We’ve only just arrived in Buenos Aires, but already I’m feeling more Argentinian than Diego Maradona dipped in dulce de leche and rolled in yerba mate. I’m taking a siesta next to the national flag, there’s a polo match on the television, the city’s black-and-yellow taxis are rumbling past outside and one of Argentina’s most celebrated legends is looking down at me from the walls. And did I mention that I’ve just washed my hair in Malbec? (Well, the shampoo is made it. I’ve not completely lost my marbles to the theme.) Welcome to Legado Mitico.
Homing in on the hotel – at some speed – we graduate from the quilombo (utter chaos) of the city centre, to the gentle babble of Palermo, an upmarket enclave of cobbled streets where the lattés, handbags and sunglasses are super-size and the dogs are tiny. And on one of these streets, the mahogany-panelled doors of Legado Mitico open and a man in a cream suit ushers us into the hushed, thick-carpeted sanctum within.
Five minutes and a few soothing words later, we are sipping a glass of wine in the Library. This is not the kind of book-lined enclave that is presided over by an actual librarian, it’s more like the smoking room of a dashing aristo polo player, with helmets and mallets slung casually around among the leather armchairs and ornamental orchids. I half expect him to slink in, martini glass in hand, at any moment. However, he must be out chasing heiresses, because the handsome space is all ours. Ah, and that’s Mr Smith over there perched on the arm of a chair, browsing the shelves, which are full of tomes on the ‘mythical legends’ from Argentinian history – Che Guevara (El Idiolista), Carlos Gardel (El Tanguero), Eva Peron (La Primera Dama) – around which each room is themed.
I’m particularly keen to perfect the Latin art of siesta, so it’s time to meet our legend, El Heroe. The hero in question is not Maradona (to Mr Smith’s disappointment), but General Manual Belgrano, hero of the fight for independence, creator of the national flag and founder of Buenos Aires’ first newspaper. Just like the library, it’s suitably gentlemanly and urbane, with a mahogany writing desk that an Argentinian ambassador somewhere might be missing, antique maps and a portrait of the man himself, over a handsome occasional chair that he would almost certainly have sat in if he were here now. But my favourite part is his bathroom, which is the last word in water closet chic, with a gleaming sink sunk into an antique marble-topped washstand and a gilt-framed mirror.
It’s also the only bedroom I’ve ever stayed in where the reading material on offer includes a full set of encyclopedias. But we’re on holiday, so I settle for Hola! and kick back on the bed. Widthways. Just because I can. Mr Smith is sitting in Belgrano’s armchair with a copy of the local Time Out, swatting up on local restaurants, which, given there are a dozen or so within two blocks, is a serious undertaking. We have plenty of time – we’ve been warned that no self-respecting local will consider picking up a knife and fork before 9pm, even 10 or 11 at weekends. In the end we plump for Moroccan at Bereber, just round the corner, where we sip cocktails and eat excellent chargrilled lamb in the flickering candlelight of a rooftop terrace overlooking a leafy plaza.
So, next day we’re dusting off the city map at 7am ready for a day of sightseeing. Or we would be if the temptations of a bed big enough for the whole Argentinian football team and an 11am breakfast deadline weren’t too much. In reality, we slink down to the library at 10.30 for a fortifying spread of basil and ginger lemonade, fresh fruit, scrambled eggs, pastries and cakes. From the wall, Carlos Gardel looks on – a little disapprovingly perhaps – as I sneak a second helping of dulce de leche.
As we’re in the epicentre of Palermo, I’m eager to check out the local boutiques, but Mr Smith is not exactly the Gok Wan of shopping partners, so we decide to wander across the nearby parks to the Museo Evita, to find out a little more about the famous first lady we’ve heard so much about. In fact, we end up more excited about the discovery of the café – postcard-perfect rive gauche salon inside, rambling courtyard out – where we join the area’s artistically coiffed ladies for a late lunch under the umbrellas. It’s a hot day but in this part of town the streets are well shaded, so we loll under the canopy, watching dapper old couples and dog walkers clutching handfuls of leads (15 was the record) trickle past.
However, what’s really occupying my thoughts is a late-afternoon visit to the sundeck back at Legado Mitico. On our return, we only have to whisper the ‘s’ word to one of the now-legendary men in cream and he’s whistled up a stack of fluffy white towels, a bubbling hot-tub and two glasses of sauvignon blanc. As the sun dips on our last evening at the hotel, we soak in the reddening sky from the third-floor deck, listen to the hum of the city below and talk about the night ahead. I am dreaming of a midnight milonga in one of the tango salons downtown, while Mr Smith has more carnal pleasures in mind: a football-sized hunk of red meat at one of Palermo’s parrillas. Will it be tango or tangle? Will Mr Smith eat his own body weight in steak? Who knows? The only certainty is that – like all good stories – tonight will end with our Heroe.