Parents’ Travel Guide: What to Do with Kids in Carmelo, Uruguay
Take the kids for a South American family vacation everyone will be talking about for years to come.
Imagine Tuscany, but more rustic, more relaxed and far less touristy: rolling hills; palm and lemon trees; flocks of sheep; vineyards; vintage cars; and cheery, pastel-hued houses. That’s Uruguay, the small, prosperous South American country next to Argentina.
Just across the Río de la Plata from Buenos Aires, Argentina, lies the sleepy village of Carmelo, where you’ll find utter family bliss at the bucolic Four Seasons Resort Carmelo, Uruguay. Kids will spend hours building forts on the Resort’s sugary-sand river beach, and strolling barefoot along the boardwalks. Then there is the gargantuan pool, situated on a vast terrace fronting the elegant stone-and-wood lodge. The locally inspired aesthetic utilizes teak woods, giant ornate carved doors and thatched pitched roofs to create a cosy, laid-back retreat amongst fragrant eucalyptus trees, pampas grass and pine forests, dunes and vineyards.
- Town and country. Four Seasons Hotel Buenos Aires is just a 20-minute flight to Carmelo, or a one-hour catamaran ride across the river. (Guests receive a complimentary upgrade when they book the Buquebus through Four Seasons.) Make your stay a South American town-and-country family vacation—we recommend first diving into the electric urban life of Buenos Aires, then recovering with some R&R in Carmelo.
- The wine. Malbec is to Argentina as Tannat is to Uruguay. This red is worth getting to know. The area also produces quality Viognier, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and a Tannat Rosé, the perfect accompaniment to an al fresco pasta lunch.
- Family accommodations. Originally designed as a couple’s retreat, the Resort has morphed into a South American hot spot for vacationing families. To accommodate, Four Seasons is adding family casitas to the 44-room property. Currently, you can stay in one of the Resort’s stylish and comfortable bi-level suites or premier bungalows designed with gray rock, black slate, ruby-coloured marble and dark woods. A cushioned window seat beckons for your early morning coffee (or mate) and newspaper. And just try to get up early out of that king-size bed!
- The beef. Like Argentina, you’ll eat some of the best beef (always grass-fed, always free-range) you’ve ever tasted. Just surrender—you can catch up on veggies when you get back home.
- The community. You go to Carmelo to be enveloped in the local community. It’s low-key and friendly and nearly everything is accessible by bicycle. The Resort’s entire 44-hectare (108-acre) property is all interconnected, and includes a championship golf course (one of South America’s finest) and a stable. It’s easy and safe—ideal for kids. There’s also a pretty river port about 20 minutes away (one mile) by beachcomber bikes and the Narbona winery is just a short drive away.
What the kids will love
- The pool. This one will top the list! Under the rustling eucalyptus and overlooking the boardwalk vineyards, the enormous, three-tired cobalt-blue pool is just steps away from the central terrace. The challenge will be getting the children out again. Set up camp on a cushioned chaise lounge and prepare to stay a while.
- Parakeets. Look up and you’ll see parakeets of green, blue and yellow hues nesting in the towering trees. They make a lovely racket.
- The beach. Snuggle onto a riverbank cabana and wiggle your toes in the sand or stroll the boardwalk-lined vineyards. It’s a river as opposed to the ocean, but just as soothing; very still and pastoral. The kids will play happily for hours, and you’ll love the tranquil sounds of the water flowing, the tall grasses rustling and the doves cooing.
- Helado (ice cream). It’s housemade, like every luscious treat here. The kids will also enjoy other local indulgences such as dulce de leche, alfajores and hot apple cider.
- Stargazing. The stars are different in the Southern Hemisphere. Ask the Concierge to have an astronomer give a short talk about the constellations.
