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Welsh Tea in Patagonia

 

 

They say that today’s descendants of the “Little Wales Beyond Wales” are more Welsh than the Welsh. The quaint streets bear names like E. Morgan, Lewis Jones and E. M. Thomas: they are lined with 19th century Welsh cottages. As you wander these streets, you’re sure to feel as if you’ve somehow transported yourself across the ocean from Argentina to Wales. Sitting at the southern tip of a country known for its succulent steak and swaggering gauchos, Welsh Patagonia is somewhat of a cultural aberration, but certainly one worth experiencing.

 

 

The first Welsh settlers landed at Puerto Madryn in July 1865. They soon pushed across the Chubut Valley to the foothills of the Andes and founded Esquel, located 272 kilometers south of Bariloche. As they pressed across country in search of more cultivatable land, this hardy bunch left an indelible mark on the landscape in the form of Welsh-style windmills, school houses and chapels. Although Spanish is now the most commonly spoken language in the region, the concentration of Welsh architecture and culture is astonishing. Perhaps the coziest way to experience Welsh Patagonia is to spend an afternoon sipping tea and sampling freshly-baked treats at one of the local tea houses.

 

 

In Gaiman, a small Welsh village situated in the Lower Valley of the Chubut River, taking tea is a serious business. With quintessential Welsh names such as Ty Nain, Nain Maggie and Plas Y Coed, these tea houses offer more than just a tourist-friendly slice of transplanted Welsh culture: prepare yourself for an authentic taste of life in Welsh Patagonia.  

 

 

Most tea houses open after three, which affords plenty of time to wander the tree-lined streets and admire the architectural throwbacks to Europe’s Wales. The atmosphere is noticeably relaxed: locals chat on street corners, the sound of their conversations (in Welsh) set to the musical backdrop of trickling streams.

 

 

A visit to one of the local history museums provides a fascinating glimpse into the lives of the first settlers: survival stories of tumultuous ship-crossings from Liverpool to Argentina, followed by harrowing tales of scraping out lives as farmers in the Indian-inhabited and arid Patagonia.

 

 

Complementing these astounding stories are displays filled with Welsh hats, lace costumes, domestic paraphernalia and fading photographs. Wedding photos of Mary Jones and Pedro Meschio highlight the cultural fusion that characterized unions among Welsh immigrants, Argentines and other European settlers, largely from Spain, Italy and Germany. These colonial Welsh leftovers and the stories that accompany them provide poignant insight into the new Argentine identity carved out of this solitary spot in the Southern Hemisphere.

 

 

When you’ve finished the local historical walkabout, head to Casa de TĂ©, one of the best tea houses in Gaiman. As you pass through the front door you’ll be greeted by all the trappings of traditional Welsh domesticity: dressers appointed with traditional ceramic ornaments, fireplaces flanked by colorful tapestries, and walls decorated with framed prints and paintings of Wales. A hostess leads you to a simple wooden table draped with a gingham table cloth, and once seated, you can await your Welsh tea experience while listening to the harmonious vocals of an all-male choir.  The welcome tea arrives, warmed by a crocheted cozy, and with it a myriad of plates piled high with buttered sliced bread as well as fresh scones, served with butter and homemade fruit jam. To ensure you don’t leave hungry, another round of plates arrives with  slices of piping hot apple pie, egg custard tart, a local variation of dulce de leche crumble, and—last but not least—a seemingly infinite array of the most scrumptious traditional Welsh cakes, from black cake with sultanas to an iced madeira and chocolate sandwich sponge.

 

 

To work off your meal, take a wander through the rose-filled gardens located behind the house. Brightly-colored wooden carts lie scattered across the lawn, and in the background broad snow-capped mountains sweep into expansive sun-stroked valleys. The intoxicating scenery is the perfect complement to such a culinary spread, and whether taken as a night-cap or aperitif it is sure to please.



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