More Than Malbec: Traveling to Mendoza, Argentina

Welcome to part two of my four-part series about our 2019 adventure through South America. In this week’s blog: Mendoza, Argentina.

When we started planning our trip to South America, one of the first places we wanted to go was Mendoza. This high-altitude valley nestled in the foothills of the Andes is world renowned for its incredible wines, and we knew he had to try some from the source.

We arrived on a warm day in spring, which left us scrambling to pack away our coats and dig out our sunglasses from our carry-ons. The mountains were partially obscured by a haze of dust and as our taxi drove us south from the airport, through the city of Mendoza, and into the surrounding towns, it was hard not to feel like we can somehow landed in Central California.

We were also anxious to relax a little and slow down after a whirlwind week in Buenos Aires. Arriving in late afternoon in the little town of Chacras de Coria, we enjoyed a glass of Malbec, dinner at the hotel restaurant, and a dip in the pool before turning in for the night. The next day was going to be a long one.

Our itinerary only gave us one full day in Mendoza, which was definitely not enough. But the next morning after breakfast, we hopped on a pair of rented bikes and set out to explore. The town quickly gave way to rows of grape vines just starting to put out their leaves and the sun beat down on us.

We had a rough idea of where we were going. We figured that if we could maintain a leisurely but steady pace, we could visit three or four wineries and be back at our hotel for dinner. Naturally, it didn’t go according to plan.

Our first stop was at Alta Vista, a vineyard located just twenty minutes’ ride from our hotel in the Luján de Cuyo district, one of the most prolific wine-growing regions in the entire country. At Alta Vista, we caught our breath, had our first tour and wine tasting, and chatted with a friendly group of American college students who were spending a semester in Argentina. It was everything we hoped it would be.

And then, things went off track.

Soon after departing from Alta Vista, we got lost. Our paper map wasn’t all that accurate, it turned out, and we weren’t sure if the winery where we planned to have lunch was farther down the road or if we’d already missed it.

As much as we’d like to pretend on Instagram that international travel is always glamorous and carefree, the truth is that something always goes wrong.

Hungry, tired, and more than a little flustered, we arrived at our destination late, only to discover that there had been a miscommunication with the front desk clerk at our hotel—we didn’t have a reservation and the restaurant was completely booked.

As much as we’d like to pretend on Instagram that international travel is always glamorous and carefree, the truth is that something always goes wrong. There are language barriers, missed turns, bike rides that you think will take you 25 minutes but end up taking over an hour, sore muscles, grumbling stomachs, and frayed nerves. The reality is, sometimes things don’t go your way and there’s no way to fix it. All you can do is carry on to the next thing and try not to let it ruin your day.

So that’s what we did.

We got back on our bikes and struck out for the next bodega on our list. A few miles later, we parked our bikes outside Viamonte. We were exhausted, we were starving, and we were sweaty. But the host kindly showed us to a table on the patio and handed us menus.

In my memory, that lunch was one of the finest meals we enjoyed in South America: grilled provolone cheese topped with fresh greens and tomato, followed by a seared ribeye. Once we had our strength back, we took a guided, personal tour of the small winery and finished up with a tasting.

It was late when we pedaled back into Chacras de Coria and the sun was setting over the mountains, finally giving us a break from the heat. We were covered in dust and somewhat dreading the next day when we would be traveling for twelve hours.

We could’ve used a relaxing day by the pool, or a few more days to explore the wineries to our north (one of whom, it was rumored, kept a llama on staff). But we’d have to be content with just a sip of what Mendoza had to offer before moving on.

Mendoza Travel Tips

Where: Mendoza, Argentina

Getting There: Mendoza is an easy two-hour flight from Buenos Aires or one hour from Santiago, Chile, with a stunning flight over the towering Andes Mountains.

Where to Stay: We chose to skip the city and instead stay close to where the wine is made. We ended up in the small town of Chacras de Coria. Our hotel, Lares de Chacras, had its own wine cellar and onsite restaurant. They arranged our airport transportation and even helped us rent bikes to tour the area.

How to Get Around: The wine-growing regions around Mendoza are expansive, so you’ll want some wheels. There are many companies that operate wine tours or offer cars for hire, but we chose to explore the nearby wineries by bicycle. The valley is relatively flat, but there are few bike lanes and even fewer street signs, so plan your route in advance or splurge for international cellular data for turn-by-turn directions.

What to Drink: Mendoza is world famous for Malbec, my personal favorite wine. Every winery makes it, but in recent years, they’ve expanded their repertoire to include Tempranillo, dry rosés, and Torrontés, a phenomenal white wine that’s only made in Argentina.

What to Eat: If you can snag a reservation, have lunch and a glass of wine at one of the wineries while you look over the vineyards. This is still Argentina, so you can’t go wrong with a cut of beef. To satisfy your sweet tooth, nothing beats a dulce de leche crepe.

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Jonny Eberle is a writer, filmmaker, photographer, and explorer based out of Tacoma, WA. You can find his words in Creative Colloquy, Grit City Magazine, and All Worlds Wayfarer. While you’re here, read more of his travel writing, sign up for his monthly newsletter, and follow him on Twitter.

In part three of my four-part series on South America, we cross the border into a whole new world. Next up: Chilean Patagonia

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