What to do in Bariloche when you have a broken toe? This is the outdoor capital of Argentina, where hiking, cycling and climbing activities abound. I’d planned to walk some of the nearby mountains, but an injury sustained a few weeks earlier in Buenos Aires meant I couldn’t even contemplate putting my blackened foot into a walking boot. Luckily, we’d booked into the Fabula Lake House. Located right on the lake shore on a tranquil peninsular outside of Bariloche, it’s an extraordinary place to stay, and the perfect place to kick back and do nothing.
The day we arrived, Walter, the Italian owner who runs Fabula with his Argentine wife, Miriam, had just returned from a fishing trip on the lake. Two unfortunate but delicious rainbow trout were quickly turned into an al fresco lunch accompanied by wine from Mendoza. After our relaxing and indulgent time in the Valle de Uco, we were definitely in the mood for more of the same. We gave up on our plans to explore Bariloche and, instead, spent the afternoon in the garden taking in the views over the lake.
This turned out to be a good decision because the next day when we did make it into Bariloche, it would be fair to say it was a disappointment. Urban planning seems to be totally missing from the town. Its hideous collection of ugly buildings, built with little regard for the exquisite natural beauty of the surrounding area, is an assault on the senses. The downtown area is focused entirely on tourism, chocolate emporiums and outdoor shops predominate. Urban sprawl stretches unchecked in every direction to accommodate the million people who visit each year.
Known as the ‘Switzerland of the Andes’, Bariloche was settled by German immigrants coming from Chile in the 1920s, its original architecture could have been transported from the Alps. Alas, no more. As tourism has grown, the town’s population has boomed without any real attempts to manage the growth. It’s a shame, because as you walk around you constantly get views over the magnificent Lago Nahuel Huapi and to the Andes in the distance. The contrast between town and country is not flattering.
The Alpine architecture of previous decades may explain why Bariloche was appealing to the many Nazis and Facist sympathisers who fled here after the Second World War. SS Commander Erich Priebke, guilty of war crimes in Italy, was captured here in 1994. Reinhard Kopps, another SS officer, lived here openly and died only in 2001. They were just two of many. Despite its glorious location, this distressing history lends Bariloche something of a macabre air.
We had some lunch before driving back out of town to take the cable car to the summit of Cerro Otto, where a viewing platform provides spectacular panoramas over the lake to the mountains. It’s not cheap to ride the cable car, and there weren’t many people on it the day we were there, but the views just about compensate for the cost. Inside the mountain-top complex is a restaurant and an art gallery. The latter contains the truly bizarre sight of a three metre high replica of Michelangelo’s David.
Afterwards, we drove back to the Lake House and watched the sun set and the stars come out in their billions. When it got too cold to stay outdoors, we were treated to the comfort of a log fire, on which our home barbecued dinner would be cooked. It was a traditional Argentinian meal, vast hunks of beef accompanied by chorizo and blood sausage, the famed morcilla, all washed down with a good Malbec. We went to sleep that night to the wonderful sound of nothing more than the breeze in the tree tops.