Often overlooked in favour of its big-hitting neighbours Brazil and Argentina, Sarah Gilbert finds Uruguay’s rural wine regions, laid-back beach resorts and easy-to-navigate roads make for a memorable self-drive holiday.
On my first evening at Narbona Wine Lodge, I indulge in a generous tasting of its award winning wines including Tannat – Uruguay’s signature red – in the ancient cellar, paired with some moreish cheeses from the estate’s own farm, and wonder why I haven’t heard of it before.
Squeezed between Argentina and Brazil, diminutive Uruguay is often overlooked by travellers to Latin America but it’s slowly stepping out of the shadow of its far larger neighbours and becoming an increasingly popular destination in its own right.
Dubbed the ‘Switzerland of South America’, Uruguay is one of the safest countries on the continent and a paragon of political and economic stability. It has a year round mild climate with no extreme temperatures and surprisingly stylish accommodation, from luxurious estancias (estates) and wine lodges to city boutiques and beach retreats.
It may lack the stunning scenery of Patagonia or the flamboyance of Rio, but with a landscape dotted with grazing cattle – it’s home to more cows than people – and a pristine coastline, it is a place to slow down and relax, providing an easy introduction to Latin America.
And, unlike its neighbours, the country is perfect for a self-driving tour, with well-maintained and signposted roads, generally respectful drivers and often very little traffic – aside from the peak summer holiday season from mid-December to February.