Bin the budget city breaks in Europe and save a few more pennies for a blast of Buenos Aires. The Argentinian capital offers culture junkies a real hit, and the pound goes further over there
You can physically feel the rush of the Buenos Aires 'fair winds' that gave the city its name. Walk down the metropolitan streets, dodge the magazine stands on every corner and weave your way around the grid-routed roads. The pace is exciting and passionate. Competitive, rosary-beaded taxi drivers blast out Latino music. Numerous cafes brew up mighty coffees for thirsty office workers. The pavements and roads are like arteries carrying the life blood of this city.
Being carried along on a wave of excitement is easy, and noticing the diverse architecture adds to the experience. The Art Deco high rise Edificio Kavanagh, in central district, boasts prosperity. I headed to the tourist-friendly districts of Palermo, Recoleta and La Boca, with its quaintly colourful dwellings and cafes.
I escaped the frenetic pace of life by relaxing in the parks of Palermo. They were originally built by the dictator Juan Manual de Rosas for the wealthy. Today, they are enjoyed by everyone for free, but have lost none of their wow factor. There are dozens of shady parks dotted along all the main routes of BA. These little oases feel continental. However, you won't find the city's professional dog-handlers in Paris or Rome - walking packs of dogs of all shapes and sizes, for pampered princesses probably shopping in Galerias Pacifico (753 Florida, Retiro), the dog-whisperers are a phenomenon I have never seen elsewhere.
If flora and fauna are your thing, visit Palermo's Botanical Gardens (Avenida Santa Fé 3951). Residents come here to read, recoup and take in the ambiance. The park boasts well-kept displays of foliage you won't find back home, and there is an incredible greenhouse to explore, with notices helpfully translated into English. Be careful not to tread on a savvy, snoozing cat, avoiding the midday sun.
Also seek out Palermo's Japanese Gardens (Avenida Casares 2966; 4804-4922/9141), which are ideal for a relaxing afternoon with the family. They boast a large koi pond, oriental structures and statues, and vegetation from the far east. Kids (and big kids) will love seeing the koi feeding, walking on the authentic bridges and having their picture taken with a Buddha. There are some fantastic examples of bonsai as well as other rare plants. Refreshments are sold on site, but they only offer fast food, so go elsewhere to eat. Entry for a family of four costs approximately £10.
There is so much to see in Recoleta - it is an artistic and architectural treasure trove. Recoleta Church is a real find. Outside, you can buy arts and crafts from independent market stalls, and once inside, you can't fail to be impressed by the incredibly ornate altar. There are shrines to various saints as well as the Madonna, and the colours of gold, greens and reds lend richness. The atmosphere remains reverent, as this is a functioning church. Around the corner, Recoleta Cemetery (Calle Junin), steeped in history, is worth a visit for Eva Peron's grave alone. Tours are available and are a good way to learn about the history of the city.
I must recommend a beautiful place to stay in Palermo. Hotel Krista is everything you would expect of a bespoke boutique hotel, offering character and value for money. It is based in the heart of a district favoured by creative types who love food and drink. Outside, it appears unassuming, but inside is tasteful and ornate, with friendly and informative staff, who offered us refreshments on arrival.
The cool, relaxing double rooms are private, and open onto communal, glass-roofed courtyards. These spaces are a real pleasure, with plants, wrought-iron furniture and a relaxing ambiance. The breakfast room is decadent without being gaudy. Chandeliers watch over the smorgasbord of sweet breads and pastries. Cooked breakfasts are also available. The coffee is strong and the juice freshly squeezed.
I really cannot rave about this place enough, especially as it was so reasonable (rooms start from around £55 a night plus tax). As a romantic retreat, it was perfect and I would recommend it for somebody's honeymoon. My only regret is not trying one of their massages.
If you stay at the Hotel Krista, you are ideally situated for an excellent selection of restaurants. We tried La Cabrera (5099 Thames; 4831-7002), as it has a reputation for steak. It didn't disappoint, with very generous steaks, cooked as specified. Service was excellent and the food was really satisfying. A three-course meal somewhere like this for two, washed down with Argentine Malbec (a red wine), costs under £40. If your Spanish is as weak as mine, don't worry - you'll find ways to be understood. Argentinian waiters are very helpful and have a good sense of humour; ours did a great mime for 'rare steak'. Vegetarians may struggle here, as steak is the closest thing to a national dish.
The lure of European destinations is strong, but for those who haven't experienced the food and drink, sights and sounds, and genuine hospitality of the Argentinian capital, it is worth saving your pennies - you'll have a truly unforgettable experience in this vibrant city.