The Secret Agent

January 27, 2012 10:00 pm

From beach to bars and back again

José Ignacio is the spot for my client, benefiting from solitude yet moments away from South America’s most understated glamour

Hola, mi amigo!” The voice sounded familiar. “Mi amigo, wait!” I turned and saw Quentin, aka The Thesp, who works with me as a consultant, referring business; he knows tutto il mondo. His life is peripatetic, as he flits through the Mediterranean on friends’ yachts during the summer, arrives in Los Angeles for pilot season ever hopeful, then perhaps a stint in Aspen but always London in June and for most of the year – it’s such a convenient setting-off point. He is a professional guest. Not only does he sing for his supper – quite literally if required – he also charms the hostess and interests the hosts, all the while shielding them from any duds that may be in their group. Why the proverbial acting big break has eluded him, I’m not sure, but now in his mid 50s he’s settled into this new role.

It’s no surprise then to see him on Bikini Beach, just outside of Uruguay’s fashionable Punta del Este. I’m feeling somewhat guilty – having heard reports of weather in London I’ve extended my stay and am still in South America at the tail end of January. Ostensibly I’m doing a recce for a client interested in purchasing here. In reality, watching the sun set over the ocean day after day at 9pm is too alluring: with time to write and play in the afternoon and Skyping with GG every morning, it’s hard to leave or find a reason to.

The Thesp is staying with a “Euro-fabulosa” friend. “You know, she’s one of those Milanese, St Moritz, Capri and Punta types,” he tells me. I don’t know the type and wonder how many there actually are but I’m happy to see The Thesp and he kindly invites our group to join him for dinner.

Punta del Este is the name of the main town but it covers the whole area along this point of the Atlantic. The beaches are wide with dunes and stretch along the coast for miles. The town is not attractive, bar the old port – rather, it’s full of sky-rise buildings.

It’s on either side of the town that the barefoot chic charm really comes into play – the high-rises disappear, and people float from beach to bars and back again in that uniquely South American way – timings hold no one hostage. The small towns of La Barra (where Bikini Beach is found) and the uber-chic José Ignacio are where you want to be.

It’s in José Ignacio that I search for my client, instinctively feeling it’s his type of place. We sit in a beach bar drinking caipiroskas among the beautiful and the tanned emerging from the surf. The prices would make Manhattan’s richest blanch. The town is small; like Punta itself, it’s on two sides so if one beach is windy, most likely the other is not. As we drive back inland, we discover beautiful countryside, undulating green fields – and yet we’re five minutes from the beach and next door to a beautiful laguna replete with wildlife. This is the spot for my client, benefiting from solitude yet moments away from South America’s most understated glamour – José Ignacio is not about glitz, it’s about pared-down beauty, beaches and nature. Prices are far from cheap, though, and match the cost of the cocktails.

secretagent@ft.com

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