They say in Argentina that an Argentine is an Italian peasant living in a French castle like an English lord. Although there are many variations on these themes and those who beg to differ the point to grasp is that the country is inherently European, which comes as no surprise as it’s just two gene-rations since the ancestors of much of today’s population migrated from Spain and Italy. Argentines blend the best bits of European culture and food with indigenous South American customs. This is a proud country, and although it’s had turbulent times within recent memory, not least the devaluation of its peso in 2001, this has also served to give it a handy sense of perspective when it comes to financial meltdowns.
In fact, Argentina is weathering this particular crisis well most property purchases are made in cash, so people don’t have mortgages, and the economy remains strong. Agriculture makes up a large portion of the country’s income: its production of soya, olives, tobacco, vines, and, of course, livestock plus the minerals extracted from the rich seams found in the north contribute nearly 10% of its GDP. It also boasts oil and natural gas reserves.
Such a critical mass of positive factors is now attracting the attention of big-name investors who roam the planet looking for opportunities. American self-styled investment guru Doug Casey is the most respected of these big guns, and has been recommending investment in Argentina for some time. ‘Argentina is that perfect combination of breathtaking landscape, excellent climate, sophisticated culture, social stability and great value. It’s my top choice out of the 175 countries where I’ve already spent time.’ Such is his conviction that he’s put his money where his mouth is and invested in a specific property development in the foothills of the Andes.
La Estancia De Cafayate is a development put together by an Argentine-American husband-and-wife team, offering a combination of wine, polo and golf property in a beautiful setting where standards of life are high and the price of living low. This is borne out during the drive from the airport in the region’s main city Salta, as we wind through fields of tobacco, soya plants and horses into the formidable Quebrada de las Conchas, a gorge where the road follows an ancient pre-Colombian trail through a dramatic, almost lunar, landscape. At the end of this rests the charming colonial town of Cafayate, which has the sleepy feel of a back packer town, although a nearby five-star Sheraton belies loftier ambitions. At a height of 5,580ft, Cafayate is surrounded on all sides by jaw-dropping mountains and enjoys a sunny micro-climate all year round.
La Estancia is made up of 1,500 acres of fertile land in a glorious location surrounded by breathtaking pre-Andes and Andes mountains. The development is being run by Juan Romero and his wife, Diane, who know the region well: Juan’s father was governor and helped to open Cafayate up to tourism, and his family have lived and had wineries here since his grandfather emigrated from Europe. The estate has more than 120 acres of vineyards that produce high-end wines, of which each property owner will receive a quota of 100 bottles a year.
For those with an appreciation of horses, La Estancia particularly has lovers of polo in mind. The game is less exclusive in Argentina than in the UK, and many of those who’ve already bought here are polo players who aim to take advantage of the climate to be able to practice all year round.
The equestrian facilities have been drawn up by two polo-mad architects, and include stables, exercise paddocks and a polo ground. Owners can keep their horses here year all year if they so choose, and the estate has more than 19 miles of trails to explore on horseback. Golfers have also been catered for in the form of an 18-hole golf course designed by Bob Cupp, who made his name as the head of Jack Nicklaus’s design team.
The project is also set to include a 10,000sq ft clubhouse by the golf course, which is nearly complete, a gigantic health club and spa, a boutique hotel and a pueblito a local market square, where you can drink a coffee and browse the wares from local craftspeople. Just 350 ‘homesites’ are to be built, with the first homes completed in April 2010, and buyers can choose from positions bordering the golf course, the polo field or surrounded by vineyards.
The smallest sites come in at about 21,500sq ft and are located close to the pueblito. The next size up offers 43,000sq ft and has room for a guest house, pool or personal vineyard; the largest sites are more than 108,000sq ft and are large enough for grazing horses. Each homesite owner has a choice of three different property styles, offering from 2,600sq ft to just under 6,500sq ft of living space and built using completely local materials, from the tiles to the beautiful local hardwood.
Properties have been designed to make the most of the fabulous weather with lots of outdoor space, and each house has a wine cellar and an Argentine parilla for barbecues larger houses have everything from a library to a gym. Prices range from just $325,000 to $1,105,000, inclusive of land and building costs, and have already appreciated by about 20% since the project launch. Owning in Argentina doesn’t cost much in tax either: annual home-owner dues are US $3,120 per year and property taxes are almost non-existent at about US $100 per year.
There is a concierge service planned, and if you want full-time staff in your property, you can do so for an extra charge. Once 70% of the sites are sold, the day-to-day decisions are to be handed over to an elected homeowners’ association which will decide things such as how much rent owners can charge on their properties (La Estancia takes no cut on rental profits made by owners). Already, the current owners, who come from places as disparate as Belgium, New Zea-land and Japan, are putting their heads together on everything from selling their wine allocation all over the world to investing in a fractional private jet.
La Estancia is expected to raise the profile of the entire Cafayate area and prices are predicted to rise further as a result, particularly when the boutique hotel launches. This is certainly no run-of-the-mill place in the sun and is much further to travel than to Italy or France, but people who buy here expect to be able to spend a few months at a time on the estate, and for those who seek natural beauty, time and wide-open spaces, coming that little bit further is sure to be worth it.
For details, telephone 00 54 387 422 3146 or visit www.laestanciadecafayate.com
Getting there British Airways flies to Buenos Aries (BA) from London Heathrow via Sao Paulo (www.ba.com) and LAN fly from BA up to Salta city on a daily basis. Holly stayed at the Sofitel Buenos Aries (00 54 11 41310000; www.sofitel.com), a luxury hotel right in the heart of this vibrant South American capital.