What you will love
- Narbona. The charming 19th-century boutique winery and farm is set on 15 hectares (37 acres) in the rolling hills, and boasts a commitment to producing the highest quality ingredients and wine. Geraniums, orange trees, chandeliers and red velvet drapes set the scene. Rustic and tranquil, the place has been immaculately restored, preserving its historic elegance, with gorgeous period antiques and whimsical design elements. Dine at the restaurant, tour the property or set up a special vintner’s dinner in the candelabra-lit cava. In addition to award-winning vintages, grappa and cognac, the granja (farm) produces artisan cheese, yogurt, pasta, olive oil, dulce de leche and preserves—take some home as souvenirs.
- Family dinner. Enjoy a Four Seasons-catered private family dinner on the beach in the Gazebo.
- The pool. You will want to lounge here for hours; don’t resist.
- The asado. Every weekend, Uruguayan families have a traditional-style barbecue (asado) at the home parrilla (an outdoor kitchen with wood-burning grill). Four Seasons puts on a similar asado so you and the kids can try it. Your family can choose from juicy flank steak, rib eye, chorizo and blood sausage served at your table in a brasero, a metal box with hot wood coals on the bottom.
- The Spa. Stop in for a massage or facial (they also have treatments designed for teens). After your massage, take a dip in the indoor pool; it’s encased in glass on two sides, so you feel like you’re nestled in the woods. The Resort puts on complimentary adult yoga classes in the beachside Gazebo as well.
- A wine tour. With or without the kids, you decide. Includes locally crafted cheese and olive oil.
Cars for sale. According to Colonia del Sacramento day trip guide, Fernando, when Uruguayans have an auto to sell, they put a paint can on the roof to indicate it’s up for grabs. The kids will get a kick out of spotting these around town.
While you’re in Uruguay, be sure to sample some local specialties: steak with salsa criolla, pastries with dulce de leche, barbecued chorizo and chivito, a traditional sandwich with thin-sliced veal and ham, plus bacon, fried egg, lettuce, tomato and mayo. We found portions to be generous everywhere, so consider sharing.
At the Resort, you can dine in the signature restaurant Pura, Mandara Restaurant and Bar, or Río Bar—all three have just been renovated. Or indulge in a lavish afternoon tea in the lobby by the huge stone fireplace and piano. The lobby itself is very grand and dramatic, arranged around the central pool with outdoor sofas and conversation spaces. In winter, the scent of burning espinillo, the local hard wood, invites you to sit and linger.
Take your time at Pura’s breakfast buffet and watch the sun coming up over the eucalyptus, illuminating the giant outdoor pool. It’s a spread worth savouring: moist scrambled eggs, fluffy sourdough toast, fresh pineapple, nicely herbed sausages, apple muffins, crispy bacon, picture-perfect eggs to order and fresh-squeezed juices such as melon and tangerine. The drinkable Narbona yogurt is a standout.
At dinnertime, the place is seductive, with its dark mahogany interior and pitched exposed ceiling. The club music, mood lighting, glowing votives and shimmering metal cages encasing a single open flame help set the mood.
Pura’s seasonal menu is all about local, top-quality ingredients prepared South American-style, making good use of in the indoor barbecue pit and wood-burning clay oven. There are plenty of gluten-free options as well. Younger guests will gravitate toward the kid’s menu and its gooey cheese quesadilla, thick-‘n-crispy fries and banana split with homemade helado and dollops of dulce de leche. Parents will like the healthy kid-friendly options as well, such as pumpkin soup, veal Milanesitas, grilled fish fillet, petit beef tenderloin, fruit salad and peaches with cream.
Our dinner favourites: Sopa de Cebollas, sweet-and-savoury caramelized French onion soup with a low-simmered egg and truffle oil; and Solomillo de Cerdo, in which assertive Portobellos serve as the meaty foil to tender, mild pork sirloin, plus creamy polenta—rich and subtle. The velvety, classic Malbec (Rutini Cabernet Malbec, Mendoza) and Rutini Chardonnay—recommended by the sommelier—prove ideal companions to the meal.
You’ll more than likely just want to stay at the Resort and take it easy, but there are two dining out options that are not to be missed:
1. Narbona. Book a Resort sitter and set aside a date night at this seductive spot. Dine on the grass by the little picket-fenced veggie garden, in the understated yet elegant restaurant or in the seriously romantic family wine cellar.
