Worth a Trip: There’s Something Weird in Them Thar Hills

For some reason, Córdoba’s Sierras region is one of the quirkiest in Argentina, and the great thing about traveling here is that every once in a while you stumble upon something truly wonderful and unexpected. Here are a few of our favorites:

Capilla del Monte This otherwise sleepy little hill town is world-famous among UFO watchers who come here in the hope of communing with extraterrestrials from on top of the mystical Cerro Uritorco.

Villa General Belgrano The town’s strong German heritage gives it a very European flavor, which really takes off as the beer starts flowing in Oktoberfest.

Villa Carlos Paz (www.villacarlospaz.gov.ar/turismo) Like a mix between Vegas and Disneyland, this lakeside getaway is dotted with theme hotels (the Great Pyramids, the Kremlin) and centered on a massive cuckoo clock.

Museo Rocsen Near the tiny town of Nono in Traslasierra valley, the 27,000-plus pieces on display here form probably the most eclectic collection of trash 'n' treasure you’re ever likely to see.

Hotel Eden Take a guided tour of this extravagant hotel, which was built in 1897 and has hosted guests including Albert Einstein, the duke of Savoy and several Argentine presidents.

Worth a Trip: Ongamira Valley

Healing energy points, sightings of strange lights linked to extraterrestrial activity and ancient tales of indigenous tribes make Ongamira one of Argentina’s most mysterious valleys. Though spiritual seekers from around the world flock to this enchanting spot in the north of Córdoba’s Sierras Chicas, 25km from Capilla del Monte, it remains steeped in secrecy. Lack of cell-phone coverage adds to the otherworldly mystique.

From Capilla del Monte, follow RP 17 and you’ll pass a number of spiritual communities that have set up home here, mostly in and around the Quebrada de la Luna. The spectrum of beliefs and faiths is wide, from Sierra del Cielo by the Uksim group to Centro Mariano del Espíritu Santo and the Community of Light inspired by Brazilian spiritual leader Trigueirinho. Many of these offer retreats, workshops and even brief visits for outside visitors, though it’s always best to call ahead.

Dotted with red sandstone formations and verdant green pastures where horses roam free, the valley – named after chief Onga – was once home to Comechingones, an indigenous tribe who lived here about 200 BC and used grottos carved out of sandstone as homes and ritual sites. Visiting the caves (AR$70) is one of the highlights of Ongamira; check out the mortars and the rock paintings of animals and humans.

When the Spanish invaded these lands in the 16th century, the Comechingones refused to give in and threw themselves to their deaths from the top of Cerro Colchiquí (1575m). Climbing to the top of the mountain makes for a great hike, which takes about three hours up and down. If you’re lucky you’ll catch sight of condors flying overhead; you may see some nests at the top but keep away so as not to disturb the young chicks and their mamas. There’s a small welcome center at the bottom of the mountain, where you pay the AR$50 admission; you can also go up by horse (AR$400). The views are dazzling from the top, taking in the salt flats of Catamarca, the province to the north.

If you want to stay, the boutique estancia (ranch) of Dos Lunas in Alto Ongamira is a top choice. Don’t miss a meal at A Orillas del Río, a riverside teahouse smack out of a fairy tale, just off RP 17 en route to Ongamira.

Worth a Trip: Beyond the Mountains, to the Traslasierra Valley

Literally translated as 'beyond the mountains,' the Traslasierra is the least developed and most sparsely populated of the valleys surrounding Córdoba. It lies 150km west of the city along RP 20 across the Camino de las Altas Cumbres (Way of the High Peaks). In summertime, Argentine families come to this enchanting area to swim in its pretty rivers and go horseback riding, kayaking and gorge walking.

Mina Clavero is the center of the valley's tourist activity but it’s worth heading off the beaten trail to explore other, more secluded spots. The sweet village of Nono is home to the quirky Museo Rocsen, a lovely riverfront with great swimming spots, and what many claim are the best alfajores (cookie-type sandwiches usually stuffed with dulce de leche) in the province, at El Nazareno. Also check out the rose-filled town of Villa de las Rosas and the adorable adjacent villages of San Javier and Yacanto, leafy postcard-pretty hideaways backed by dramatic mountain views.

While the area is filled with lodging options of all kinds and for every budget, the gorgeous Posada La Matilde is a standout; its farm-to-table restaurant (mains AR$210 to AR$280) serves delicious dishes prepared with ingredients from its own organic biodynamic farm. In the nearby village of Yacanto, don't miss a meal at Hotel Yacanto, an English-style hotel from 1922 which is known for its great golfing and homemade food.