TANDIL – READY TO SATISFY YOUR FRESH AIR AND FOODIE NEEDS

Sonja D'cruze

Sonja D'cruze

Always on the look out for a good city escape – I put my feelers out for something low-key, local and lush to get some fresh air for a few days. When the votes came in – all signs pointed to Tandil, a city nestled on the northern edge of the gently undulating Sierras. Argentina being such an immense country – you have to travel long distances to get any kind of hill action. Pancake flat pampas are pretty, but a relatively short and comfortable six hour bus ride lands you in the territory of a 2.5 million year old mountain range. Now eroded down to heights even the least adventurous hill walker could take-on, there’s also ample mountain biking and rock-climbing for adrenalin seekers. As for me and my travel bud Emma – we were on a DIY yoga retreat of our own – one that included cheese, wine and a hobbit house.

LAID BACK

Although it’s a city – Tandil feels more like an overgrown sleepy town – traffic stops to let you cross and the midday siesta is still frequently observed. Like all regional spots, it’s built around a leafy central plaza – Plaza Independencia in this case – boarded on one side by the Palacio Municipal (town hall) and a church, the carefully restored Parroquia Santisimo Sacramento where locals gather to ponerse al dia (catch-up) and tomar mate (drink the nation’s version of tea).

The Tandilian pace of life moves slower than big city Buenos Aires and perch long enough outside someone’s property for a pit stop and you might be lucky enough to be given some fresh homemade bread to accompany your afternoon picnic. I thought we were going to get ushered off someone’s land at one point – silly me – instead baked gifts were bestowed upon us – we were literally speechless.

Open views over the Tandil countryside. Photo Owen Matthews.
Open views over the Tandil countryside. Photo Owen Matthews.

TANDIL’S MAGICAL RECIPE

Cheese + salami + sierras = happiness in my world and Tandil is renowned throughout Argentina for two out of the three. What’s not to like? It’s cullinary reputation comes down to its skilled European immigrant population who defend from those who fought off a bloody battle in the 1870s alongside landowners against a clan of radical gauchos. I for one am glad they did because it means I got to devour my own weight in cheese.

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Even the cheese is filled with cheese at La Epoca de Quesos. Photo: Sonja D’cruze

TANDIL TO DO’S…

 La Epoca de Quesos…

The stuff cheese filled dreams are made of – La Epoca de Quesos tops my list of things to do, or rather – eat, in Tandil. Prepare for your olfactory senses to get walloped as you walk through the old galpon (warehouse) doors into the shop stacked with cheese and salami as far as the eye can see and the nose can err… smell. It’s completely overwhelming and wondrous. Thankfully, staff are used to gawping and often gormless faced tourists and are quick to offer you generous tastings of whatever you fancy the look of. One word of warning – everything is good, so give your tastebuds some time here to peruse and probar (try). I almost missed my bus back to BA because of this place – and then proceeded to stink out the upper deck with my cheesy bounty.

Fancy stopping for lunch? Get ushered through to the kitschy decorated labyrinth of a restaurant and dive into a fondue and artisanal beer. Objet d’art fills every nook and cranny of this spot but its roots go back to 1860 when the site – then known as La Posta del Centro – served as a resting spot for weary tradesman making the three to four month wagon wheel journey from Buenos Aires to what was then a military outpost known as Fuerte Independencia. Turning into a general store in 1920, it continued as such until is closure in 1970 and was promptly christened as a historical monument which ironically, then fell into disuse for 20 years until La Epoca de Quesos was born.

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Eyes and tastebuds are entertained at La Epoca de Quesos. Photo: Sonja D’cruze

NON EDIBLE ACTIVITIES

The rather basic tourist map (which can be picked up at the tourist information office in the bus station) offers five tourist routes to take in the sites, which vary from hills to religious points of interest and lakeside activities. Although Tandil is geared up for walking, a car is heaven sent as distances on foot are long and public transport to the sierras non-existant. If you’re short on time, do as we did and grab an amable taxista (friendly taxi driver) to take you around or drop you at the foot of a walking route.

