Saturday, December 15, 2012

Circuito Chico, Cerro Campanario and Cerro Otto, Bariloche

After a later start than planned, thanks to the wine, we let the dogs run on the beach and then leave them secure in the motorhome before we take off. The Circuito Chico is a 65 Km (42 mile) drive that circles up through the mountains around Bariloche following several landmarks and then back into town. Setting off from the campground along Bustillo Avenue and following the shore of Lake Nahuel Huapi, we pass Cerro Campanario. There is a chair lift that climbs to the top and looks out over the whole lake region. We will return here later today to check out the views. Our first stop along the route was going to be the Hotel Llao-Llao. This massive, luxury hotel sits right on its own peninsula. It is surrounded by an 18-hole golf course and is full of 5 star amenities such as a spa and health club, restaurants, a lobby bar, winter garden, a club house, boutique shops, and much more. The location of the hotel is what sets it apart from other world class resorts but we will have to wait to see the interior. Today there is a Jewish wedding taking place and the entire hotel has been reserved and is closed to the public. Oof, the money that is spent on weddings! There are two or three stops along the way, all conveniently placed at the top of the larger hills. One of these is Punto Panorámico and anyone visiting Bariloche should check out the views from here. They are spectacular and will surely take your breath away. Turning in different directions, the point overlooks lakes Moreno and Nahuel Huapi, the Llao Llao Hotel, the Andes and towards the Chilean border. Directly in front of us is an amazing panoramic view of the merging point between Lake Moreno and Lake Nahuel Huapi. The snow-capped mountains in the background frame the lakes and the Llao LLao Hotel looks tiny as it sits nestled into the mountains around it. It is truly a special spot. There are local artisans selling their wares (I did buy some homemade raspberry preserves from one), a choripan (chorizo hot dog) stand and even St. Bernard photo opportunities. However this does not detract from the incredible feeling of being at one with nature. From here it is a downhill ride back towards town where the road meets again with Avenida Bustillo. The avenida hugs the lakeside and provides beautiful scenery that serves as a taste to what lies ahead. Whilst the views found around the lake are beautiful, a ride to the top of Cerro Campanario is a must but don’t take my word for it. National Geographic names Cerro Campanario one of the “Top 10 Views of the World” with “some of the most fascinating views of the region” To be able to appreciate this view you first need to get to the top of the mountain. If you wish to climb the mountain there are a few different paths to follow, that looked to my eye quite formidable and fairly steep. However, for the non climbing, less energetic types there is the Aerosilla Cerro Campanario. The aerosilla (chairlift) begins at 770 meters (2,526 feet) and summits at 1,050 meters (3,445 feet). Marcela and Mariano got on first and Tom and I followed behind them. The trip up the mountain takes about 10 minutes and I found it hard not to sit still as we continued to rise higher and higher. With each tree that passed below us the views continued to get better and better. At the top Marcela and Mariano were there to greet us and we all gushed over the ride and the views. And, oh gosh, the views! The moment our feet hit the ground we went off to the nearest lookout point, reaching for the camera. Fantastic panoramas, fresh mountain air, and breathtaking scenery had me feeling as if I was in my own universe. The mesmerizing mountains were surrounded by the blue sky above and the lake waters of Nahuel Huapi and Perito Moreno down below. We could see for miles in any direction: the other tall mountain peaks of Cerro Otto, Cerro Lopez, Cerro Goye, Cerro Catedral, and Cerro Capilla to name a few. Stretched across the Llao Llao Peninsula was the Hotel Llao Llao, in the distance the charming and enchanting Isla Victoria, where Disney got the idea for Bambi, and looking back to the east, the town of Bariloche. It didn’t take long to understand exactly why Cerro Campanario has received so many accolades. After spending some time at each lookout, we made our way into the little café. It was past lunchtime and we were hungry. We found a table right next to a window, ordered hamburgers and empanadas and sat back to soak it all in. There is good reason that National Geographic named this look-out spot one of the Top 10 Views of the World.” It actually comes in at number seven of the most beautiful views in the world and it is hard to argue. You could spend hours on the top gazing from one lake to the other, one mountain to another and never tire of it. For another bird’s eye view of the area, our third stop is Cerro Otto (Mt. Otto; 4,608 feet). The young or energetic can hike or bike to the top or you can drive 8 km (5 mi) up a gravel road from Bariloche or you can take the Cerro Otto gondola ride, which is probably the easiest way to access the mountain. For us it was a no brainer. We are taking the cable car which is owned by Teleférico Cerro Otto, and with all proceeds going to local hospitals and charities it is a worthy reason but for us not the only reason, to take it. The ride to the top in a little red gondola which sits the four of us comfortably, takes about 12 minutes as it travels up the steep mountain side. Once on top we head outside for some more glorious panoramic views, although by now the wind has picked up and at 4,600 feet, it is quite breezy. Fortunately there is a revolving restaurant which rotating every 20 minutes offers 360-degree views of Lago Nahuel Huapi and the surrounding countryside. With a wide variety of desserts and coffees to choose from, it was a welcome respite from the wind. A very interesting art gallery displaying exact copies of Italian paintings and sculptures which have been certified by the Italian government is located next to the restaurant. There is even a full size replica of Michelangelo’s statue of David which greets you at the door. With the wind picking up, the ride down the mountain took a little longer as they slow the gondolas significantly during windy weather. Feeling quite tired from our days adventures, we head back to Camping Petunia to be greeted by two very excited dogs who needed to be walked and four tired fishermen (Martin and the boys) who despite trying all day have nothing to show for their efforts. It is the store and chicken for dinner. Once the dogs are walked and happy again and the boys still at the lake playing and fishing, we opened another of our delicious red Argentinean wines and we all toasted our day spent in this beautiful area of Patagonia. With the tantalizing aroma of chicken emanating from the barbeque, with the sun gradually setting behind us bathing the lake, mountains and sky in shades of red and surrounded by good friends, my husband and the dogs, it was a great ending to a memorable day. Now if only our kids were with us.

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