Patagonia, a triangle of land at the southern tip of South America, shared by Argentina and Chile, has long attracted people who think big.
Charles Darwin wrote: “No one can stand in these solitudes unmoved.” And this largely empty space of more than 1m sq km has since attracted wealthy individuals looking to make their mark. Millionaires such as the late Douglas Tompkins, founder of the Esprit and North Face clothing brands, have bought up vast tracts of land for whatever purpose they have seen fit (in Tompkins’ case, for reasons of conservation, including Chile’s Parque Pumalín, a 290,000-hectare nature reserve stretching from the Andes mountains to the Pacific shore).
Ted Turner, founder of television network CNN, is an important landowner on the Argentine side of the region, which is drier and sunnier than Chilean Patagonia and generally more accessible — in Chile many isolated settlements are accessible only by boat or plane.
Yet Patagonia also appeals to more conventional home-seekers — anyone, in fact, who is looking for the great outdoors writ large: horseriding, hiking and angling are all popular pursuits in this area of varied, often breathtaking wilderness.
San Carlos de Bariloche — Bariloche for short — is Argentine Patagonia’s most common northern entry point and the self-styled capital of the region. It is also the country’s most expensive place to buy a home outside Buenos Aires, according to research from Reporte Inmobiliario, a property website.
New-build homes range from $1,800 to $3,500 per sq metre, says Laura Fenoglio, director of Bullrich Patagonia, a local estate agency, compared with an average of $4,850 per sq metre in Puerto Madero, the most expensive district of Buenos Aires. A short drive from central Bariloche, Sotheby’s International Realty is selling a nine-bedroom home overlooking Lake Nahuel Huapi for $3.3m.
While prices are high as a result of the logistics of bringing in building materials and the need for better heating and insulation, Fenoglio says its down to people wanting to live there. “Fundamentally, it’s a question of supply and demand,” he says.
At Arelauquen Golf and Country Club, a recently built 700 sq metre house with three en suite bedrooms and staff accommodation is available for $2m through Bullrich Patagonia. The property has a dining room seating 12, air-conditioning and a lift between its two floors.
Fenoglio says that while prices in Bariloche are high for provincial Argentina, there is no prospect of a bubble: “It’s a stable market here, partly because the credit from banks is so limited.”
The centre of Bariloche, a town of about 115,000 inhabitants, trades on a kitschy, ersatz-Alpine vibe (think half-timbered shopping streets and cafés selling hot chocolate). But away from the urban area the scenery can be jaw-dropping, with the wooded foothills of the Andes framing the pale blue expanse of nearby Lake Nahuel Huapi. Within a short drive of town there is skiing, hiking, climbing, canoeing, fly-fishing — some of it world-class — and golf. Bariloche’s unspoilt natural environment and broad mix of outdoor pursuits is inevitably a big selling point.
“There has been a population boom in Bariloche over the past decade or more — mostly people from Buenos Aires who have left the big city and come here to live closer to nature,” says Christie Pashby, a Canadian journalist and boutique tour operator who has lived in Bariloche since 2001. “The infrastructure hasn’t kept pace with the growth. The city is bigger and busier than ever, and there is a growing community of expats.”
The town also has a developing dining scene. At the Cassis restaurant, for instance, chefs pair local ingredients with central European recipes. Independent butchers, bakers and cheese and pasta makers thrive in Bariloche.
At Villa la Angostura, a small town about 90 minutes’ drive from Bariloche at the northern end of Lake Nahuel Huapi, local estate agent Lepore is asking $480,000 for a wooden detached home on a gated estate with three bedrooms and an outdoor hot tub.
Meanwhile, across the Andes in Chile, the adventure sports centre of Pucón, near the active Villarrica volcano, is popular with overseas buyers, according to local property agent Sandra Vilches-Brevis, who estimates that 80 per cent of her clients are from overseas, principally North America and western Europe. A four-bedroom, three-bathroom penthouse apartment on the outskirts of Pucón, with 223 sq metres of living space and views over Lake Villarica, is available for 774m Chilean pesos ($1.15m) through CJ Puga Propiedades.
Back in Argentina, and just under 200km north of Bariloche, a 74-hectare ranch with a 240 sq metre house built of cypress wood and local stone is on sale for $4m. The property has two guest cottages, stables and a stream. The ranch is 10km from San Martín de los Andes airport and 20km from the Chapelco ski resort.
“Ranches in Patagonia fall into two basic types,” says Federico Nordheimer, the agent handling the sale. “There are the properties used for raising cows or sheep, which are valuable because they are productive. Then you have the so-called ‘trophy’ ranches like this one.”
Another location in Argentine Patagonia beginning to attract interest from younger overseas buyers is El Bolsón, a climbing and hiking destination, which has several microbreweries and a farmers’ market. The town lies in a deep trough in the mountains and has its own microclimate: temperatures are around 4C higher than in Bariloche, even though El Bolsón is farther south. For the moment, though, there are few high-end properties here, although large tracts of land are touted by local property agents as potential development sites.
Argentina is in a state of flux, politically and economically. Mauricio Macri took over the presidency from leftist Cristina Fernández in December 2015 and reversed some of his predecessor’s policies. One action in particular made estate agents cheer — the decision to lift foreign exchange controls. Brought in by Fernández in 2011, the controls meant international buyers had been thin on the ground. “Under the old system, buyers were forced to exchange dollars at an unfavourable official exchange rate,” says Paul Reynolds, an estate agent based in Buenos Aires.
However, restrictions still apply to non-residents buying property or land in excess of 1,000 hectares in Argentina. Non-resident overseas buyers should also be aware of the so-called zona de seguridad (security zone), which can add reams of red tape to the purchase of land within approximately 100km of the national border. (Fenoglio says that in Bariloche, this security zone does not apply to property smaller than five hectares.) Chile, meanwhile, imposes no restrictions on the purchase of large estates but only Chileans may buy land within 10km of the border.
But buyers should beware. A recent report issued by Argentina’s Rural Real Estate Chamber lamented the “lack of transparency” in the buying and selling of land and the absence of precise land registry records in the region.
Patagonia is no different to everywhere else in Latin America, in that house-hunters must do their homework before committing to a purchase, despite what their heart tells them.
● Bariloche has an average temperature of 2C in winter and 14C in summer
● The flight time from Buenos Aires to Bariloche is 2h 20 min
● Buyers in Chile should budget 5 per cent of the price for stamp duty, notary and agent fees. In Argentina budget 9 per cent
Rental income in Argentina is taxed at 21 per cent
What you can buy for …
$500,000 A four-bedroom detached house in Bariloche
$2.5m Eight-bedroom lakeside home with housekeeper cottage, south of El Bolsón
$20m 28,000 hectares of hills, mountains and pastures close to Puerto Varas, Chile
More listings at ftpropertylistings.com
Photographs: Proyecto y Parque Pumalín; Arelauquenlodge.com; Aurora Photos/Robert Harding; Getty Images/