If Bariloche, the town, is disappointing, the surrounding countryside certainly isn’t. We had a car and planned to head to San Martin de los Andes along the Ruta de los Siete Lagos, but first we spent a half day driving the ridiculously picturesque Circuito Chico. The route travels along the crystal-clear lake shore, through wooded countryside, and passes interesting hamlets like Llao Llao and Colonia Suiza. The latter, founded in the 19th century by Swiss settlers, still retains a distinct Alpine identity.
There are places along the route where you can hike through the woods to hidden lake shores, picnic on lake beaches, get spectacular views over the mountains and lakes, and even take a tasting tour at the Patagonia Brewery looking out over Lago Moreno. The scenery is wonderfully dramatic, especially when the Yellow Broom bushes are in full bloom under bright blue Andean skies. We left the Peninsula San Pedro and drove anti-clockwise around the circuit, soon arriving at the famous Llao Llao hotel.
The Llao Llao sits in dramatic surroundings, and although its Alpine design fits the local scenery, its sheer size makes it a bit of an eyesore these days. We decided not to stop and headed onwards into a heavily wooded area that runs along Lago Moreno. We saw a sign for the Lago Escondido and decided to do the short hike through the woods to the lake. There’s a lakeside beach nearby that offers views over a branch of the Lago Nahuel Huapi but, best of all, there was no one else around to interrupt the peace.
A little further along the circuit we passed the Cementerio del Montañés, a cemetery where climbers from around the world are buried. Soon afterwards we came to a sign for the Colonia Suiza, it looked a bit handmade and we weren’t exactly sure if this was the right road, but we took it anyway. Soon we were bouncing down gravel tracks past farms that really could have come straight from Switzerland, all the while throwing up plumes of chocking dust behind the car.
The Colonia Suiza was a bit of a disappointment. A small community seemingly entirely dependent on tourism, but with no tourists the day we arrived. The whole place had the air of an abandoned frontier town. We walked to the lake shore, where a large group of unfriendly ‘dogs on strings’ people were making the place look untidy. There wasn’t anything to keep us so we hit the dirt road again along the shores of Lago Perito Moreno. The colour of the water was extraordinary.
Because of the detour to Colonia Suiza, we’d missed the section of the Circuito Chico that has the most famous view in Bariloche, one that takes in the vista over the Llao Llao hotel, over the lakes and across the distant mountains. It’s truly spectacular and was well worth having to do the circuit again going clockwise this time. This is also the stretch of the circuit where the Patagonia brewery is to be found. Once you’ve taken in the magnificent views you can have a locally brewed beer to celebrate.