InterContinental Hotels operates a trio of properties in Argentina with three entirely different themes. For split programs, it’s easy to combine downtown Buenos Aires with either the upscale Nordelta suburb or Mendoza’s hip wine country. Together, the destinations offer one of the world’s most value-packed “town and country” meeting destinations, offering Old World glamour and New World vino.
First, the Cliff Notes: During the early 1900s, Buenos Aires was the wealthiest city in South America when it exported 40% of the beef consumed in Europe. Gauchos (cowboys) worked the fertile pampas (countryside) bringing to market the largest cattle herds in the world. The booming economy lured many Europeans from all social classes to the city, resulting in the classically elegant architecture, a love for fine food and wine, and the torrid tango.
The historic San Telmo District in central Buenos Aires is the birthplace of tango as we know it today. It’s where working-class Italian, French and Spanish men and their local Latina partners invented a dance so sensual, it took upper society two decades to acknowledge it, publicly.
Today, San Telmo is coming back into vogue with edgy new restaurants like Aramburu, and groups should definitely explore the cobblestone squares, vintage shops and 100+ year-old market.
Just minutes from San Telmo inside the Financial District, the 309-room InterContinental Buenos Aires is attached to the 17th century Iglesia San Juan Bautista cathedral. The high-rise tower is arguably the city’s most well-centered group hotel within close proximity to most of the major attractions. Plus, all of the meeting spaces were renovated last year, and all of the guestrooms are undergoing a complete overhaul this year.
“About 85% of our group business is from abroad, and over 90% of that is from the U.S. and U.K.,” says Maarten P. Drenth, GM. “Groups come here because we’re the only luxury property located where the country was born, so it’s a very authentic experience. You feel like you’re in Buenos Aires. I mean, you can have a wine tasting in a 300 year-old convent next door.”
Drenth says they’ve hosted inside the church and courtyard: Evita, Aida and tango performances, history lectures, and concerts by singers from the world-class Colon Theater—Argentina’s grandest public venue—located a few blocks away. Total meeting space includes 15 rooms for 900 people.
Continuing the authentic vibe, the outdoor Terraza del Virrey restaurant is fun for 200-pax dinners. It’s housed inside a glass wintergarden structure next to a traditional Argentine rotisserie grill where attendees can watch chefs preparing all of the different cuts of meat for their rodizio-style dinners.
Just five minutes from the InterContinental, the trendy new Puerto Madero District has burst on the scene in recent years with its shiny post-mod glass towers and regentrified warehouse buildings lining the Atlantic Ocean. Some of the city’s most popular Italian restaurants and parrillas (Argentine steakhouses) are located here, such as Cabana Las Lilas, as well as the hippest cultural venues for group rental in the Faena Arts District.
The #1 group experience in “BA” is a tango show, most with accompanying dinner. The smoldering Rojo Tango in Puerto Madero is considered by many as the best in the world, inside an intimate theater with space for about 60 pax. You might ask attendees to sign a waiver because this will send their heart rate soaring. The men twirl their longtime partners around in tight embrace with Olympian precision, just feet from the audience, and the live band and operatic singers are flawless.
For larger groups, the more affordable El Querandi tango show located two blocks from the hotel is highly regarded among the dozens of professional performances in town.
For offsite tours and shopping, the Recoleta District was copied almost exactly after Paris’ grandest arrondissements during the height of BA’s golden era. It now houses foreign embassies, Evita’s tomb and the most elegant shops in town. For more shopping, Florida Street next to the InterCon was the first major thoroughfare in the city. Save at least three hours to browse among the 200+ shops. And skip the Boca District, which is heavily promoted here to tourists. A little too touristy for our tastes.
For history buffs, you can walk the eight blocks from the hotel to the presidential palace in Plaza de Mayo. This is where Evita spoke to the masses and revolutionized women’s and worker’s rights in Latin America. To many here, she is almost a deity. On the way, stop at Café Tortoni, probably the most famous literary cafe in South America, housed inside an 1858 Art Nouveau building.
NORDELTA + TIGRE
The 149-room InterContinental Nordelta Tigre-Buenos Aires opened in late 2011 inside a large private harbor, about 45 minutes from downtown. The Nordelta suburb is the most exclusive gated community in Argentina, highlighted by the aggressively modern Nordelta Golf Club and Jack Nicklaus golf course. This is the only place in the world where legendary French designer Philippe Starck designed a condo. Groups including VW, Ford, Kraft and Avon have all hosted galas and golf tournies here.
