Across the world Mendoza, Argentina is known for its vineyards, grapes, and high quality wines. While the wines from Mendoza are undoubtedly superb, there is far more to this region than a good glass of Malbec. A cosmopolitan city that is home to green leafy parks and European bistros, Mendoza is also graced with the Andes Mountains providing a picturesque backdrop and providing outdoor enthusiasts with whatever their heart desires. So while you may come to Mendoza in search of the wine, you will quickly realize that there is so much more to stay for.
Tips for Mendoza Wine Tours
Anyone who is coming to Mendoza for the wine and the vineyards must first get one thing straight, which is that the Mendoza area is actually made up of 4 separate wine regions, none of which are actually that close to the city of Mendoza. In order to properly tour the 4 separate wine regions the best things to have at your disposal are money, time, a rental car, and a willingness to stay out on a rural estancia that puts you closer to the vineyards. Check out this map of the wine regions of Mendoza for a better idea of what is located where.
For anyone staying in Mendoza city center, visiting the areas of Lujan de Cuyo, Valle de Uco, and San Rafael are a good 1.5-3 hours away, so making a day trip out of it really can become a stretch. The closest wine region to the city center is the area known as Maipu, and it features a number of boutique wineries including the Vagabond’s favorite, Familia di Tomasso. For anyone touring the Maipu region on a budget, the best way to do so is with a bicycle from Mr. Hugo’s bicycle shop. While the traffic on the narrow roads can be legitimately dangerous–not to mention the logistics of riding a bicycle after a full day of wine tasting–the shop is run by the jovial Mr. Hugo himself and offers free all you can drink wine at his shop at the end of the day. Also, be sure to check out an olive oil tasting, as it’s not just the grapes that grow perfectly in this climate. One tasting that I encountered had me tasting olive oil, chocolate, and absenthe liquor, which was one of the more curious combinations I’ve ever had.
For anyone who is more akin to taking tours and doesn’t feel the need to tackle the vineyards by bicycle, two establishments to check out are Trout and Wine and Mendoza Wine Tours, although as is the nature with fancy tours, these will hit the wallet a little harder than taking to it on your own.
Finally, for anyone who wants to sample a collection of the best wines in the region but doesn’t have the time or the desire to head out to the actual vineyards, check out the uber-trendy Vines of Mendoza, which is a tasting room located smack in the center of the city where you can sample all the regional classics. Highly recommended.
What about the actual city?
As far as cities go, Mendoza is actually a fairly agreeable area of urban sprawl. Sure, there are still buses and traffic and festering open gutters, but there are also green, leafy parks, happening urban squares, and a large Botanical Garden that could occupy an entire afternoon of exploring. The most notable squares are Plaza Independencia and Plaza Espana, where relaxing by an elaborate fountain or people-watching from an outdoor cafe are completely legitimate activities. A cafe con leche and a good book at a sidewalk bistro? Don’t mind if I do.
For the rest of the afternoon, head on over to Parque de San Martin, where the 17km of walking trails, lakes, hills, monuments, tennis and rowing clubs should be enough to satisfy the immediate need for some outdoor entertainment. For a guide to the nightlife of downtown Mendoza, look no further than this link right here.
What about the outdoors and the Andes?
Like the vineyards, all of the outdoor activities in the Mendoza region are actually located a few hours outside of Mendoza city. Anyone wanting to base themselves closer to all of the outdoor activities should consider staying in the mountain town of Uspallata which is much closer to the towering Andes Mountains and the open wilderness of Mt. Aconcagua.
While there are innumerable outlets that offer outdoor activities operating in and outside of Mendoza, we decided to go with Cordon del Plata for our journey back into the mountains. Offering everything from white water rafting to trekking to horseback riding, Cordon del Plata can also put you up for the night at one if its comfortable yet rustic mountain lodges such as Refugio San Antonio. Located just a tad below 8,000 ft (2500m) in the Andean foothills, the Refugio is a a wooden mountain lodge built in the 1940s that offers a full service wine bar, roaring fireplace, and all of the meals and amenities included. Again, highly recommended.
Opting to tackle two days of horseback riding over the remote foothills and sprawling ranches of the region, after a comfortable evening at the Refugio we awoke to a bitterly cold and damp mid-November morning that is somewhat of a rarity in the dry Mendoza region. Though the air had a definite bite to it, the feeling of tremendous isolation and the green pastures of the remote ranches were enough to make the bad weather little more than an afterthought.
An incredibly mediocre rider, the feeling of galloping across a wide open Argentinian pasture rounding up stray horses into a pen was 2 parts thrilling, 1 part terrifying, but worth every minute. After the roundup and ride it was over to the main house of the La Alejandra ranch for an all you can eat meal of steak and red wine and warming our socks and hands by the fire. With the misty clouds offering fleeting glimpses of the snowcapped peaks of the Andes, the moment–like the steak and wine–could not have been more perfect.