Estancia Los Potreros is a hidden gem nestling deep in the Sierras Chicas; a luxurious haven where you are the honoured guests of the Begg family. At the airport Kevin Begg, fourth generation Argentinean cattle farmer and co-owner of the estancia, welcomed us with a warm smile and shepherded us through the tiny airport and out into the open air. After a 26hr journey we were quite bleary-eyed but this was my first trip to South America and no sooner were we on the road the excitement began to build. I was bursting with anticipation as we drove up the dirt track to the estancia, taking in the vast blue skies and the billowing pampas grass so indicative of the area.
Louisa Begg, Kevin’s wife, greeted us at the gate, along with several jolly dogs and we were whisked into our beautiful accommodation to settle in. Every room on the estancia has been tastefully and individually decorated with beautiful antique furniture. They manage to amalgamate cosy rusticity with a traditional grandeur; those who visit will soon discover that attention to detail are the watchwords of Los Potreros. It was mid-June and although this was winter it was warm and sunny and perfect riding weather, but in the evenings there is a chill in the air and for this reason every room on the estancia is equipped with a wood-burner which we found just heavenly, especially because the experience came complete with a little cat called Rosita! Rosita, it has to be said, was a highlight of our holiday, often curling up in front of the fire as we drifted off to sleep of a night.
My husband David and I were joined by our friends Becky and Jay with their 6 month old baby Hugh. No sooner had Valeria, Gladys and Alexis (his minders for the week) set eyes on him they were smitten! It’s fair to say these ladies were REALLY looking forward to Hugh’s arrival. With such wonderful childminders Becky and Jay were able to ride with us everyday which was fantastic.
Our first morning began with the best breakfast we had ever had courtesy of Sarah and Maria, the two volunteers. The most perfect poached eggs and succulent bacon were accompanied by homemade bread and freshly brewed coffee.
I couldn’t wait to see the horses so straight afterwards it was down to the yard for our morning ride. Los Potreros has about 150 horses in all, a mixture of Criollos and Paso Peruanos, the latter of which they breed to a very high standard. We all gathered nervously by the tack room, eyeing up the horses who were kitted out and waiting patiently.
Louisa first gave us a demonstration on how to ride ‘gaucho style’, using neck-reining for direction rather than leg aids, and the horse she was riding moved smoothly, responsive to her aids. This horse was called Simpatica, and she was my first ride.
Once mounted we headed out into a shimmering wilderness of pampas. The horses, ears pricked, walked out beautifully. We were riding to a waterfall; the sun was strong overhead and the air was fresh and clean. Upon reaching a secluded little copse in a valley by a stream we dismounted, tied up the horses, and gingerly made our way on foot down towards the waterfall, clinging to the surrounding greenery for support as it was rather a precipitous descent! It was well worth it though, for we now stood in an idyllic setting; the water cascaded over the rocks into a sparkling pool surrounded by lush foliage. Here we enjoyed a morning coffee with biscuits, admiring the way the sun caught the water and chatting in a rather animated fashion about our new best friends; our horses. After a careful climb we were back in the saddle and finished off the morning with a glorious blast across the pampas.
Back at the estancia we were greeted with chilled lemonade, and after a quick clean up, it was out on the terrace for a glass of wine and some nibbles. It has to be said that the food at Los Potreros is second to none; rarely have I experienced such consistently superb cuisine – definitely bring your stretchy pants! Lunch is often taken on the terrace or on the lawn and it is a splendid affair, and probably the most exciting lunch we enjoyed was the famous beef asado. Los Potreros is a working cattle farm breeding Aberdeen Angus cattle and it prides itself on producing some of the best beef you will ever taste. An asado means that nothing is wasted and the food just keeps coming; flank followed by ribs followed by steak, black pudding and sweetbreads – everything is enjoyed, all washed down with deep, full-bodied local red wine. A long siesta is necessary after such a feast; indeed I admit I couldn’t manage my dinner after such an amazing repast!
