Wednesday, October 07, 2009
Tango provides the musical backdrop to San Telmo
San Telmo is my favorite spot in Buenos Aires. It’s popular not just with me…but with tourists and artists, too. And property prices are rising thanks to this newfound popularity. It wasn’t always this way, though.
The areas ranked as Buenos Aires’ most desirable have changed over the years. As happens in cities around the world, a prime location is semi-abandoned and falls into disrepair, until a new generation sees the potential and the area becomes chic again.
This process is particularly noticeable in San Telmo.
San Telmo is Buenos Aires’ oldest barrio (neighborhood). Known as San Pedro Heights in the 17th century, it was home to dockworkers and brick makers. The vibe was industrial, not trendy or upscale. In the 1800s, improvements in the district started attracting wealthier families. They built imposing homes, and the area became desirable for the middle and upper classes.
A cholera outbreak in 1871 changed this upward trend. The wealthy families abandoned San Telmo. Their large homes gradually fell into disrepair, eventually becoming tenements, housing waves of Italian, English and Russian immigrants.
The district then became bohemian, drawing in artists, and a cultural crowd. The restoration of the tenements to their former glory began in the 1980s.
Today, San Telmo is a mix of art galleries, museums, cafes, and antique shops. The vibe is tango—visit any weekend and you’re likely to catch a live performance, often in the street.
Plaza Dorrego is the centerpiece of San Telmo. At the weekend, the streets fill with stalls selling art and antiques, street entertainers, tango dancers, and a sea of tourists and browsers. If you’re a lover of antiques, whether it’s glass, ceramics or twentieth-century furniture, San Telmo has what you’re looking for.
The restaurants and cafes here describe themselves as “authentic???, many serving traditional fare. When you visit, have a coffee in Bar Plaza Dorrego, one of the older bars in Buenos Aires, and soak up the relaxed, historic atmosphere of times past, to the sound of classic tango.
For me the attractions of San Telmo are many. I like the style of the older buildings; a contrast to Buenos Aires’ high rises. I enjoy the lively plazas, and the bohemian atmosphere. Then there’s the antique shops…I could spend weeks trawling through those.
The fact that properties can cost less than a $1000 a square meter adds to San Telmo’s charms. That’s half what you’d pay in other desirable locations in Buenos Aires.
A 3-bedroom apartment with 110 square meters, in a light, airy building, was $130,000 ($1181 a square meter). A beautiful French-style apartment of 141 square meters was $140,000 ($993 a square meter).
A stylish penthouse apartment was my favorite—166 square meters for $185,000 ($1114 a square meter). It’s already nicely renovated, bright, and with a huge open living space This apartment’s remodeling made a focus of the double-height ceilings, and there was a spacious outdoor terrace…perfect for alfresco dining.
The broker had a 12-room boutique hotel too, a massive 860 square meters, for $580,000 ($675 a square meter). This gem of a building had an amazing lobby, double-height ceilings, and original wood and tiled floors. This must have been one of the original imposing homes from the 1800s, built as a symbol of the taste, aspirations and wealth of its owners.
As well as costing significantly less than period properties in other parts of Buenos Aires, San Telmo’s colonial properties cost less than half what you’d pay for a similar property in Casco Viejo, Panama, or Cartagena, Colombia. And San Telmo’s charms easily match these better-known destinations. I expect that the best period properties in San Telmo will be snapped up over the next couple of years, by a new generation of buyers who see this neighborhood’s potential—in the same way the wealthy families did, more than 150 years ago.
P.S. Next week, we escape the city and head to one of Argentina’s favorite beach resorts (and compare it to another favorite resort for Buenos Aires’ residents…Punta del Este in Uruguay).
You might also be interested in: