“People from the city would think I’m a gaucho,” says Sebastian Goñi, the owner of Candeleria del Monte estancia, with a laugh. He was born a Buenos Aires city boy but always felt more connected to his family’s ranch in the Pampas, Argentina countryside. So ten years ago he quit his job in marketing and followed his dream to revive the farm, raise horses and cattle, and share estancia tradition with guests. He decorated in the traditional Criollo style and added his personal stamp with his own artwork, a series of edgy metal sculptures. The seven-room inn’s design, organic farm, parilla grill and stone oven, and a stable of healthy horses are an expression of gaucho culture and Sebastian’s free spirit. He told me, “Gauchos don’t really exist anymore…” We’ll see about that.
An hour’s drive outside of Buenos Aires, the urban sprawl gives way to tall grasses, sycamores, and pines of the Pampas. The driver tells us about the history of the area in Spanish, and I catch about 80% as I read his lips through the bouncing rear-view mirror. The Argentine gauchos were a real group, marauding the countryside in the 18th and 19th centuries but today it is more romanticized, much like the cowboys of the wild west, living close to the land and making their own rules. Tourist attractions around the Pampas try and capitalize on the legend with kitschy barbecue restaurants and horse shows…Candelaria went a different route.
We pull into Candeleria del Monte and follow a winding tree-lined drive to the Criollo country home. Sebastian and Angeles, his right-hand lady, were there waiting to greet us with huge smiles and wine glasses of chilled Torrentes.
Sloughing off any notions of a rustic ranch, we couldn’t believe how refined and well decorated this place was. Traditional antiques and oil paintings mixed with rough-hewn woods, Andean textiles, and horn accents. We peeked into the unique rooms, hoping each one was ours.
Sebastian showed us to our suite and we gasped, it was so bespoke and pretty. It’s called the Z Room, after his metalwork over the fireplace and collection of artwork. Our favorite part was the sliding door he welded with different panels of reclaimed wood, scrap metal, and found objects from the area.
We dropped our bags and went to lunch, soon learning that every meal delightfully begins with a glass of wine and appetizers on the veranda. The level of detail in the presentation–from embroidered napkins to the antique sheath on your dinner knife– was impeccable.
Meals are all family style, gathering around one of the many large tables and chatting for hours. The group of guests this week was a fascinating mix, including an environmental judge from Sweden, a UPS executive returning from Antarctica, a British sports historian, and a pair of Harley Davidson bikers—all with a love of vino. Couldn’t tell you how many bottles of Malbec were shared, but it made for some extra lively conversation.
The majority of the produce prepared by Candeleria comes directly from their organic garden. Tomatoes, eggplant, cucumber, arugula, herbs, and dozens of other fruits and veggies make their dishes that much better. They even have their own beehives for honey.
Candelaria raises some animals to bring to market but mostly they do it for the joy of farm life. Chickens for morning eggs, cows for organic beef, peacocks for beauty, llamas for petting, and dogs for good company.
Since October 2015, we’ve been vegan with the exception of trying cultural dishes. Chorizo on a wood-burning parilla and steak empanadas baked in a traditional stone oven…this what we are taking about. When on an estancia in Argentina…
There is something about this place that just makes you slow down and relax…laying by the pool, reading in the library, playing with the pets, and taking a stroll around the ranch. It’s also a teaching farm so if you do want to get involved, you can brush the Criollo horses, harvest veggies, or even herd the cattle.
We went horseback riding twice since it’s the absolute best way to explore the 200-hectare farm, take in the Pampas countryside, and chat about life. Sebastian was telling us that many of the traditional cattle ranches are turning into soybean farms, due to the demand from China and also how expensive land near Buenos Aires has become to raise free-range cows. It’s not easy running a ranch or an inn, you have to do it for the love of it.
As a man that broke away from his corporate job to revitalize an estancia…Sebastian is more gaucho than he thinks. He has created an incredibly special place and it’s a reflection of a guy who follows his dreams.