Evening rides at Los Potreros tend to be a little more sedate and give you the opportunity to ride the Paso Peruanos. First another demo; Julio, riding the estancia’s handsome stallion, showed us the Paso’s famous 5th gait, a smooth, swimming motion resulting in a gliding sensation when riding. At first it is quite unusual but atop the glorious Negro El Once I soon discovered the delightful comfort of the gait.
No trip to Los Potreros is complete without making a fool of yourself on the polo ground. All are welcome to try, from beginner to experienced rider, and I can guarantee all will be subjected to a scolding or three from Lou; rarely did I get near the ball when a booming ‘FOUL!!!!!!!!’ didn’t grace the air. I have never had so much fun in my life, all the horses are bandaged and plaited and look very professional, and then there’s you, milling around, slowing to a dawdle whilst tapping the ball between your horse’s legs. It also brought out a hitherto unseen competitive streak in my husband David, who got a generous dose of ‘white ball fever’! Margarita, my fine mount for the match, was truly ashamed of me. Margarita is a polo ace, not only does she listen for where the ball goes and then gallops in the appropriate direction, she can ride off any horse no matter what their size, teeth bared and ears back they scatter as she approaches. Sadly, I don’t think I hit the ball once, but the beauty of it is that it simply did not matter, it was just wonderful fun.
Gaucho day comes a close second in the embarrassment stakes. With effortless skill Luis, Julio and Daniel lassoed little calves and then stood by expectantly as we lassoed ourselves. But my saving grace was the ‘sortija’, a gaucho game on horseback that involves threading a stick through a small ring the size of a milk bottle top at speed whilst racing against your opponent. Riding the stunning Rebenque, who had the smoothest of paces, I triumphantly brought home the ring, beaming from ear to ear.
I think my favourite ride has to be bringing in the horses though. One crisp morning we rode out onto the estancia with the gauchos to bring in the horses who had been on holiday for the last month. As you might expect, they were fairly spread out and in bringing them in we were to witness the skill of both the gauchos and our own horses. The landscape is rugged and unforgiving, made up of wide open grassland with steep rocky crags and gullies, yet the horses move at speed in this challenging terrain. High up on a hilltop we stood together to watch Daniel bring a small herd down off the mountain. They galloped down the steep hillside into the ravine below, and as they ran stragglers and other small herds joined them, bucking and leaping, a myriad of colours all running together. It was a breathtaking sight; seeing them running free, so full of spirit and obviously enjoying the game of round up. As they raced up to meet us we began to spread out in order to drive them towards the estancia. My horse, Salchicha, was a natural, who could have done the job with his eyes closed. Like water, the loose horses flowed over the landscape and we all moved together matching the herd’s pace. Salchicha, like a sheepdog, was completely in tune with the exercise, and would happily gallop away from the herd to round off a horse that’d broken free of the group.
Los Potreros’ horses have a varied and stimulating life on the estancia, working with guests as well as with gauchos whilst at the same time enjoying out-rides and polo. It is because of this they are independent minded, with individual characters and a lovely spirit combined with excellent manners. I can truly say they were amongst the best horses I have ever ridden. Salchicha and I worked together, driving the herd forward, cantering alongside them as they skipped and played and jostled one another. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.
Los Potreros represents the horsemanship of Argentina at its best. Rarely will you come across such fantastic horses, and learning all about the history of the estancia and the old homestead you really do feel welcomed into an authentic environment. Everybody is so genuinely warm and convivial here, Hugh’s entourage even cried when he left! Recently voted one of the 100 Best Hotels in the World by the Sunday Times Travel Magazine, it definitely deserves all the accolades bestowed upon it, and with direct flights to Cordoba from Madrid starting this October, gone are the days of 26hr journeys. It’s fair to say that those who visit will definitely be back again for another chukka or two. Louisa and Kevin are such exceptional hosts and devote so much time to their guests that you head off with a feeling of leaving friends, and often, like me, with a tear in your eye.
For more information and to book:
Webpage: Estancia Los Potreros
Telephone: 01767 600606 (UK); 1-437-371-2822 (Canada); 1-888-420-0964 (USA); +46 (0)8-58176336 (Scandinavia)
Account by Danielle Wittman