Photo: Argentina wine lodge

Mendoza’s Cavas Wine Lodge sits on a 35-acre vineyard at the foothills of the Andes.

Photograph courtesy Cavas Wine Lodge

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The most authentic and unique hotels in Argentina and Uruguay, chosen by National Geographic Traveler editors for the 2011 Stay List

Argentina

1. 1555 Malabia House, Buenos Aires

One of the city's first boutique hotels repurposes a 19th-century convent in the heart of Palermo Viejo, the neighborhood immortalized by novelist and former resident Jorge Luis Borges. Large windows usher in light. Organic breakfast eggs come from on-premises chickens. Explore the local zoo, botanic gardens, and shops, then unwind in the hotel gardens. 15 rooms; from $126, incl. breakfast.

2. Aldebarán Hotel & Spa, Bariloche

This San Pedro Peninsula enclave sits practically enveloped by trees, on a steep hill overlooking Lake Nahuel Huapi. It's comfy cozy, with a smidgen of elegance. Full boat of activity options and a spa (a post-massage amble to the Andes-edged lake is sure to be remembered). Restaurant seats just 20 and makes a big taste splash with its empanadas (baked in a clay oven) and local wild boar, trout, and lamb. Breakfast jam is all about big-taste local fruit. Pool. Plans include an addition of six guest rooms by 2013. 10 rooms; from $210, incl. breakfast.

3. Candelaria del Monte, San Miguel del Monte

Owned and lovingly run by an artist couple (he sculpts metal and she paints). An authentic nature ethic prevails; the majestic hundred-year-old trees seem to symbolize it. The house is awash in elegant country style, lived in and loved, with plenty of antiques. Clearly the product of artists. Lovely food—lots of grilled meat—with eggs, vegetables, and honey from the premises. But perhaps the true stars here are the horses, native, sure-footed, and gentle. Atop them is the way to experience this wedge of Argentina, 70 miles from Buenos Aires. Swimming pool. 6 rooms; from $440, incl. meals and most activities.

4. El Casco Art Hotel, Bariloche

Art was to be the lifeblood when this 1970s lakeside property was revamped in 2006. Mission accomplished. Some 475 paintings and sculptures by Argentine artists are now temporary residents—in common areas, guest rooms, and out in the gardens. Everything is for sale. Vying for visual attention is Lake Nahuel Huapi—the view from most of the guest rooms. High-tech TVs and Frette sheets. Wi-Fi everywhere. Fishing, horseback riding, tennis, mountain climbing—for starters. Pool and spa. Restaurant (the lake's trout are on the menu) and wine bar that pours some top Argentine vintages. Truly artful cocktail menu. 33 rooms; from $280.

5. Cavas Wine Lodge, Mendoza

A reflection of the Spanish/Italian influence in the Mendoza area. Guests walk below canopied 50-year-old grapevines to get to their rooms, in earth-colored adobe. Wine reigns, from the 35 acres under cultivation to tasting/drinking (the rosé is a nice surprise). Nearby are some of the region's best wine producers. Views of the Andes for hikers and bicyclists. Solar energy (the area sees 320 days of sun a year). Meat eaters and vegetarians fare very well here. Several spa therapies rely on grape skins and seeds. Swimming pool. 14 rooms; from $560, incl. breakfast.

6. Correntoso Lake & River Hotel, Patagonia

Constructed of local stone and beech right from the surroundings. All rooms are on Lake Nahuel Huapi, with views of the Patagonian Andes. The river in the name is the Correntoso, heaven for those who love to fly fish. Other sporting options: sailing, trekking, biking, horseback riding, and, in winter, skiing and snowshoe trekking. Built in 1917, the property was expanded in 2002, adding more rooms plus a spa whose treatments and products take their cue from ancient native ways. Sophisticated fare, with local game, trout, salmon, produce, and wine. Pool. 47 rooms; from $220.

7. Don Enrique Lodge, Misiones

Forest-cozy and invitingly handsome cabins (made from fallen trees) deep in the jungle. Impressive environmental beliefs, rules, and practices. Closest major point of interest: Iguazú Falls, 180 miles away. But there's a bunch of worthwhile cascades closer by. Plenty of organized fun, with guided treks, inner-tubing down a rain forest stream, a visit to a traditional Guaraní village. The lodge's food, elegant and sophisticated, capitalizes on the produce grown on the premises as well as baked goods made right there. 3 rooms (2 more in the works); from $300, incl. meals and some activities.

8. Estancia Cristina, Santa Cruz Province, Patagonia

Surrounded by glaciers, snowy peaks, and grand lakes in Los Glaciares National Park in southern Patagonia. Truly tucked away: a three-hour boat ride from El Calafate. The Upsala glacier is right there. Guests can sail around icebergs, trek, ride a horse, fish, watch for birds, head off on a four-wheel-drive adventure. Hearty fare and fine wines from throughout Argentina. On some outdoor adventures, food is cooked in the field. 12 rooms; from $1,000, incl. hotel transfers, boat trip, activities, and meals.

9. Estancia Huechahue, Neuquen

A living, working farm (animals, fruits, nuts, veggies, herbs) and sporting estate (hunting) in northern Patagonia. The recycling of kitchen and other organic waste is managed by the on-premises pigs, who, in turn, help the gardens grow. Self-sufficient when it comes to energy, a gravity-fed hydro-turbine generator provides all the electricity used. Rain and snow melt supplement the water provided by natural springs. Top activities: fishing and horseback riding (with 80 horses and 15,000 acres, the calm and competent part-criollo animals enjoy a nearly wild existence). 8 rooms; from $780, incl. meals and activities.

