The barrio of San Telmo, named after the patron saint of seafarers San Pedro González Telmo, is where Buenos Aires began. Where the Spaniard Pedro de Mendoza founded the first settlement in the 16th century, that grew into one of the most important cities in South America.
When its wealthy residents fled North and East after an outbreak of yellow fever in 1871, it paved the way for an influx of multi-cultural immigrants from across Europe. The new arrivals moved into the empty mansions left behind by fleeing former residents and converted them into Conventillos (slum like tenements), setting the tone for San Telmo’s working class vibe.
Much of that vibe is still evident and fiercely guarded by residents, against the onslaught of big business and greedy realtors. And it is that fading grandeur that holds the most allure for artists and visitors alike.
A walk through the cobblestoned streets of this atmospheric neighbourhood – with its crumbling mansions, artists studios, antique shops, and quaint bars and restaurants – does not disappoint.
You need to go on a Sunday if you want to witness its greatest attraction – the colourful Feria de San Telmo – and if you don’t mind crazy crowds! We do, and although this was supposed to be a watered down version because of the elections, we thought it was still pretty crazy!
The terrace of a restaurant (Amici Miei) overlooking Plaza Dorrego proved the perfect escape, and a great vantage point for some interesting people watching. And here, we washed down our disappointment over the cancelled evening Milonga, (the Tango performance in the square that we had expected to witness from this very same balcony over dinner) with a bottle of heavenly Malbec.