When you mention Uruguay most people do not really know where it is! Somewhere in South America “but what´s there?” many will say. This is a fair question from the vast majority of people, and especially those who have not been to South America before, as not much is known about this country outside the region. Uruguay is home to just over 3 million people, half of whom live in the capital Montevideo, and is wedged between the two South America giants of Argentina and Brazil. Having recently visited for the third time I wanted to investigate some of the off-the-beaten-track, but still accessible, locations and activities that we could introduce to our clients.
Carmelo is a small, sleepy town on the banks of a tributary of the Rio de la Plata which is heavily reliant on agriculture and to a lesser degree, tourism. Entering the town people cross the famous 1912 swing bridge (famous in Uruguay at least), which opens manually to let long masted yachts pass. When we arrived we were lucky enough to see the bridge being opened by 2 men walking round a screw with huge wrenches, turning the bridge open and closed. We will use Carmelo as a base for exploring the surrounding area and after a day’s sightseeing you will be able to relax, wandering the river promenade as the locals do.
The area is littered with fruit and dairy farms, vineyards and olive groves and we can provide visits to many of these places in a short trip as they are quite close together. Unlike the main wine producing areas in Argentina and Chile this part of Uruguay has plenty a small, almost artisan vineyards, allowing an in-depth, authentic experience. Often it will be the owners that show you round and give you tastings of their wines, something that is unheard of in most places. Our favorite visits were to the vineyards of Irurtia, Cordano and El Legado where tours of the vines and production areas can be made, followed by a tastings and tapas.
An unusual visit which we can include is to an award-winning olive oil farm where the enthusiastic owner of the Longo company will tell you all you need to know about growing and processing olives to produce the highest quality extra virgin olive oil. After walking among the olive trees and seeing the fruit up close (depending on the season of course) you will tour the production area to view the way extra virgin olive oil is produced and then have a tasting of the different types. Also on offer is the chance to visit a dairy farm and get involved in farm tasks such as milking and feeding, with many of us living in huge cities we get limited contact with farm animals and I for one loved the experience. Lastly if you have an extra day and are into golf you can play a round or two in the area. The courses in Colonia and Carmelo are challenging and in great condition and we can arrange rental clubs if you decide not to travel with your own.
One of the best things that the area offers is the chance to stay on a traditional “Estancia” or ranch. Many of the ranch houses are period structures with old fashioned fixtures and fittings giving you a real feel of the past, you will probably eat at a communal breakfast table with your fellow guests and an Asado, or traditional grill, is something that is an integral part of Uruguayan life and something that will be offered at your estancia, along with great Uruguayan wine of course. Be prepared to put on weight on one of our Uruguay tours, there will be time to lose it when you get home!