Uruguay: Coastline, Vines & Surprising Wines

Wedged between Brazil and Argentina, Uruguay is a tiny country often overlooked for its larger-than-life neighbours. You won't find massive mountain peaks like in Patagonia, or monstrous wonders of the world (ahem, Machu Picchu). Instead, Uruguay offers an irresistible atmosphere of a laidback California-cool. It's a hideout for illustrious artists and chefs on a search for low-profile living surrounded by constant inspiration and natural beauty. And with its up-and-coming wine industry, glamorous hotels and emerging arts scene, it's easy to see why South America’s high society flocks here on holiday. 

When Experience Designer Stephanie Gulledge guided her first trip in Uruguay, she fell in love with their way of life and wanted to share that special spirit with travellers, offering an adventure that was really off the beaten path. Below she shares the highlights of our new Uruguay Active trip, an incredible journey through refined hamlets and sandy beach towns, made greater by the local characters we’ll introduce you to along the way.

First things first, why a biking trip in Uruguay?

Uruguay has all of the elements of a classic B&R trip. Incredible hotels, unique cultural experiences, really great food, bike routes and surprising wine. It’s a beautiful, compact destination that allows us to bike from hotel to hotel, passing the coast, vineyards and beautiful waterways. The diversity of Uruguay’s landscape is unparalleled, and the multi-active portion also layers in hiking, kayaking and yoga to showcase the varying terrain. 

In terms of first experiences in Latin America, everyone usually has Peru or Argentina on their mind. But I would encourage travellers to get their first taste of Uruguay for unique local encounters against incredibly diverse landscapes. Argentina and Peru are absolutely amazing, but Uruguay is where the locals from Brazil, Chile and the rest of South America holiday, so that creates even more of a local experience.

Uruguay is a land of chic surf towns, an incredible art scene and vineyards akin to Tuscany. With so much variety packed into one tiny country, what sites or cultural elements are you looking forward to introducing travellers to the most?

Travellers will get to experience the classic B&R elements, from vineyard hopping and coastal bike rides to phenomenal meals and world-class chefs. But this trip is really about showcasing the spirit of Uruguay and the special elements that make it stand out from the rest of South America. 

Uruguay is a small, centralized and progressive society; the morals of the local people are very strong. Family values and meals together are important, and we’re able to spread these encounters out all throughout the trip. I’m most excited to share that special layer of the country that you’ll be immersed in when travelling with B&R, made possible by local connections. 

In Montevideo, travellers will meet our friend and expert musician Lobo Nuñez. He's the soul of candombe music, a style of drumming and dance that first surfaced in the late 18th c. Candombe is an expression of art, culture, music and complex choreography and is highly tied to the culture of Uruguay today. It's been recognized by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Lobo is an amazing contact on the first day because he's a perfect representation of Uruguayan culture and the spirit that candombe represents.

Sometimes we're lucky enough to meet Pablo Atchugarry, a mega-artist living a low-profile in the countryside. We take a beautiful bike ride to his workshop and have lunch, enjoying the views of his park and sculptures. But travelling with our incredible local guides and hearing about their life and stories is often the best eyes and ears into what the country is all about.

On this trip, you introduce travellers to a region in the countryside known as the ‘Tuscany of Uruguay.’ What makes this region so special?

There’s this chic beach town called José Ignacio, people travel from all over the world to rub shoulders with the who’s who there. Behind the town, you have rolling hills and vineyards similar to Tuscany. There are olive plantations spread throughout, and here you can really get a sense of the European influence that was left. Having access to all of that is why the locals are able to consume a healthy Mediterranean diet, where everything is grown in the area. The hills aren’t to the degree of Tuscany, and we have access to more van support and e-bikes, so it’s perfect for all activity levels.

Any hotel highlights?

If you’re into art and hotels, this trip is an incredible combination of the two. We chose to use two properties from the Vik group. The first is the Estancia Vik, an elevated ranch experience in José Ignacio. The property is very far from a real ‘ranch’ experience as it’s filled with avant-garde art—every single room and suite has been designed by a different local artist. On a Scheduled trip it’s always fun to tour everyone’s room and see what direction the artist went in. Walking into each room is like walking into a whole new world.

Estancia Vik

Bahia Vik

We also stay at Bahia Vik, the newest property by the Vik group nestled on the coast. Once you get there you don’t need to wear your shoes because you’re on white sand. In addition to having great rooms, they have a really beautiful dining experience and an incredible pool. For me, these are some of the most unique hotels I’ve ever been to.

What's the food scene like?

The farm-to-table experience is part of everyday life in Uruguay. There’s an incredible food scene and they eat locally without making an effort. They have access to local produce, fresh olive oil and seafood, and they’re also one of the largest cattle-producing countries in the world. 

There’s a lot of creativity that’s gone into the food that we get to experience on this trip. There’s a blend of cultures when you’re eating - in some places you’ll find little touches of French influence. In other places, they have unique ways of cooking with fire and cooking outdoors. Organic eating is just the way of life for them, as is the concept of farm-to-table.

I love visiting this little beachside restaurant called La Huella. Fresh seafood with whatever local veggies they’re offering that time of year - you can’t have a better meal than that. There’s great music playing along with the sound of crashing waves in the background. The ambiance and the food experience (with a glass of Tannat!) are not to be missed.

Sometimes, a B&R trip simply isn’t long enough to enjoy the wonders of Uruguay! How can travellers extend their stay for the best vacation possible?

Whether you want to keep biking or go wine tasting, I recommend spending some extra time in Carmelo for a unique way to end the trip. It’s an even bigger wine-producing area surrounded by endless vineyards and amazing beaches. You can even go on a cruise down the Río de la Plata!

Stephanie Gulledge

Regions of expertise: Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Patagonia, Uruguay

Feeling inspired to experience our little secret in South America? Get in touch with Stephanie Gulledge to reserve your spot for 2023 and 2024.