EXPLORING GARZÓN: URUGUAY’S ARTISTIC RETREAT AND NEXT CREATIVE HOTSPOT
In the early naughties world-renowned Argentinian chef Francis Mallmann (featured in Netflix’s Chef’s Table) headed inland from Uruguay’s beachside enclave José Ignácio, to the sleepy village of Garzón. In this old staging station founded in the late nineteenth century, he installed his rustic-chic Garzón restaurant and hotel in what used to be the local General Store. It has since lured select foodies and high-profile globe-trotters away from the seaside and still remains one of the main attractions in this quaint village. Pueblo Garzón has a couple hundred registered residents and looks like it could be the setting of a Western directed by Tom Ford, with its white-washed church, central tree clad square and sandy roads flanked by unassuming coloured brick houses respectfully refurbished into lovely holiday homes and a small assortment of businesses like Alium boutique.
Well-heeled travellers who choose hotels walking distance from the JI beach may opt for the classic Posada del Faro, or one of the Vik retreats, the latter sumptuous worlds unto themselves, and can take day trips (it’s a thirty-minute drive) to Pueblo Garzón, or the recently inaugurated (megalomaniac) Bodega Garzón winery, the Piero Atchugarry Sculpture Park and the beautiful private studio of Belgian artist, Eva Claessens, whose work is a unique blend of self-contemplative fantasy in mixed media paintings and sometimes sculpture (by appointment only: email@example.com). And, for those who are happy to move off the beaten track and go against the grain, Pueblo Garzón is an idyllic spot from where to do this and a day on the beach is still possible. What makes Pueblo Garzón special, beyond how cute it is, is the fantastic assortment of people that have gravitated there, care for it and call it their (part-time) home.
Many of Garzón’s “guardians” are well-travelled creatives – gallery owners, agents, artists, designers, editors and of course, chefs – who love it because there’s the privacy of their homes and the comradery of kindred spirits. Steven Chew, an Englishman who over a decade ago set-up a business renting private beach houses and islands in Brazil, has since expanded into Uruguay, where he is a great port of call for insider tips and introductions while you’re a guest at one of the houses in his portfolio, which holds gems dotted all over – from José Ignácio beach to the countryside and the main square of Garzón.
Since Mallmann’s hotel accommodates only a few (people and budgets), one of the most enjoyable ways to experience this unique spot is by staying in a private property and making new friends. For a large party who likes modernist architecture, there’s a villa designed by Diego Montero that boasts an incredible swimming pool, lavender garden and well-designed interiors. Alternatively, Finca Cosima, owned by a celebrated Uruguayan chef, is a gorgeous family home with a pool and herb garden overlooking acres of beautiful landscape, kitted out in hand-picked antiques sourced locally with love and assembled majestically in cosy rooms.
Time in a private home, taking in the local culture exploring the region, meeting interesting people from around the world, drinking good regional wine, locally sourced produce cooked on a traditional parrilla, or delicious milanesas at the local Garzón eatery, will make you feel like you belong and want to stay forever.