10. Estancia Los Potreros, Córdoba

The oldest building on the 6,500-acre family-owned property dates to the 1630s; the principal guesthouses are a mere 300 or so years old (one of the guest rooms used to be a stable). Nestled in the Córdoba hills, the farm—with fine horses to ride—is all about the natural world. The landscapes in this provincial reserve shelter brim with wild flowers and critters, from hummingbirds to iguanas, scissor-tailed flycatchers to foxes. Much of what is served—beef, eggs, vegetables, fruit—comes from the estancia. Limited refrigeration (electricity is generated on premises) means that everything is fresh. Guests are considered part of the family—a family that calls responsible tourism "a true way of life." 6 rooms; from $640, incl. transfers, meals, activities, and local taxes.

11. Estancia Peuma Hue, Bariloche, Patagonia

A 500-acre property with 25 miles of hiking trails within Argentina's first and largest national park, Nahuel Huapi. The streams and waterfalls yield drinkable water said to have healing properties. Each guest room has a fireplace. The list of activities reads like a summer camp brochure for grownups: nature walks, meditation, tango classes, fly fishing, cooking classes, skiing, and more. Homemade food all the way. The first in their nine-point mission statement: "To provide a context for personal development in all those who work and visit and for the community." 10 rooms; from $280, incl breakfast.

12. Estancia Rincón Chico, Península Valdés

Sprawling, classic, Patagonia ranch with about ten miles of Atlantic Ocean frontage. Inhabitants along the water include southern elephant seals and southern right whales. The National Geographic Society has filmed here. Solar panels and windmills handle the energy needs. The fifth-generation owners regularly take guests down to meet the elephant seals, which don't seem to mind human visitors. Fare at the ranch is wholesome and local. 8 rooms; from $545, incl meals.

13. Estancia Villa María , Máximo Paz

Elegant country-house tradition a 45-minute drive from downtown Buenos Aires and 15 minutes from the international airport. The grounds—designed in 1917 by Benito Carrasco, a noted Argentine landscape artist—are a wonderland of trees and flowers. Built around an early-20th-century Tudor-style ranch house, Villa María has become a full-blown resort, with golf, tennis, horseback riding, spa—and, most important, polo. Decor, ambience, and food all first-class. The estancia serves as the core of a residential community started in 2007. 11 rooms; from $350, incl. all meals and activities.

14. Finca Adalgisa, Mendoza

A 1920s vineyard-surrounded family manor house converted in 2001 by third-generation Argentine/Italian Gabriela Furlotti. One of her goals at this winery hotel is to preserve local tradition in the face of urban sprawl (the city of Mendoza is a 20-minute drive away). Homey, welcoming, informal. Cooking classes. A great chance to see how a small winery (about 5,000 bottles per year) operates. Local schools pay visits to learn about the harvest and winemaking. 11 rooms; from $260, incl. breakfast.

15. Home Hotel, Buenos Aires

Awash in natural light and B.A. style, with the lobby's 1950s Scandinavian chairs and sofas picked up at a local flea market, Home opened its doors in 2005. Bar overlooks heated outdoor pool. Eco-sustainable mindset prevails, from custom-made pump dispensers in the bathrooms to seasonal local fare and Argentine wines in the dining room. The hip restaurant- and boutique-filled Palermo Hollywood neighborhood is the setting. 20 rooms; from $130, incl. breakfast, Wi-Fi, sauna.

16. Hotel Babel, Buenos Aires

Redone within local dictates of historic preservation, the hotel retains its 19th-century colonial facade while going contemporary sleek inside. A gem in one of the city's oldest neighborhoods, arty San Telmo, with its tango clubs, cobblestone streets, and Sunday street market. Staff helps visitors check out off-the-beaten-track sites and encourages the use of public transport for an authentic experience. 9 rooms; from $91.

17. Nibepo Aike, Patagonia

Overlooking the southern arm of Lago Argentino, this Los Glaciares National Park farm in the Andes is a place where cows and sheep roam and provide. Gauchos on horseback tend to things. Visitors can horseback ride and hike; also an option is farm work (for instance, sheep herding and shearing, rounding up cattle). Accommodations are in what was the home of a Croatian immigrant pioneer at the turn of the 20th century. It is rustic and also refined. Come breakfast: fresh orange juice, fresh-from-the-cow milk, just-baked bread and scones. Dramatic hikes along the glaciers (not at all difficult), with viewing platforms along the way. Gift shop spotlights items made locally: ponchos, sweaters, silver and leather handicrafts. True Patagonia an hour's drive from town (El Calafate). 10 rooms; from $360.

Uruguay

18. El Diablo Tranquilo, Punta del Diablo

The vibe at this combo inn and hostel is Fort Lauderdale circa 1970. Young and fun. That's where the similarity stops. The location, Punta del Diablo, is a rustic fishing village a short walk from Santa Teresa National Park. In addition to some great flora and fauna (sometimes you can see penguins), the park boasts some of Uruguay's best surf. And how's this for creative? El Diablo's "beer for bags" program trades cold beer for trash collected from the beach. Strong community player and motivator. Fresh seafood served in the beachfront restaurant. Dorm and private accommodations for up to 83 people; from $40.

19. Estancia Vik José Ignacio, Maldonado

Vik's ranch landscape (4,000 acres) is respected (cars park underground) and enhanced (herb and vegetable garden, pool, loads of open space). More than 20 area artists had a hand in creating the place, open since 2009. Stylized red tin roofs and white adobe walls—a step removed from the traditional estancia—hint at Vik's cool design sense. The collection of regional contemporary art is first class. Three windmills help power the place; in summer, geothermal energy cools things down. Twelve miles east of jet-set Punta del Este, Vik has its share of dazzle—largely in the form of polo players (the polo field here is one of the best in South America). 12 suites; from $500, incl. breakfast, Wi-Fi, sauna, taxes.

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