Thursday, 11 October 2012

Weekend in Mendoza

This past weekend was Thanksgiving in Canada, and also a long weekend here in Argentina for Columbus Day.  John and I took advantage of the long weekend to head to Mendoza with John's co-workers Jose and Claudina.  They were both born in Mexico, and speak fluent Spanish, so John and I could relax and let them do all the talking!

Mendoza is Argentina's wine country and is situated right at the foot of the Andes mountains, so the wineries have fantastic views of vineyards, olive trees and mountains.  We spent our first day and last day in Mendoza on tours to many many different wineries.  We drank a lot of red wine, ate a lot of good food, and took lots of pictures.  If you are ever in Argentina, Mendoza is a must!    You're actually close enough to slip into Chile, but we didn't have time for that on our agenda this time.

Our one hour flight left almost an hour late (which is pretty typical in Argentina for the local carriers), so we arrived in late morning, grabbed a quick lunch, and then hopped on a mini bus for a wine tour.  First stop was Pasrai, which is an olive oil business.  They had delicious olive oil, and after our tour, John and I bought three bottles of olive oil - classic, rosemary, and basil flavoured.  Along the buildings were beautiful murals from a mural contest a few years ago. 

I loved the olive trees. The colours are so muted and beautiful.

After the olive grove, we went to two wineries: Cavas de Don Arturo and Vistandes.  We were fortunate that there were tours in English at all places we visited throughout the weekend. Several mini buses of tourists would pull up and a huge group would go off for the Spanish tour, while Jose, Claudina, John and I and two other people would take the much more private, VIP English tour.  Since our group was so small we got to see areas of the wineries that others weren't able to visit. Wine tastings at both wineries on Saturday left us a bit weary, and we went back to our hotel and slept right through dinner.  I felt better the next morning when Jose and Claudina said they slept through and missed dinner too.  They are much younger than we are!

 While in Mendoza we stayed at Huentala Boutique Hotel, which was lovely. Our room overlooked these beautiful eucalyptus trees - they are huge and covered with purple blossoms that smell like lilacs.  They were everywhere in our neighbourhood and the smell was AMAZING!

On day two, we were up early for breakfast and then on the mini bus for the mountain tour into the heart of the Andes with some of the same people who had been on the Winery Tour the day before.  The scenery was spectacular.  Huge jagged snow covered peaks that seemed to go up forever.  We pulled off the nice modern highway and took a short detour along an older version of the highway to see an ancient bridge and stopped to take photos at several points. 

Jose and Claudina at the bridge

We drove through the mountains and stopped again to get out and see Aconcagua, the tallest peak in the Western Hemisphere at 6962m (22, 841 ft).  It is also called "the roof of the Americas."   Here's some of the spectacular scenery.  As you can see, it was rather cold and snowy up in the mountains that day.

By far, the most exciting part of the day was when we stopped for lunch at a little ghost town, year round population: 1.  As we got off the minibus, everyone went around back to take pictures of the mountains.  John happened to get off and head to the front of the bus, and there, swooping around right in front of us was a huge condor.  By then everyone else was gone, so we stayed there while he took picture after picture.  When he showed them to everyone after lunch, they couldn't believe they had missed out on it!

A former hostel in the town where we stopped for lunch. 

The condor, with the red head and white ruff around his neck, just like in the cartoons!

Lunch was a typical Argentinian lunch.  We went into this big hall with long tables and were served at a buffet by an elderly woman who thought that we were all starving as she gave us enormous portions of beef milanese covered in cheese, rice, mashed potatoes, squash, lentils with beef, accompanied by three different salads plus a big basket of bread and, of course, red wine.  I think the idea was to make us all so full that we would sleep most of the way back to Mendoza.  And it worked!

We did stop just a few miles from our lunch stop to see a natural bridge that the locals call the "Inca Bridge" which leads to hot springs.  There used to be hotel and small village there, but it was wiped out in an avalanche a few years after it open in the 1920s.  Up until recently, you could pay to cross the bridge on foot and use the hot springs, but another avalanche made that unsafe.  So now you have to admire the buildings from across the river........

Day three - Mendoza.  We went on three more winery tours, but here's the thing. The driver was picking us up at 9:30 am, we were touring three wineries and having lunch at the third winery after the tour.  I'm not sure why it did not occur to me that this meant we would be going for wine tastings starting at about 10:30 am, and then having lunch after drinking wine all morning.  The first two wineries were Alta Vista (really really good wine) and then Achaval Ferrar (really really great wine), and both in beautiful settings. Lunch at Belasco De Baquedano turned out to be a five course meal, each meal accompanied by a different wine, and each course more delicious than the previous one.  It was fantastic. But by the time lunch was finished, we had just enough time to go back to the hotel, get our luggage and head to the airport for the quick flight home. 

So much wine....

All in all it was a wonderful weekend with good food, good friends, good wine and great scenery.  We would love to go back in March, when the grape harvest is on, and visit again.  

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