If you’ve got teens, book a family wine dinner in the cellar. The artisan, multi-course feast—stewarded by the sommelier and prepared tableside over a vintage, wood-burning potbelly stove—teaches about the joys of savouring slow food and wine. Those in-the-know say the kids will be talking about it for years afterwards.
Consider, Mom and Dad, for your luncheon: the sesame-covered Brie with arugula salad, buffalo mozzarella or pumpkin soup with ginger and honey to start. Follow with the creamy homemade spinach ravioli au gratin with tomato and Béchamel sauce or the pistachio-crusted pink salmon. And don’t forget to sample the local vintages; we love the bright Tannat Rosé and the ripe tannins of the 2010 “Best in Uruguay” Luz de Luna red. Although after the delicate flan de campo infused with dulce de leche, you may require a nap on the lawn.
For the kids, order the feather-weight house papardelle or tagliarelle tossed lightly with your choice of sauce: butter-sage, Pomodoro or classic pink. The pizza with buffalo mozzarella is also outstanding. For dessert, you’ll fork-battled over the sticky, spongy, warm brownie drizzled in white chocolate sauce, and the creamy housemade strawberry ice cream.
2. Puerto Camacho is an easy cycle ride from the Resort. Park your bikes and stop in for lunch. There’s a lovely chapel, marina and stone buildings located along the water. Grab a booth at Basta Pedro for pizza, empanadas, steak, chicken and salad under the dockside pergola. The brick oven–style pizza is really noteworthy, and the pastas are delicious, too. Narbona wines and dairy products are featured here as well, which you can enjoy as you rub elbows with the lunching Argentinians; this is the only luxury port close to Buenos Aires.
5 family to-dos
1. Gaucho horseback ride and picnic. At nearby Tierra de Caballos, a gaucho will shepherd you and the kids on a gentle ride through the pine needle–carpeted forest, and along the gentle countryside dotted with lagoons and canals. The ride is quite relaxing. If you like, make it a day trip with a family picnic at the half-way point. Another option: experienced equestrians can sign up for polo lessons. Ask the Concierge for more details.
2. Bike riding. This activity is fun and not too strenuous. Check out complimentary bikes at the Spa and pedal along the red-earth dirt roads. Riding to Puerto Camacho for lunch is a great excuse to get out and about. Once there, you can lock up the bikes and stroll around. (There are also bikes with baby seats on the back available.)
3. Family cooking class. Ask the Concierge about a family cooking class. Learn how to prepare a classic Uruguayan dish with the pros in a Four Seasons kitchen. (English translation available.) Baking alfajores with the pastry chef is almost as delightful as eating them.
The Resort also offers a mate class on how to sip, and appreciate, the signature South American tea—it’s really more of a culture than a beverage.
4. Tour Colonia del Sacramento. About an hour’s drive from Carmelo, Colonia del Sacramento is a UNESCO World Heritage town and one of the oldest in South America. Set on the river, this place was the site of many famous battles between the Spanish and Portuguese. And they’ve left their mark: lovely Colonial architecture and a bounty of sunken treasure just offshore. There’s even an abandoned 15,000-spectator bullfighting ring, the only one in South America (while there, test out the astounding acoustics). A highlight for the kids—besides sitting on the canons and scampering up the stone city walls—is wading through treasures in an antiques store.
5. Kids For All Seasons. Technically for the five-to-12 crowd, kids under nine will be thrilled to spend the whole day here. On the Kids For All Seasons kids’ club roster: tennis, golf, fishing for mojarras (small river fish), playing on the beach and building sandcastles, arts and crafts, games, puppet making, mask making, and decorating cupcakes. During Carnaval and the festive season (December–January), there are also special events such as Candombe lessons, Afro-Uruguayan folk music with drums, live music and tango shows, and superhero themed days. The very sweet and engaged staff welcome even the most reluctant of niños.