Thanks to the good graces of our friends in La Floresta (Steve and Diane) we were treated with a trip to Piriapolis, the largest coastal town before you reach Punta del Este. Through the early 1900's and up until the 40's and 50's, Piriapolis was the destination in South America for the rich and famous and remained so until Punta del Este began developing into that role.
It is truly a beautiful town. You can see the elegance of the era from the opulence of the Hotel Argentino, with its beautiful marble floors and columns to the many historic and picturesque buildings throughout the city. A stay at the Hotel Argentino would run you about $60-$100 in the off season. As you can see from the pictures, we were some of the few visitors there. Although this was a warmish day (with some overcast), the beach was virtually empty, the rambla had few cars on it and most of the shops and restaurants were empty. While we had been told that the town was "dead" in the winter- we found that midweek (this being a Wednesday) it was quite lively and many shops and services were open. We will have to go back during high season (Dec-Jan) when we are told it is wall to wall people. I am sure I will prefer off season, however.
After a brief lunch stop at the local La Passiva (Uruguay's Denny's) which was particularly overpriced, we made our way up to one of the lookouts where we could see the town and also the third largest mountain in Uruguay (a notably flat country), Pan de Azucar, with it's famous cross on the top. From this vantage point we could look out over the harbor, get a nice view of the city and also the mountain. There is an alpine style chair lift that takes you from the beach to the lookout. It wasn't running today (probably only during the season), but it looks like it would be lots of fun. In addition, there was a small but well-kept marina below, as well. Looks like there were about a dozen slips available and several nice boats were in port.
We continued further along the coast and found lovely beach houses and nice communities, with signs of construction bustling all over. Before heading back into town, we sought out the house of one of the expats who used to blog about his experiences some time ago (Ken M.) and by chance were able to locate his house, from pictures he had posted. It had a nice view of the bay and his wife came out when we arrived, but Ken and the kids were down with the flu and so we missed meeting them.Entering the town again, we came across some of the architecture that makes this place special. We noted that this was a hotel-heavy town, with hotels in almost every block. As you can see from this view of the rambla looking from the Hotel Colón, this beautiful beach and walk are almost deserted. We had the whole place to ourselves.
Heading home, we passed through the inland part of the town, all very nicely paved streets and neat houses. Some very ritzy areas and some modest, but most of the areas were very well kept up. We came across a very nice park close to sundown. It had camping facilities nearby, was in the shadow of a massive granite mountain and you could even see the bay. The park had it's own caretaker. He had a little room connected to the bathrooms, and he was busy caring for the park. This was a little fountain where we could have filled up our water jugs, if needed.
There were heavy duty metal playground equipment. This was special, as many of the smaller parks in some of the smaller communities have such equipment made out of logs or even metal barrels. But this was first class. The center of the park was taken up by a very large circular pond and in the middle a very stately greek style cupola with a beautiful statue. The picture seemed a fitting end to a lovely day. We can hardly wait to go back and spend more time wondering about the town and finding new places to visit.