LUGARES MAGAZINE Nro. 97
Pags.: 56 - 61
By: Lugares File
Photos: Nacho Calonge
It is on the way to Punta Ninfas, the tip of Nuevo Gulf, where the only thing to be seen is a lighthouse, commanding the top of the cliff. If the bare topography of this land limit is striking, the manor house of what used to be a productive southern ranch is more so. Although the map proves it exists, getting there implies an act of faith in continuing onward when the roads seem to peter out.
Suddenly it comes to view: one's eyes discover that incredible dwelling place - the pointed spire of the tower emerging from the treetops, the split-level roofing and the wooden rafters in full view. Its architecture oozes nobility, an unsuspected quality in these rough and ready surroundings.
Towards the demise of the 19th century, Felix Arbeletche, hailing from Endaya, in the Basque country of Spain, arrived in Valdes Peninsula together with his brother-in-law Felix Olazabal, and settled in a place he called La Cantabrica.
Before that, he had worked as a rural laborer in Tandil; then he bought some sheep and, as was the custom at the time, drove them to Peninsula. He sent for his wife, and started a new and prosperous life. He had every reason to feel happy.
Very different from his were the feelings of Maria Olazabal, his wife, for whom the austere plateau landscape made a poor substitute for her lush native land, and the salty sea air simply increased her homesickness. Her husband made an impulsive decision; to put an end to her feelings of grief at her exile once and for all, he had pine trees planted around, and then built up the ground with pick and shovel, later building a mansion with materials brought from France.
The design is an exact reproduction of the chateaux of southwestern France, but at the age of 42, Maria left this world without seeing the building finished. Felix did not marry again, and at his death La Cantabrica remained as an inheritance for his son Juan, and El Pedral for his daughter Sofia.
The land was eventually sold, and all that remained of the estancia was the ranch-house, a prized item that no-one wants to sell. Three generations later, it acts as a magnet for the family every year, especially during the December holidays, and during most of the summer.
One of the current owners is Maria Jose Gonzalez Bonorino, great-granddaughter of Felix, and married to Wendt von Thüngen, an Argentine with a German father, whose family owns an estancia in Santa Cruz.
Wendt personally receives and attends the guests. He meets them at the airport, organizes activities for them and shows them around, and looks after them until he leaves them "in one piece" and satisfied at the departure gate.
Obviously, horses, trekking and mountain biking are also part of the classical offer. But going sailing is "the" program that this environment really demands, whether it is only to view these shores with their occasional sightings of water birds, or go on a fishing expedition, or test one's skill water skiing. Whatever the reason, it is worthwhile going out to sea.
The lazier lot won't dream of straying from the comfortable mansion, with so many rooms to discover and so many spaces to enjoy, both inside and outside: the winter garden; that wonderful balcony facing the great blue deep, with book in hand or a relaxed mind; the quiet of the verandahs and the serene library where one may peruse a valuable collection of magazines edited by La Anonima over half a century ago.
In the kitchen, meanwhile, there is always some young white-hatted chef -hired whenever there are guests in residence- busy preparing real gourmet delicacies.
The original guesthouse -the one that had always been there- was expanded to host groups, an activity that started in the year 2000. It now lodges 12 people; the rooms are sober and pleasant. However, there are always visitors who prefer living in the house itself.
Those who find their way here are mostly foreign, and regardless of origin and nationality, the established policy is to keep them separate.
Over 1000 footsteps separate this peerless refuge from the sea.
The beach is an immense stretch of gravel, and a walk to the water's edge easily explains the name of this property. It is a universe of smooth multicolored pebbles that are hidden or revealed by the tide, according to the time of day.
To get to El Pedral in one's own vehicle, once you are on Route 6, you have to leave Cracker Bay behind you and go ten kilometers further on to a tumbledown gate in the fence, go through it and do another three kilometers inland, go down a slope on a steep track in terrible condition (this is the way it is designed), and right there, a few meters away you will find the entrance.
However, before setting off it would be a good idea to advise Wendy.