Cerro El Centinela

Take in open views over the Tandil countryside at this hilltop park about 6 km out of town where a chairlift awaits to give your legs a rest and sweep you further over the tops (only open on weekends outside warm months). El Centinela, refers to the famous rock which balances on its point. Surprisingly my friend and I managed to miss the rock itself – only finding out later when we saw it on magnets in a gift shop! So keep your eyes peeled for signs and follow the crowd. There’s a small restaurant at the top but it’s a perfect picnic and mate sipping spot. Avenida Ricardo Balbin 1702

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Rocky outcrops looking down to the city below. Photo: Sonja D’cruze

Piedra Movediza

Perhaps ‘the’ symbol of Tandil – the original Piedra Movediza (shifting stone) was estimated to weigh about 300 tons and made its name for the way it was precariously balanced on the edge of a hill. Falling and breaking in 1912, the legend lives on with the replacement stone which was hitched up to the same spot for tourist prosperity in 2007. Back in the day people used to place bottles under the bottom of the massive stone only to see them smashed later in the day by its imperceivable motion. Avenida Dr Nicolas Avellaneda 250.

Parque Independencia

It’s all about views and eating isn’t it? Get two for one at Castillo Morisco, a restaurant at the park’s summit housed in the Moorish style castle. A gift from Tandil’s resident Spanish community in 1923, enjoy a coffee by day against the exposed rock face interior and follow the stairs up to get your perfect selfie beside the castle turrets. On weekend evenings, live music is on offer as you dine over the twinklingly lit cityscape.

Just behind the castle stands the equestrian monument of Brigadier General Martin Rodriguez, the governor who founded Tandil as Fuerte Independencia (Independence Fort) to serve as a safeguard against the raids by the Pampas Indians. A pair of surviving canons from those times can be seen by the carpark. Avenida Avellaneda y Rondeau.

Lago y Dique del Fuerte

Just south of the centre this man made dam is the place to be in good weather. Banked by grassy picnic spots and swimming pools – run, walk, cycle or sail your way round the loop – or just enjoy the views and have a mooch around the lunch spots and lakeside artisanal market. Tandil locals love their exercise and are out in all weathers burning the calories at this beauty spot. Avenida Dr Saavedra Lamas. 

Cristo de las Sierras

I’ll be honest – I’d take cheese over this tourist attraction any day, but it’s an attraction none- the-less, even if it is a poor man’s Cristo Redentor from Rio de Janeiro. Villa Don Bosco.

More adventures outdoors

For climbing, abseiling, trekking, mountain biking and horse riding with the professionals check out these local companies…

Where to stay

The 'Hobbit house' from the outside. Photo Agustin Abad
The ‘Hobbit house’ from the outside. Photo Agustin Abad

A host of estancias, self-catering, hotels and even camping spots are on offer in Tandil. I plumbed for a cheap and cheerful Air B&B option to share with a friend called the ‘Hobbit House’ due to its hippy adobe structure. Located above the city at the top of a dirt track to the south in Villa Cordobita, it’s ideally placed to have a good walk to El Centenela and by night you can admire the city lights from above whilst rustling up a fire. It’s like camping with walls – so a good choice if you’re ok with roughing it and compost toilets – not so much if you’re thing is hot showers and room service. Our host Augustin and his neighbors form part of a hippy community in this area and during the spring and summer they rotate around each other’s houses helping to build and complete each other’s adobe dreams.

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Sonja D'cruze

Sonja D'cruze

Sonja is a freelance journalist who studied at the London College of Communication. After working as a radio producer for the BBC, she got a ticket to carnival in Rio de Janeiro and then made her way on many a long bus to Buenos Aires. She stayed, lured by a love of porteño life and its Castellano speaking people. The city still surprises and she's not done with it yet, always on the hunt to uncover something creative, beautiful, tasty or just plain weird, behind one of BA's many unassuming doors. She writes, dabbles in tango, loves yoga and longs to be good at playing the trumpet.


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