Postcard from José Ignacio

by Liz Caskey on February 22, 2012

I have been holding out on you guys a little. I took off on a trip to Uruguay without a peep. Sorry about that. We got wrapped up in the beach, grape harvest, scouting new artisan cheese makers near Colonia for our tours. Every time I visit Uruguay, I come home with the sensation this is the most under-discovered destination in South America. Probably not for long. There’s too much effervescence there to contain it.

We spent four days at quite possibly my favorite beach town in these latitudes called José Ignacio. It’s not really even a town, more like a village. While it’s relatively close to the high rises and glitz of Punta del Este, José Ignacio is its own world entirely. The best comparison is to the Hamptons in New York although José Ignacio’s origins were as a humble fishing village, where the boats still come and go every morning. It’s a blissful world where the day starts with a walk on the beaches, La Mansa or La Brava, stopping to gaze at the postcard-perfect lighthouse on the rocky point. Maybe after go for a bike ride up to the hamlet of Manantiales with its chic antique shops, peddling along the azure coast with the constant breeze. After, wiggle my toes in the sand and devour the Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson on the Kindle. Lunch is never before 3or 4pm. Sunning at the beach is after 5pm when the sun’s harsh rays have subsided (ask my red butt about not respecting that rule the one day!) We linger until sunset as the sun sinks into the Western horizon as the sky turns pink and the ocean a deep blue. As a peninsula, José Ignacio has gorgeous sunrises and sunsets. We dine under the stars at 11pm where the Milky Way is visible with the naked eye. The next day, repeat. Oh, and I almost neglected to mention, there’s a fair amount of white wine sipping in between. We were particularly enamored with Bodega Garzón’s Albariño.  Dream land? Yes. And however long I stay, it still never feels like enough. Maybe that’s summer’s spell though.

While José Ignacio’s geography is gorgeous, it’s the vibe surrounding it that makes it so attractive. In a word? C-H-I-L-L. Low key, laid back. Luxurious and generous with nature and services, but not pretentious. Amazing restaurants in town abound like Jean Paul Bondoux’s new relaxed Palomar or Isla de Flores with its view of the lighthouse; the José Ignacio institution/meeting spot La Huella to suck down clericó and sushi; or a quick drive out to Marismo to dine in a sandy cove under the stars with dangerously delicious caipirinhas. Exquisite hotels like Playa Vik (photo below) made it really, REALLY hard to even leave the property with that sparkling view of the Uruguayan coast overlooking Playa Mansa I could eat up all day. Perhaps I could be convinced for a late morning romp in town for a coffee at Café de la Place.

I LOVE that there’s not a single ad or logo in site. Anywhere. That’s right, no beach umbrellas sporting Coca-Cola, local beers, awnings, signs. Nada. That’s this classy little town’s no-advertising policy. It’s so refreshing. All the houses are a maximum of two stories and tastefully meld into the landscape, many secluded by the rolling dunes and grasses typical of this part of the Uruguayan coast. While it has attracted an affluent crowd from Argentina, the US and beyond, celebrities roll up incognito in their beach pull over and shades to buy wine at Vinos del Mundo and eat up the chipirones (seared baby squid) and addictive Capresse salad at La Huella, just like everybody else. That’s the vibe. Simple luxury for everyone. I cannot wait until next summer.

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