The PSA team have all lived in Argentina at one point or another and we’ve travelled far and wide, learning to herd cattle at family-run ranches in Patagonia, spending nights out in the Andes in remote ‘puestos’ (simple gaucho cabins), dove-shooting from luxury lodges in Cordoba and competing (unsuccessfully) with local sporting heroes on private polo farms in the Pampas.
El Boqueron in Mar del Plata is a private estancia close to our hearts, owned and run by one of Argentina’s top riding guides, Jakob Von Plessen. When he’s not guiding horseback safaris across the Patagonian Andes, Jakob can be found entertaining guests on the polo field at his family home, which doubles as a lodge available to PSA clients. Just a 45-minute flight from Buenos Aires to Mar del Plata airport, followed by a half-hour drive to the estancia, El Boqueron is set amidst hundreds of acres of private parkland (trees that were shipped over as saplings from England in the early 1900’s). The estancia provides an easy-access country escape from the Argentine capital and is one of our favourite final stops on an adventure-filled journey around the country.
At the turn of the century, the seaside town of Mar del Plata had a reputation as the ‘Biarritz of Argentina’, when the Buenos Aires elite treated it as their weekend playground, flocking to its glamorous casinos and restaurants. Now rather tired, few visitors stay at, or even bother looking around the town itself, but it still serves as the gateway to gorgeous surrounding countryside. Many estancias here have traded in cattle ranching for the more lucrative harvesting of soybeans, turning the fields into a swathe of sunshine-yellow stalks from March-June, and the region’s rolling sierras offer ideal terrain for long, satisfying gallops.
El Boqueron was formerly owned by one of Argentina’s wealthiest families, the Anchonera’s, who commissioned the construction of a golf course within the estancia. Whilst the majority of the property has been disbanded over the years, the original, colonial-style club house still remains and has been lovingly restored into a guest house by Jakob’s mother, interior designer, Christl Von Plessen.
Sleeping 14 guests, the house is a network of airy rooms connected through open doorways, allowing you to flit from room to room, never short of a comfy spot to lounge with a book. Bedrooms are simple with large beds, cotton sheets, plump pillows and blankets that you can sink into for long Argentine siestas.
It is in the details of the main social areas that such a homely atmosphere has been created. White-washed walls and wooden-beamed ceilings give the house its rustic shell, whilst bespoke furniture and luxurious soft-furnishings add a stylish, comfortable finish. The open-plan dining room, centred around a hand-carved eucalyptus table, leads through to a sitting room with leather armchairs, squashy ottomans and circular sheepskin poofs. Small tables and reading lamps are subtly positioned by every chair, coffee tables are stacked with books on Argentine art and culture to leaf through, and splashes of colour give the home its warmth, from the hand-embroidered cushions, to the brightly-painted animal ornaments and the fairly kooky art collection (you can’t miss the giant pink elephant sculpture in the garden…!).
The house is filled with South American textiles that Christl loves to collect; there’s a stack of handwoven Andean ponchos positioned next to the fire, Alpaca throws slung over the armchairs and rugs with traditional Mapuche patterns draped across the wooden floor-boards. The small library houses an inherited collection of books from all over the world, as well as a collection of films for cosy movie-nights supplemented with feasts of piping-hot empanadas and plenty of Malbec. Guests are often found curled up in here enjoying a well-earned snooze after a day racing around the polo field. Almost every room in the house has a discreetly positioned drinks cabinet to ensure guests are never far from their favourite tipple – these are the details that make guests feel instantly at home.
Dining at El Boqueron is a spoiling affair. Every meal is served in a different location, inside or out, to enjoy peaceful corners of the garden or the far reaches of the estancia. In the morning, rise late (in typical Argentine fashion), saunter into the kitchen and help yourself to fresh fruit, homemade granola and yoghurt, eggs cooked to your preference, juices and coffee. Breakfast is served on individual trays so that you can eat wherever you please; out on the veranda, by the pool, or even back in bed!
With over a hundred horses roaming the farm, riding is a big part of the Boqueron experience. Jakob is an expert horseman, renowned for his passion for breeding horses and the gaucho lifestyle he leads.
Along with exploring the estancia on horseback, you can try your hand at fun farm polo (nothing showy; anyone can have a go) – the atmosphere is relaxed, usually with half the group chatting on the side-lines whilst the rest mess around with a stick and ball. Jakob invites neighbours to play on weekends, teaching guests about their national passion, or if you’re more experienced then a competitive match can be organised amongst local friends (don’t forget they’ll have been riding since they could walk!). This is when the skill of the sport can really be appreciated. For polo players and spectators alike, the adrenaline starts pumping as muscular legs flash across the pitch at galloping speed, with riders leaning precariously out of their saddles, mallets swinging through the air with power and precision. The pace is fast; the excitement is palpable.
After an energetic game of chukkas, lunch might be an array of tasty salads and meats to pick at by the pool. Or if you’re out on a long ride, you’ll retreat from the midday sun to the shade of an oak tree, tying up your steed to graze, before tucking into a traditional Argentine asado (BBQ), where one of the gauchos will have spent the morning slow-roasting a whole sheep over an open fire, plonking a few bottles of wine on a picnic table in preparation for your thirsty arrival.
Lazy afternoons spent sunbathing by the pool are a popular choice, as are long walks (the terrain is fairly flat) and you’ll always find a few of the dogs are keen to join on the adventure.
Rhodesian ridgebacks, Ongu and Tembo, will be your loyal shadows and the most enthusiastic walking companions when they’re not too busy sprawling on a sheepskin rug by the fire… There’s a valley nearby where you’ll find a little chapel carved into the rocks, only accessible by foot, and be sure to wander past the tack room on your way out. It is authentic and stylish in equal measure and a far cry from the polished, silver-plated tack rooms that you find on the more manicured and touristy Argentine estancias. Wooden stools encircle a stone fireplace where Jakob’s team gather before work to drink yerba mate. Mallets hang from the ceiling like treasured art and the walls are row upon row of saddles; a cornucopia of leather and sheep-skin. In one corner hang a collection of well-worn cowboy hats and boinas (gaucho berets), and most curiously, a small wooden bed draped in sheep-skin is set up against the wall – no doubt it’s as comfortable a siesta spot as anywhere else in the house!
Expect tea and freshly-baked cakes in the afternoon, served from an old-fashioned trolley on the lodge veranda. Evening sundowners are followed by casual suppers perched on stools around the kitchen island, or lantern-lit dinners amongst the sweet-smelling agapanthus in the courtyard. By the pool there’s a traditional ‘quincho’ (outdoor kitchen), which is another favoured dining spot. The quincho houses a bar and parilla (grill), and tends to be where the fiesta gets going after a typical Argentine feast.
We’d recommend combining a 3-night stay at El Boqueron with a week-long riding safari across the Patagonian Andes beforehand, allowing plenty of time to settle into the glorious routine of sleep, eat, ride, repeat.
And even if you don’t ride? You’ll still be completely mesmerised by the thematic ambience of the property – it’s hard not to love the beautiful space and warm welcome. Having catered for some of the world’s finest horsemen as well as young families looking for a homely escape and a first ever riding holiday, El Boqueron is a wonderful place for anyone keen to experience ‘el campo Argentino’.
– BELLA POLLEN STAYED AT EL BOQUERON AS A GUEST OF PLAN SOUTH AMERICA – TAKE A LOOK AT HER FABULOUS WRITE UP IN THE FINANCIAL TIMES: POLO ON THE PAMPAS