El Bolsón ("the purse") lies in a valley enclosed on either side by the jagged peaks of two mountain ranges. You catch your first glimpse of the valley about 66 km (41 miles) from Bariloche, with the glaciers of Perito Moreno and Hielo Azul—both more than 1,980 meters (6,500 feet) high—on the horizon south and west. The spot was once a Mapuche settlement, then Chilean farmers came in the late 1800s in search of arable land. The town remained isolated until the 1930s, when a long, winding dirt road (often closed in winter) connected it to Bariloche. Attracted by the microclimate (it’s about 7 degrees warmer than other Patagonian towns), young Argentines as well as immigrants from Europe, the Americas, and the Middle East now contribute to the cultural identity of this community.
The first in Argentina to declare their town a non-nuclear zone, El Bolsón’s residents have preserved the purity of its air, water, and land. In spring (late November–December), the roads are lined with ribbons of lupine in every shade of pink and purple imaginable. Red berry fruits, which are exported in large quantities, thrive on hillsides and in backyard chacras (farms); and huge fields of green hops support the exploding Patagonian microbrew industry.