carmelo, Carmelo, Uruguay
Courtesy of Four Seasons Carmelo, Uruguay
Río de la Plata, Four Seasons Resort Carmelo, Carmelo, Uruguay
Courtesy of Four Seasons Carmelo, Uruguay
Colonia, Uruguay is South America’s best-kept secret.

While sexy Punta del Este and its boho-chic neighbor, José Ignacio, have stolen the spotlight in the past few years, travelers to Uruguay should not overlook the country’s southwestern reaches. Just a one-hour ferry ride from Buenos Aires, the region—anchored by Colonia del Sacramento, a unesco World Heritage site—delivers the perfect blend of luxury and authenticity. This 17th-century Portuguese stronghold, with its cobblestoned alleyways, postcolonial ruins, and scenic farmland, has recently seen the opening of elegant micro-estancias and artisanal food shops, and even has a nascent arts scene.

Shoppers will fall for boutiques offering handmade ceramics, wool sweaters, and shawls, and gastronomes will love the European-style restaurants opened by entrepreneurial expats. Stay in one of the 20 private bungalows at the Four Seasons Resort Carmelo, Uruguay (doubles from $385), 50 miles north, with views of the eucalyptus-lined Río de la Plata and the distant glow of Buenos Aires. For those looking for earthier charms, there’s Bodega y Granja Narbona (lunch for two $90), with a working dairy farm, a brick-walled restaurant, and a beautifully restored 1909 cellar stocked with the country’s rustic Tannat wine.

Colonia Address Book

Getting There

From Buenos Aires, take the one-hour ferry, Buquebus (buquebus.com; $120 round-trip), to Colonia del Sacramento. From Montevideo, Uruguay’s capital, the best option is to rent a car for the 110-mile drive northwest.

Where to Stay

Casa los Jazmines The style at this new guesthouse may be rustic, but the amenities are sophisticated: 400-thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets, iPod docking stations, and an impressive selection of Uruguayan and Argentine wines. Doubles from $120.

Four Seasons Resort, Carmelo With spacious suites and bungalows surrounded by eucalyptus trees, this Asian-inspired hotel and spa has a true Zen feel. Guests lounge by the pool while sipping caipiroskas (vodka with lime wedges and sugar) and enjoying the views of the Rio de la Plata. Doubles from $385.

La Casa de los Limoneros At this seven-room lodge, house-made cakes and pastries are served on a leafy veranda furnished with wrought-iron tables. The pool overlooks a field of lemon trees. Doubles from $140.

Where to Eat

Bodega y Granja Narbona A brick-walled rural restaurant where the Parmesan cheese comes from the on-site dairy farm and the pasta is handmade. Right outside, a restored 1909 cellar is open for tastings; Narbona’s two-year-old winery just released a line of Tannats. Doubles from $180; lunch for two $90.

El Drugstore This funky restaurant—filled with brightly painted chairs and bold paintings—specializes in Spanish-style gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp) and other tapas. For fun, patrons can dine inside a black 1929 Ford A, one of two vintage cars parked outside. Lunch for two $50.

Lentas Maravillas A cozy riverside teahouse that serves house-made carrot cake, apple tarts, and brownies, plus Italian espresso and a variety of loose-leaf-tea infusions. Dessert for two $18.

Where to Shop

Almacén la Carlota This stylish general store is stocked with papier-mâché toys, zinc bowls, and works by local painters.

La Casa de Colonia At a boutique behind her home, owner Beatriz Butler showcases up-and-coming artists, including Ana Noya, distinguished in 2010 at the Salón Nacional de Artes Visuales, a prestigious art fair in Buenos Aires. Also on display: Butler’s own glass-and-stone jewelry.

Oveja Negra Designer Silvia Sarti uses traditional looming techniques to make jackets, skirts, sweaters, and shawls in soft merino wool.

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