Photo by Marcelo Campi

An Insider’s Guide to Montevideo

Montevideo 101

Montevideo’s waterfront ramblas are busy with runners. Its beaches are filled with families, and its Atlantic seaboard studded with the colorful masts of windsurfers. Several distinct barrios (neighborhoods) are strung together like beads on a necklace, gracefully merging the Montevideo of then and now. The city’s hinterland is filled with rolling hills and villages, making it ideal for cycling. Montevideo is our pick for whiling away a few days pre- or post-tour.

Uruguay is a small country, regarded as progressive, laid-back, and safe—home to approximately 3 million people, about half of whom reside in Montevideo. The national language is Spanish (with a charming South American twist), but Uruguayans are conversational and will generally be open to speaking English if they can.

Flying into Montevideo lands visitors at Carrasco International Airport, updated in 2007 with a new terminal designed by Uruguayan-born architect Rafael Viñoly. It’s also possible to approach Uruguay from Buenos Aires via a ferry: glide over the Rio de la Platte into Colonia de Sacramento, a charming historic town a few hours by car from Montevideo. Once in Montevideo, Ubers and taxis are ubiquitous and public buses traverse the city.

Photo by LWYang

In and Around the Ciudad Vieja

The Ciudad Vieja (old town) is decidedly sleepy on weekends, but on weekdays and evenings it’s pulsing with Uruguayans shuttling to and from work or meeting with friends. Government buildings, banks, and offices may seem workaday, but the presence of locals about their daily life lends an authentic kind of vibrancy.

Overhead, architectural details illustrate layers of British, Spanish, Argentine, Portuguese, and Brazilian influence. Head to Mercado del Puerto, a waterfront warren of restaurants and shops. On DuVine’s cycling tour of Uruguay, the Mercado is where you’ll have your first taste of traditional parilla, cuts of meat grilled directly over the fire and a cultural cornerstone of Uruguayan cuisine.

The Uruguayan wine industry is thriving, making it an exciting destination for wine lovers. Get acquainted with the country’s best bottles at Montevideo Wine Experience, an urban gem not far from the Mercado del Puerto. Ask around town—where should I go for a glass of wine?—and this is the place you’ll hear about. The menu includes flights of local wine, but the bartender also mixes fabulous cocktails with fresh accouterments.

Photo by LWYang

A stroll to Montevideo’s famous Plaza Independencia is paved with boutiques and flea markets in an atmosphere that pops the city wide open. Marvel at Palacio Salvo, an eye-catching landmark, then catch a concert or symphony at nearby Teatro Solís, a performing arts institution. A towering statue of General Artigas, the “father of Uruguay” presides over the plaza, where art installations and performances draw crowds.

Bring your appetite to Los Leños, an art-filled space that serves Uruguayan classics like asado (grilled meats) and Provoleta, a deeply satisfying baked cheese. For something more sophisticated, reserve a table at Master Chef Lucía Soria’s Jacinto for dinner—or drop in for baked goods from the panadería (bakery).

Baker’s Bar is so beloved for drinks that locals spill out the front door, sharing conversation at sidewalk tables. Afterwards, head to Barrio Sur for some live music—this neighborhood not far from the old town is home to Uruguayan Carnival. If you’re not in town during the festivities, the Museo del Carnaval is a great stand-in. DuVine’s bike tour includes an afternoon in Barrio Sur, the heart of the Afro-Uruguayan music scene, and a private visit with a Candombe percussionist.

Exclusive visit with a musician in Barrio Sur

Photo by LWYang

Charismatic Carrasco

Another popular barrio of Montevideo is Carrasco. Its reputation is one of upscale, seaside elegance, embodied beautifully at the Sofitel Montevideo Carrasco Casino and Spa where you’ll spend one night of your DuVine bike tour. The hotel’s Restaurant 1921 offers beachside views and French cuisine with Uruguayan style. In charge of the wine list is Federico de Moura, the four-time winner of Uruguay’s Best Sommelier, rounding out a top-notch dining experience.

For an early evening merienda—similar to teatime—cozy into La Madriguera Café, where well-heeled local ladies gossip and kids stop in after school for dulce de leche. If your sweet tooth is still speaking to you, gourmet chocolatier Mariapasión displays chocolate chess boards and other art in the form of chocolate.

In search of a restaurant for your free night in Montevideo? Just a stone’s throw from the casino is Manzanar, a restaurant from the founders of beachy La Huella down the coast in José Ignacio. A killer cocktail list, superior service, and view of the parilla kitchen make this the place to be.

Photo by Marcelo Campi

In Search of Wine

European influence is undoubtedly felt in Uruguay’s food and wine scene—vineyards were planted by Basque, Spanish, and Italian immigrants, with European sensibilities of style and taste leaving a mark on local culinary and vinicultural philosophies.

There’s plenty to discover in Montevideo, but the wineries in the Canelone district are only a short distance away. Spend an afternoon tasting your way through Pizzorno Family Estates, Bodega Stagnari, or Bodega Bouza—all less than an hour away by car.

Discover Montevideo and the surrounding wine region on a cycling tour with DuVine—and stay a little longer in the city before or after your tour!

Photo by Jill Barth

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