The road from Jose Ignacio to Garzón takes us inland. We drive through a landscape of endless green pastures interrupted by nothing but herds of fetching cows and lonesome groups of trees. Sofia tells me about the historic estancias that mark the land and Francis Mallman, a brilliant Argentine chef who believed no frontier was too rural for a new restaurant. It’s easy to miss the wooden road sign to Garzón but I’m happy for the change of pace. The nearer we get, the dustier the trail and the cooler the air. When we finally arrive, the village is nothing more than a central, treelined plaza, with a church and a few pastel, one-story buildings around it. It’s beautiful and quiet.
Garzón wasn’t much of a tourist destination until Francis Mallman built his 5-rooms hotel and Michelin star restaurant here in 2002. Today it is a luxurious yet rustic hub for hedonists and foodies, mostly from the States – it’s almost disorienting to hear American accents when we walk to the court yard. And it seems this is where most of the visitors hang out because the rest of the village is empty, except for a few playing children and a wandering dog. Sofia brought me here, not only to let me in on her little secret but also because Garzón has a unique vintage store. Alium sells vintage furniture and accessories and clothes, jewelry and art by locals and the occasional foreigner, like the Belgian William Sweetlove whose brightly colored animal sculptures I’ve seen perched on people’s terraces and gardens by the beach. We decide to mix Sofia’s vintage with the store’s many treasures and use Garzón as our back drop.
Sofia Sanchez Barrenechea has been coming to Punta for as long as she can remember. “Punta to Porteños (people from Buenos Aires) is like The Hamptons to New Yorkers,” she explains. “It’s beautiful, it’s close, and all of our friends go there!” Her days here are spent working on the computer for a few hours – she recently launched Under Our Sky, a website that represents new Argentinian designers and also works as an Art Director for various clients – before heading to the beach around lunch time – which means 5 PM in South America – because she doesn’t “like being in the sun when it’s too hot.” She models on occasion but always put this job secondary to her design ambitions. “If something comes up, then I consider it,” she shrugs. “I’d rather be behind the scenes pulling the strings; much more fun!” But she might be facing her most enticing career yet, that as It-girl. “You think so?” she laughs when I bring up her new social status and boyfriend of 2 years, Frenchman Alex de Betak. “If anything, I don’t think it’s because I’m seen with him, but because I go out to more fashion events when I’m with him. When he’s out of town I either stay in or go out to places where there’s no photographers nor fashion people.”
Sofia’s grandfather was an Ambassador in Washington in the 60′s so her grandmother had to dress up very often. “The size and beauty of her wardrobe is beyond!” she gasps. “I love vintage! But I like it better when it comes from someone I know, so it’s not just a piece of clothing, but has a story as well. I love wearing clothes that belonged to my grandmother. She is such an elegant woman!” The few pieces she brought with her to Alium are divine. And though it’s a limited selection – she’s on vacation, with just a fraction of her wardrobe on hand – you can easily tell this 26-year old beauty prefers comfort over fashion. “I’m pretty low key and understated in my every day life,” she concurs.
We have lunch at Lucifer, a quaint restaurant on one of the side streets behind the square and end our journey at Sofia’s house in Jose Ignacio. It’s a rental but it feels like home. The family books a house by the same architect every summer. “His name is Mario Conio,” Sofia tells me when we sit down on the porch with her mom and step dad (whose birthday party I attended the day after mine!). “We find his houses very simple and relaxing. They feel luxurious and at the same time not pretentious at all. Like Garzón! Simple luxury.” Docked by a lagoon, and in that mindset, it’s easy to forget the sand castles and sea gulls that engulf the beaches of Punta. It’s a welcome rescue from a rescue and I thank Sofia for an unforgettable day.