It’s been several years since I first learned about Patagonia River Ranch, world-renown for its luxury fly-fishing trips and accommodations. I remember opening their website, transporting myself through their photo gallery and thinking, someday. Last November it was finally time for John and I to treat ourselves to “someday” and take a much needed break after a busy summer in Jackson Hole.
Our trip sums up as: the trip of a lifetime, incredible staff and service, exquisite ranch and scenery, 5-star wine and cuisine, and then there’s the fishing…
Sunday morning the lodge manager and all-around goddess, Salome, picked us up at our hotel in San Martin de los Andes. (See my previous post on San Martin.) We met Salome last fall when she visited Jackson and immediately loved her vibrant personality and the wealth of information she provided about the ranch. Greeting her again was like connecting with an old friend.
We drove about 30 minutes northeast of San Martin to the ranch which sits on the bank of the Chimehuin River. We felt like we had been transported to “Jackson Hole II” as the scenery and flora were so similar. The final road to the ranch is beautiful, lined with pine and aspen trees, lupine and honeysuckle. Ken Gangwer, the owner of PRR, has done a spectacular job landscaping the property and creating a beautiful oasis in the high-desert mountains of Patagonia.
Our first wonderful surprise was being greeted at the entrance by the entire staff and the ranch’s four golden retriever mascots. Our bags and fly rods were quickly whisked away, while introductions were made. Wondering how we would remember everyone’s names, upon arriving in our room we found a life-saving “who’s who” sheet with names, photos and job descriptions. It’s those little touches that are a constant at PRR.
The PRR property is a landscape architect’s dream. Ken has worked with the staff to plant over 1,000 rose bushes around the property, and developed trails that wind through the property and out to the river. They have also created expansive gardens, greenhouses and orchards, growing practically all of the vegetables, fruit, herbs and eggs used in the kitchen. The Lodge is simply, perfect. Featured in Town & Country magazine, it’s beautiful log-style architecture is appointed in an elegant, yet casual design. Beautiful gaucho saddles and Crillo knives, ornate mate gourds and a wonderful library of photography books about the area add more unique touches. It’s the kind of place where you can dress up for dinner if you want, but a comfortable pair of fly fishing pants and shirt, coupled with a fleece vest is just fine.
So about the fly fishing. First, we were blessed to land Kiki as our guide for the week, and we honestly have not laughed so hard and had so much fun on the river as with this talented young man. Like all of PRR’s guides, Kiki is local and knows the river, the fish and the flies you need. You can bring your own fly box, but why? These guides have it down to science and you should trust them.
After settling into our room and then experiencing the first of many incredible meals, we headed out for an afternoon float down the Chimehuin River. Now I have to admit, I was nervous, seriously nervous. This is the Mecca of fly-fishing and I was terrified I would have one of those bumbling days where the fly goes anywhere but where you want it to land. A quick prayer to the fishing gods, a deep breath, and ah…..right under the willows, calmly floating down the river. It was a good sign. Several casts later and BAM, welcome to the grab-and-go at warp speed of the Patagonia brown trout! The smile on my face said it all.
Within several hours, we pulled out some spectacular browns and rainbows, but John won the glory with a beautiful golden brown trout. We also learned quickly that if Kiki headed the boat to shore, we knew we had something good on the line.
While the Patagonia rivers are known for trophy fish that lurk at the bottom of the river, only to be teased up by streamers, we opted to be purists and use dry flies. It was the opening week of the season and we knew they’d be hungry. Plus, there was the challenge to see if we could present the fly just right and make them come from below and grab it. Kiki’s beetle pattern was a favorite and it was worth the patience factor every time.
At the end of our first day, we pulled out on the banks of the ranch and were welcomed by the fabulous Eduardo who had a glass of Argentinian wine waiting for us, in addition to an expansive selection of happy-hour appetizers. The guests started to trickle in and the fishing stories began to unfold.
Day two was spent on the lower part of the Chimehuin River and then the Collon Cura. The scenery was breathtaking, the fishing exciting, and with a wide river and fewer willows, the daunting factor diminished. But the best part of the day was the company. A fellow guest was PRR’s “vice president of outdoor pursuits” Mark Patton. Mark is an old college friend of Ken’s and has now become a dear friend of ours. Mark kept us in stitches, while providing great facts and history about the area, and it was fun to sit back and watch him cast. It never fails, you meet some incredible people when fishing.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, we went on an overnight fishing/camping trip on the Caleufu River. Let me clarify that we were not roughing it. PRR has all the necessary camping gear, broaching on the edge “glamping.” We slept comfortably, enjoyed the outdoors and spectacular scenery, the smell of gourmet food cooking over a wood fire, all while sipping another beautiful Argentinian or Chilean wine.
Floating the Caleufu is a 2-day snapshot of the beautiful and varied landscape of Patagonia. Starting in the mountains about an hour south of San Martin, we launched surrounded by majestic rock formations and the bright, fresh colors of spring. The turquoise water was still a bit high and running fast, so we had fun running a few rapids, while still being able to slip into eddies and pull out another beefy brown or rainbow.
As we floated down the river, we continually dropped in elevation. Soon the canyons of rock fell away to more open banks, backed by green estanicas with beautiful rocks pillaring in the sky. By the time we pulled into camp for the evening, we were enjoying wide open vistas that would turn to a high-desert profile on day two. We simply saw it all, while continually landing fish on a regular basis. Upon arrival at camp, the staff had been hard at work putting up the tents, preparing dinner and cocktails were served!
Now what would one of my posts be without talking about food? There are so many exquisite things about PRR and the cuisine is one of them. Chef Claudio, along with the pastry chef and sommelier, Patricia, are two talents who complete your experience. From the breakfast table ladened with homemade pastries, danishes and the most decadent french toast I have ever tasted, to the stellar riverside lunches served at a pop-up table (no pre-wrapped sandwiches and potato chips here), with of course wine, always a surprise dessert and wonderful salads. And, with Mark and Eduardo along, I even received a beautiful bouquet of purple lupine, adding that special touch to the table – John just rolled his eyes and laughed. Patricia’s wine pairings were superb without question. We were thrilled when she provided us with a list of wines we enjoyed during the week, and we are still on the hunt for several of them stateside.
Chef Claudio, as far as we’re concerned, should be up for a James Beard award! Whether slow-roasting beef, lamb or pork for the asado on our final night, whipping up crepes over an open fire during our camping trip, or crafting the perfect empanada and other local dishes for us to try, there never was a bad meal.
PRR has much to offer to the non-fisherman. Their local gaucho will take you on a horseback ride around the area, there are mountain bikes for exploration, or one of the staff will take you hiking, on a photography excursion, or shopping in San Martin or Junin. Even if you are fishing, take a morning off (shops are closed in the afternoon for siesta and reopen at 7 pm), rest your arm and take in the local culture, you won’t be disappointed.
On our last day fishing, we floated the Chimehuin again and landed some amazing browns and rainbows, a perfect send off. Those memories will keep us coming back for more, along with the staff and locals who have captured our hearts, and the new friendships that will last a lifetime. We look forward to returning when the roses and lavender are in full bloom and trying more of Kiki’s fly patterns which we know will attract the next big one.
Enjoy rustic elegance, laughter, priceless local knowledge, a talented staff on so many levels, and the most comfortable beds you can fall into at night and continue your dreams. It is a vacation you must take at least once in your life, and we already know it will not be our last.
Email me to learn more about Patagonia River Ranch. It is open November – April and can host up to 14 people. Visit their website to view more pictures and experience virtually, the beauty of Patagonia River Ranch.