San Pedro de Timote

Uruguay's most historic estancia

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For the last two centuries, San Pedro de Timote was the pride of Uruguay—a country estate owned by the country’s most prominent landowners. Today it’s a charming countryside hotel full of history which still retains the atmosphere of a stately estancia.

Probably Uruguay’s best-known estancia, San Pedro de Timote is a delicious place to relax, horse-ride, take long strolls, or on a winter’s day settle down in front of one of the many grand fireplaces. And it’s a wonderful place for children.

More than two centuries of history

The Jesuits worked huge swaths of land including what is Uruguay today from their arrival in the 1600s. Industrious as well as evangelising, they organised agriculture and raised cattle. They were so successful, the Spanish king saw them as competition and they were expelled from the continent in 1767.

Ten years later, the crown signed an agreement to sell almost half of the present day province of Florida to a Spaniard named Juan Francisco García de Zúñiga for $29,000. It was a good deal. The agreement also included over 200,000 cows and their offspring and the right to graze much farther afield.

Unfortunately for García de Zúñiga, he fell foul of the king and lost his head a decade later. His descendants maintained control of much of the land until the period of revolution prior to Uruguay’s declaration of independence. Believing that the land would be confiscated in the near future, Juan’s son did a quick deal and sold part of the territory to an Englishman, John Jackson, in 1825. He had bought 108,000 hectares – over a quarter of a million acres.

Jackson had arrived in Uruguay almost twenty years earlier in what are known locally as the English Invasions. He had stayed in Uruguay and started a hides business. When he went into agriculture he approached it in a new style with an innovative and business-oriented headset.

Focusing on cattle and wool production, he divided up land to be more efficiently managed and introduced managers and “puesteros” – experienced farmers who would be responsible for managing a large “puesto” or portion of land.

Flagship estancia, the pride of Uruguay

The land that became the estancia San Pedro was inherited by Jackson’s great grandson, Alberto Gallinal Heber. Gallinal was a visionary and for much of the twentieth century, San Pedro de Timote was a flagship estancia, the pride of Uruguay.

Gallinal had a keen interest in genetics. Even on his honeymoon he returned with sheep from New Zealand in the ship’s hold. Over time, his influence was so great that he introduced and improved the breeds of livestock that would eventually be so characteristic of the impressive animals you see all over the country.

Numerous overseas visitors came to San Pedro to see what was going on. Agricultural experts, engineers, politicians, even European royalty (including Britain’s Prince Phillip) were blown away by what they saw.

Gallinal was very wealthy and not adverse to enjoying his wealth but he had a deep social conscience.

He was responsible for two flagship programmes hugely important in Uruguay even today – MEVIR, which gave thousands of rural families the opportunity to form cooperatives and build their own houses and the Plan Gallinal-Dieste which built over 220 rural schools, many of which are still in use today.

A mini-society you can still appreciate today

Back at home, San Pedro was also run as a mini-society. All the children on the estancia—both the workers’ and Gallinal’s own children—went to school on the estancia. Gallinal personally oversaw their homework.

There was a blacksmith’s, a saddlery, a mechanical workshop and a dairy. The carpentry shop is still working today.

The whole community worshipped in a beautiful chapel built in 1925, where you can see a fresco painted by the artist Jorge Damiani and a sun clock.

Gallinal was a stern, patriachal leader—his supposed sayings appear on ceramic plaques throughout the estancia. But he inspired immense loyalty.

San Pedro inspires loyalty in guests too

As a hotel San Pedro seems to inspire as much loyalty in its guests as Gallinal did in his staff.

While I was there I met a family from a well-heeled part of Montevideo. They looked like they had stepped out of an edition of South American Tatler – slender and youthful, sporting gaucho bombachas and soft leather riding boots. They have been visiting San Pedro as a family for twice a year for more than a decade.

The parents said that even now they are growing up their son and daughter—aged sixteen and fourteen respectively— still clamour to visit. They come at the start of each year for five days, before classes start, to relax and plan the year as a family. Then they return during the winter holidays (July) for a week to enjoy the roaring fires and winter activities. Seeing the daughter greeting “her” horse, you could tell they particularly love the twice-daily horse-riding.

