What if someone told you that you could stay in a garden oasis, in a mid-century modern room overlooking the sea, with fresh hot coffee on your terrace in the morning, and miles of sandy beach just outside your door?
Then what if that same someone told you that this beach getaway was in South America, along the Atlantic coast — in Uruguay?
You might ask, as my husband Alan did when I proposed that we spend several days in the Uruguay beach town of La Pedrera, “Uruguay? Why Uruguay?”
Where is La Pedrera?
Most North Americans, if they know anything about South America’s smallest country and its beaches, know about Punta del Este, Uruguay’s seaside party town a two-hour drive east of Montevideo, that’s often compared to St. Tropez, the Hamptons, or Miami Beach. It’s got beautiful white sand, and during the peak of South American summer in January and February, it’s got crowds of sun seekers and late-night bar hoppers.
But if you keep driving east along Uruguay’s Atlantic coast, about an hour past Punta, you reach the turnoff for tiny La Pedrera. Though this laid-back beach village is popular with 20-somethings — a local friend compared the scene in January to “Woodstock” — at other times of year, it’s just a laid-back oceanfront town.
There’s one main street with restaurants serving Uruguay’s staples of grilled steak and surprisingly excellent pizza, along with moderately-priced local wine. A few pubs, a couple of grocery stores, some shaggy-haired surfers, and at the end of the street, two spectacular beaches.
What La Pedrera doesn’t have are many hotels. A few properties cater to backpackers and campers, and many families rent houses. Several years ago, though, an enterprising Argentine woman renovated an old motel into the upscale mid-century modern Hotel Brisas de La Pedrera. Here’s the scoop:
The Brisas de La Pedrera Story
Born in Argentina, Brisas owner Laura Jauregui relocated to California, working in high-tech for a number of years. When she first saw the property that’s now Brisas de La Pedrera, she says, it was a run-down two-story motel one block off the town’s main street.
But Jauregui also thought that it would be a good investment, and she set about renovating it, rebranding as a boutique lodging, and reopening in 2010 with 15 comfortable guest rooms.
Guest Rooms and Amenities
All the guest rooms at Brisas are simply decorated with a mix of mid-century modern and beachy-rattan furnishings. All the rooms are air-conditioned and have ceiling fans, tea kettles, and bathrobes. You get a beach tote and beach towels to use during your stay. There’s free Wi-Fi, but no TVs or telephones (though La Pedrera does have good cell phone service).
The hotel has three categories of guest rooms. The standard “Jardin” (Garden) units are on the first floor with patios facing the garden but without views to the sea.
The mid-priced Zen units, including the room where we stayed (pictured above), are on the second floor, with vistas from the terrace over the adjacent rooftops to the beach.
We loved sitting on our terrace looking out to the ocean, and the Wi-Fi signal was strong enough that we could even get some work done while we were enjoying the view.
The third room type, the most expensive, are the two “Master” units. These corner rooms on the second floor have windows on two sides offering panoramic views.
Facilities and Services
Hotel Las Brisas serves a full breakfast every morning, included in the room rates. You can help yourself to fresh fruit, yogurt, pastries, excellent bread, coffee, and hot milk, and if you like, staff will cook eggs to order. We took our breakfast on the shaded patio, and you could also eat out in the garden or indoors at tables in the lobby lounge, which is stocked with magazines and books in multiple languages.
Most of the staff speak English and can answer your questions or recommend places to go.
The hotel doesn’t have a lot of “luxury” amenities, like a pool or fitness room, but you’re just a few minutes’ walk from the beach where you can swim, surf, or walk for miles.
Within a five-minute walk of Brisas are two long sandy beaches, popular with surfers and sun-seekers. You can drive a short distance in either direction along the coast for more beaches, to the west at La Paloma and to the east all the way to the Brazilian border.
We enjoyed a fantastic leisurely multi-course lunch one day at Chez Silvia, which former architect Silvia Graciela Esquivel and her partner run in their stylish beachfront home in the village of Oceanía del Polonio.
But most of the time, we walked along the sand or sat on our terrace, content that we were spending our holiday in Uruguay.
Rates at Brisas de La Pedrera vary with the seasons. In low season (April to mid-November), when the weather can be cool and damp, expect to pay US$130/150/180 per night for Jardin/Zen/Master rooms. Rates in mid-season (mid-November to mid-December and March) are US$150/180/220; we had excellent warm and mostly sunny weather during our early December stay.
In busy January and February, rates range from US$190/250/300. And if you come during the peak Christmas-New Year’s holiday period, you’ll pay US$250/310/360.
Hotel review by Vancouver-based travel, food, and feature writer Carolyn B. Heller. Photos © Carolyn B. Heller.