March 08, 2017

Faded elegance of Montevideo

If you asked me yesterday what I knew about Uruguay and its capital, Montevideo, I would have little to tell you, so my maiden visit to this elegant South American city was sure to be an eye-opener.

With extensive beachside boulevards and fading 19th and 20th century European architecture, it is a picturesque city with lots of parks and city squares following locations like Buenos Aires (just across the River Plate) and Santiago. The whole country supports a population of a little more than 3 million people, half of whom reside in this bustling, compact metropolis.

With just 48 hours to explore, there is scant time to immerse yourself in the rich surroundings, but some things certainly caught my eye on my four-hour coach tour around the beaches and boulevards in glorious autumn sunshine.

Hotel Sofitel Montevideo Casino Carrasco and Spa
The first building that caught my attention was the imposing Hotel Sofitel Montevideo Casino Carrasco and Spa, a grand French-styled palais with a perfect waterfront position. Opened in 1921, it slowly fell into disrepair and closed for a time in 1990s before reopening in 2013 in its current guise. Regrettably, I didn't have time to explore it.

The other building no one can fail to miss is the massive Salvo Palace right in the middle of the city on Independence Square. When completed in 1928, it stood at 100m and was once the largest and tallest building in South America. Designed by the architect Mario Palanti, an Italian immigrant living in Buenos Aires, it is based on a similar design for his Palacio Barolo in Buenos Aires. Planned as a hotel that never eventuated, it is now a mix of residential and commercial and is still largely unrestored, at least externally.

Palacio Salvo

Anyone who knows me will know the temptation to have a look inside was too much, so I crept in to inspect what I could. I was able to take the lift to the 10th floor and climb the stairs to the top floor, level 22. All exits were, unfortunately (and wisely) locked and outward windows boarded up, but much of the old interior remains. I passed an elderly gent in a wheelchair who had been walking his dog and could see inside the windows of the tiny apartments as residents took their dinner. The original elevator cages remain, but new lifts have been installed.

You can even book one of these as a 'vacation rental'

Perhaps I should go back tomorrow and take one of the guided tours?

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