The hotel

Nowadays as a country hotel, San Pedro has thirty rooms in what was the main house and the hostelry where the numerous visitors were hosted arranged around a central shady quad.

It’s has all the charm and slightly faded grandeur of a stately home.

It’s an ideal retreat especially in winter. The common areas have overstuffed leather sofas and huge fireplaces. The library is the only place on site other than the reception that has wifi.

Guest rooms—even the double where Dr Gallinal used to sleep— are spacious with antique furniture. Decor is simple. The highlight are the bedroom fireplaces which are lit in the winter. The rooms I stayed in had large bathrooms with lovely pedestal sinks, extra large showers and tons of piping hot water.

The many things to do at San Pedro

One of the things about San Pedro is that while you are far away from civilisation there’s really a lot to do on site.

Laze by two outdoor swimming pools. There’s a third small indoor pool for the winter.

This is a great place for chilling out. Every day make time to watch the sun set over the River Timote valley.

Horse-riding expeditions go out for an hour every morning and afternoon led by Beto the gaucho. They start informally around a camp fire where Beto heats up his water for mate. Guests munch on tortas fritas, a traditional type of fried bread, as the horses are saddled up.

Uruguay has about 500 species of birds. Over two days expert, a local bird expert logged almost one hundred. He visits SP on a regular basis to lead day and night time watches. We went out specifically to find the great horned owl, one of the largest owls on the American continent. Just fifteen minutes later we were being observed ourselves from just 30 yards above. This video was taken that night.

Children are particularly happy at San Pedro. The estancia has rabbits and guinea pigs for petting. Children are encouraged to collect the hotel’s eggs each day from the coup. There are visits to see lambs and calves including births in the spring. They also get to fish (the fish get thrown back).

Planning your visit by the season

Every day there’s a menu of activities available at the front desk to plan your day. To be honest it felt like there was almost too much to do and that we’d never get to the poolside!

In addition, there are great seasonal activities that you can participate in or choose to observe including:

– March-April: Guided bird-watching with an expert

– First weekend of June: Chocolate and Wine Weekend—a San Pedro tradition including tastings and demos

– July: La Yerra. One of the most important community/festive events in any Uruguayan country calendar. It is when cattle are branded and young bulls castrated. (Ouch. If you hadn’t got the message before, now you know you really are in gaucho territory.)

– September-October: Sheep shearing

Getting there to San Pedro de Timote

Distance from Montevideo 157 kilometres. Calculate 2.5 hours to drive. Two hours if you know the roads.

From Pocitos or the centre of Montevideo Take the rambla out of the city, then Ruta 5 to Florida, then Ruta 56 and then Ruta 7 to Cerro Colorado. The Rutas (highways) are reasonable—not always the case driving in the Uruguayan countryside. In Cerro Colorado at the Carrillon (kilometre 142.5) there is a sharp turn left signposted to SPT. The final 14 km from Cerro Colorado are unpaved but just fine for a regular car.

From the airport Take the road to Pando and then Ruta 7 to Cerro Colorado.


San Pedro de Timote
Ruta 7, km 142, Cerro Colorado, Florida, Uruguay

+598 4310 8087/88

Photos: Guru’Guay / San Pedro de Timote

Hearty Guru Thanks to the Department of Tourism of Florida and the Florida Economic Development Agency (ADEF) for the invitation to visit the province of Florida and cover their Ruta de las serranías. The history section is based on a short history of San Pedro written by local wordsmith Roberto Diringuer.

2 Responses

  1. After having spent two weeks in Uruguay in March, I made a note to send you an e-mail to thank you for a number of the recommendations you made in your Guru’Guay guides. You have really filled a gap by providing accurate information for English-speaking people who want to visit the country.

    I’m shocked that there were not more American, British, or other English-speaking tourists. Their loss! At home, when I told people we were going to South America, and specifically Uruguay, I was always asked why. Now I know I can defend the choice without hesitation.

    My fiancee and I can strongly agree with a number of your suggestions including San Pedro de Timote – Magical. Gracious hospitality, excellent food and such a relaxed pace of life. The place is beautiful and the whole experience allows people to slow down. We are grateful that places like that survive into the modern day.

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