Ostend Copy Cat

As a Belgian it is of course impossible to ignore the existence of Ostende. Not the one at the Belgian North Sea Coast, but the one in Buenos Aires, Argentina, next to Pinamar.

We visited it the first time we came to Argentina, in 2003. Our friends had warned us not to go to Ostende, but to go to Pinamar, Cariló, Villa Gesell or Mar del Plata, which are -according to them- much nicer places. But we wanted to see that coastal city founded by 2 crazy Belgians -you must be crazy to want to found a new city in the dunes in the middle of nowhere- and named after our Belgian city Oostende. On top of that, we had read an article about that place in the Belgian paper, somewhere around the year 2000, which made us curious and decide to visit Argentina. The 2001 crisis made us postpone our trip.

We didn’t like Ostende all that much, so we never went back, but as we are having visitors over from Westende, Belgium (neighbor city and competitor of Oostende, Belgium), we couldn’t do but pass by and have a quick visit. We were surprised to see how it had changed for the better over the past 9 years.

In 1909, two Belgians, Fernand Robette and Auguste Polli bought 14km2 of dunes from Don Manuel Guerrero, who had inherited it in 1870, via his father from his brother in law Martin de Alzaga. Later the Frenchman Jean Marie Bourel joined them in their project to found a new city by the sea. At that time it was unthinkable to do so. The place was too far away from everything, and it was necessary to fix these huge dunes before being able to start construction. The 2 Belgians decided to do both things at the same time : fix the dunes while they were constructing the houses..

Plans were made of this city to be : avenues, diagonals, public houses, a train station, cemetery, parks, hotels and houses, and a rambla. The Belgians also wanted to bring about 50 Belgian families from their home country to start a new life in this Argentine Ostende. Just like Pedro Luro brought Basque families to Mar del Plata before him.

In 1912 they started constructing the rambla alongside the coast with changing rooms underneath, which they never finished, and the small part they made soon disappeared under the moving dunes. In the same year they start building the dock, as well as the hotel “Thermas” (now “Viejo Hotel Ostende”).

On April 6, 1913 they oficially celebrated the foundation of the city, which was then called ‘the pearl of the Atlantic’, ‘the most beautiful beach of South America’.

Unfortunately the first world war ruined the plans as they all returned to their home country to fight. While they were gone, the dunes took over, as the forestation plans, to fix the dunes, hadn’t worked. Various houses disappeared under the sand. Only a few houses remained visible as a proof that the whole Ostende project wasn’t just a dream.

In 1920 Robette died in Europe, and Poli gave up the fight against the dunes, and with this the whole Ostende Project. Only Bourel stayed in Ostende to finish the plans and to continue to fight.

And he succeeded. The hotel was sold to the Pallavidini family. Tourists drove to Puesto Tokyo by car, about 4 km inland on solid ground, or took the train to Juanchon where Pallavidini picked them up. From Puesto Tokyo they took the decauville (little train with movable rails) up to Ostende.

Don Carlos Gesell said that when he went to the Viejo Hotel Ostende in 1931, he had to enter the hotel through a beam on the first floor, as the ground floor entrances were blocked by the sand. Other tourists said they often had to get in or out of the hotel through the windows, which made their stay much more exciting and adventurous.

As the whole project of Ostende and the Viejo Hotel Ostende seemed like a fantasy, it comes as no surprise that writers like Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote his fairy tail ‘Little Prince’ in this hotel.

The only buildings of that time that survived up to now are the house of Robette (private property), the monks house, the atlantic city hotel (now youth hostel), and the hotel Thermas (Viejo hotel). The part of the rambla that remained is declared historical monument in 1995, but is in desperate need of restoration.

Ostende, 340 km from Buenos Aires, ideal to escape from the heat in Capital…

5 responses to “Ostend Copy Cat”

  1. I always like reading your articles as you really seem to take a good job investigating before writing and every post is truly interesting and enjoyable. You seem to know more from Ostende than what I know about my own country! Hahaha. Thank you very much! Keep it up!
    Just one thing, maybe you have some old and new pictures to compare the progress you mention in the last 9 years!

  2. My mother, my little brother and I (10 years old at the time) went to Ostende for vacations in 1949. We arrived to the Old Hotel by cart, pulled by horses, the dunes had blocked the road. Paradise! My brother and I re-enacted all the chapters of Beau Geste using the dunes that surrounded the hotel. I never enjoyed any other vacations as much as those.

    • This sound great! Today in the hotel there are lots of photos of those days, it really seemed like paradise! It must have been a real adventure just getting there!
      Thanks for your comment!

    • Estimado Luis. Estamos reconstruyendo al historia del hotel y del balneario con motivo de su centenario. Nos encantaría ponernos en contacto contigo para que nos hable de sus vacaciones allí en 1949. Por favor escríbanos a consultas@eternautas.com Muchas gracias, Ricardo Watson

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