1,621km (1,005 miles) SW of Buenos Aires; 180km (112 miles) S of San Martín de los Andes

Just mention Bariloche to an Argentine, and you'll inspire a whimsical sigh. Officially known as San Carlos de Bariloche, this city represents the good life in the national consciousness. With stunning natural scenery and fine cuisine, it's a winter and summer playground for vacationing Argentines, and it's practically a rite of passage for Argentine youth to explore nature in the Nahuel Huapi National Park here, with Bariloche in the middle.

Bariloche is blessed with a strategic geographic position. With the rugged plains of the Patagonian Steppe to the east, the towering snowy peaks of the Andes to the west, and the glistening and grand Nahuel Huapi Lake in front, opportunities for adventure are abundant. Even if you're not much of an adventurer, you'll still find plenty of pleasant sightseeing tours, boat trips, boutiques, driving excursions, and fine dining to keep you busy. Or just park yourself wherever the view is good and soak it all in.

The city itself embodies a strange juxtaposition: an urban city plopped down in the middle of beautiful wilderness. Unfortunately, Argentine migrants fleeing Buenos Aires, an ever-growing tourism industry, and 2 decades of unchecked development have left a cluttered mess in what was once an idyllic mountain town. Bits and pieces of the charming architecture influenced by German, Swiss, and English immigration are still in evidence, but "el centro" of Bariloche can be tacky and chaotic. Visitors to Bariloche are sometimes overwhelmed by its hodgepodge of ugly apartment buildings and clamorous discos, and the crowds that descend on this area from mid-December until the end of February and again during ski season in July. A visit to Bariloche, however, does not necessarily mean staying in (or spending hardly any time) in the city's core. Your best bet is to spend less time in town, and more on the lake or in the mountains. Drive 10 minutes outside town, and you'll be surrounded again by thick forests, rippling lakes, and snowcapped peaks that rival the Alps. If you're looking for a quiet vacation, you'd be better off lodging outside the city center, on the road to the Llao Llao Peninsula or in the town of Villa La Angostura. On the flip side, Bariloche offers a wealth of services, including the area's largest and best-serviced airport.