This was one of the craziest transfers ever. Nordelta is next to the town of Tigre where wealthy Porteños (BA residents) back in the day came to gamble at the riverfront casinos. Your group can drive straight to the hotel, or you can take the “back way” by stopping in Tigre for a 30-minute luxury yacht transfer upriver through the delta. The river is lined with hulking rusted-out ships long ago abandoned on the riverbanks, next to beautiful but dilapidated old Victorian mansions. It feels like a cross between the Louisiana bayou and Apocalypse Now. Definitely recommended.
The InterContinental Nordelta caters to groups with 9,400 sf of meeting space, a large outdoor terrace on the water and a bright rooftop spa with an indoor/outdoor pool. The pool deck is great for 80-pax receptions at sunset overlooking the marina and fancy yachts. The hotel feels very secluded facing the bay but you’re across the street from a brand new shopping center, and there are numerous restaurants rimming the water.
The guestrooms are expansive and very minimalist with a subtle cream palette and long high-tech work desks leading to big floor-to-ceiling windows framing the bay.
What was once the area’s largest casino, the graceful Tigre Museum of Art is a refurbished late-Belle Epoque wedding cake built in 1912 with an elevated grand walkway overlooking the river, suitable for 4,000-pax receptions outdoors; 250 inside. Such a magnificent structure on this remote, rugged river is surreal.
One of the major New World wine regions, Mendoza is a small colonial city at the base of the Andes, less than a 2-hour flight west of Buenos Aires. Malbec wine is king, produced in hundreds of wineries from the chic and boutique to large global distributors.
Opened in 2010, the 180-room InterContinental Mendoza is all glass and steel with oodles of natural light and a stand-alone convention center located at the edge of the city. Since its opening, HelmsBriscoe, Kraft, Bayer, Nike and Nestle have booked groups ranging from 150-room incentives to buyouts for citywides. The 43,000 sf of function space is the largest outside of Buenos Aires, and a second tower with 52 exec suites opens in April.
On a second floor overlooking the towering glass lobby, the VIP Winery Lounge is themed around Mendoza’s major wine regions, with stations describing each, suitable for 100 people.
“That way you can taste wines that all come from Argentina, but learn how the French, Spanish and Italian winemakers create it differently,” says GM, Claudia Yanzon.
For large conventions, there’s a car lift into the ballroom and a dedicated kitchen catering up to 900 pax. For small groups, the spa features a sweet outdoor pool for VIP receptions.
Most groups visiting Mendoza will tour and dine at a winery like Bodega Norton. About 40 minutes outside of town, the famous vineyard offers an extensive array of group programs from harvesting to blending to bike tours. You can book either direct or through the local DMC, Ketek Events & Tourism.
Starting at the wine bar to taste the local champagne, I ask, “It’s 10:30 am, it’s not too early?”
“We’re in Mendoza, you have to make an effort,” laughs my guide, Ivana Basualdo. “A lot of people ask that. We call it our second breakfast.” The champagne is subtle and the setting incredible, while standing at the hammered copper bar facing the perfect rows of vines and majestic snow-capped Andes.
Following the bubbly, our group begins the 1-hour tour where we sip the same malbec and chardonnay in the various stages of their production: the aluminum holding tanks, the charred oak barrels, and finally from the bottle in a centuries-old cellar.
The 6-course pairing lunch at the onsite La Vid restaurant is ridiculously fabulous. Meals in Mendoza always seem to start with warm empanadas, melting with the tenderest beef this side of Kobe. The stone-grilled chorizo is served on fresh baked bread with chimichurri. The grilled trout, ribeye and organic chicken are each paired with a Norton pinot, malbec and chard. And by dessert, I know I’m in over my head staring down a chocolate cheesecake with chocolate ice cream and chocolate truffles.
La Vid seats 65 diners. For larger groups, organize a picnic by the restored residence of Bodega Norton’s founding family.
On my last night with nothing planned, I ask the concierge at InterContinental for ideas. He suggests a milonga—a casual place where locals practice tango. The cab driver drops me off on a side street and points to a dance hall above a family-run restaurant. I smile the second I enter. About 20 couples are working on their steps while an instructor in the middle walks around giving guidance. Someone hands me a glass of wine. Someone else asks me to dance. This is how every group should experience Argentina.