It’s a little shallow at times but Punta is always tremendous fun. Its reputation as a “place to be seen” among a certain class of the South American jet-set has held fast but its allure also lies in the windswept beauty of this sandy peninsula. For every glassy high-rise and gaudy boutique the resort city, 130km east of Montevideo, hides a rustic beach and a bohemian bar worth discovering. It’s this duality that brings people back. The hippest scene has moved north of late, past the fishing village of José Ignacio and towards the beaches at Cabo Polonio and La Pedrera. The season starts come Christmas and the parties rage on for the next few months as the temperature tops out at a balmy 32C. In the spirit of fun we lathered up with suncream, stripped to our trunks and took to the streets to offer our highlights. Plus: we test the beds at a stunning new venue by Brazilian hotelier Rogério Fasano.
Be discreet. This was the understated brief given to architect Carolina Proto when she was tasked with creating the Locanda Fasano extension in the rolling grounds of the Hotel Fasano Punta del Este in La Barra, Uruguay. Her success in this regard is debatable.
The place is eye-catching in the extreme and comprises three overlapping Jenga-block shaped structures, perched on a rocky escarpment at the highest point of a rolling 400-hectare estate. The 10 apartments inside go from roomy to palatial in size and those on the second of the three floors boast balconies lined with vertical wooden cladding. It’s not discreet: it’s otherworldly.
Run by hotelier and architect Rogério Fasano, the jhsf-owned hotel is situated 10km from the seaside resort of Punta del Este, a favourite summer spot where the hotels tend towards the glitzy.
On the outside as in, warm materials such as dark wood are coupled with modernist furniture hand-picked from antique shops by Fasano and there’s an emphasis on tactility throughout. Underfoot there are woollen carpets, while rooms are divided by folding trellis screens and offset by scorched cement floors and stone walls. “We try to work with materials that speak to the surrounding environment,” says Proto. “Types of wood and metal that, over time, tend to take the colour of the stones and surrounding landscape.” She’s clearly got that initial brief in mind.
The ground floor is squeezed between rocky outcrops, while the first floor houses a pretty lobby. Its exterior, as well as the top floor, is coated with a rust-coloured Corten steel.
The upper floor conceals a surprise: on one side there is a bar and breakfast area while, on the opposite end, a chesterfield occupies a comfy reading nook. The dark shelves brim with books, antique lamps and an odd but intriguing collection of empty bottles in all manner of colours and sizes.
Outside a sundeck accommodates 10 loungers and a sofa that looks out to the horizon, with the resort city of Punta del Este splitting the skyline. Something unexpected lies in the narrow corridor that culminates in the grand highlight of the hotel: the restaurant, formerly accessible only by a charming yet dangerous stairway built directly onto the jagged rocks. Between the restaurant and the solarium sits a new lagoon-shaped pool.
“I built a house a few years ago on the edge of the forest,” says Fasano, pointing from the sundeck to a pasture a kilometre or so from the property. “During the summer – and I always spend January here – I’ll stay in the house. But when the winter comes I’ll pack my bags and move to the hotel.” Fortunately there’s plenty of room for visitors to follow his lead.
Punta is known for its Mediterranean-style weather, casinos and whitewashed Casapueblo complex (a gloopy Grecian-style structure built into the cliffs) but it’s the road to the village of José Ignacio that leads to the area’s best attractions. Here’s our rundown of the spots in which to enjoy the resort this summer.
La Huella: With a rustic look and the sea lapping at the shore close by, this is the meeting point for travellers moving between José Ignacio and Punta. Queues are to be expected but ask for a cleriquot – a fruity wine-based cocktail – and try the freshly caught (then coal-roasted) Atlantic croaker with vegetables once you’re settled.
Marismo: This sandy-floored stop-in is candlelit by night (the best time to visit). Take a seat around the roaring open fire and hope the fisherman have netted enough sole for your party. Take cash: they don’t accept credit or debit cards.
Medialunas Calentitas: With two addresses, one in La Barra and another on the outskirts of José Ignácio, this is a tourist spot but a worthwhile one.
La Linda: Opened in 2010 in Manantiales. The floors may be concrete but the pastries are pillow-soft.
Mutate: Partners Gonzalo Massa and Santiago Barriola stock local designers, including Capitá shoes and Indie glasses, as well as merino wool blankets of their own brand. They also sell objects, furniture and curiosities hand-picked from antique shops around the world.
El Canuto: Set in a charming thatched house, this shop is run by sisters Macarena and Nani Lanza, who sell womenswear and accessories that include towels, caftans, jewellery and handbags, among many other temptations. For the cold months there are scarves and sweaters, which are handmade from merino wool.
La Susana: In José Ignacio visitors don’t just seek out beaches: they hunt down paradores, an itinerant tent set-up that routinely changes its name and location each summer. The La Susana, from Bahia Vik hotel, is the pick for this season, ideal for those who fancy a drink while watching the Atlanic sunset.
Settling on a summer extension
“During the winter, which is hardy and windy, people avoided coming here because of the walk between the bungalows, restaurants and spa,” says Fasano. This drove the decision for placing the new Locanda Fasano extension of the Hotel Fasano Punta del Este among its existing 32 bungalows, which were built on the site by Isay Weinfeld. “We built this building to make everything closer, cosier and more functional.”