Mendoza is essentially the main city to fly into to get to the best Malbec wine region in the world. Funny enough, Malbec is the main reason why we chose to visit Argentina as our South American introduction to our travel diaries. When we were trying to figure out where we wanted to go to next, we were sharing a bottle of Malbec in our office staring at a map when it came to us. They make Malbec in Mendoza and we haven't been to South America yet - let's go there!
Overall, we spent just under week (excluding travel days) in the Mendoza area where we drank, ate, relaxed, had some really great adventures while meeting other fellow travelers along the way. Basically the recipe for the perfect Killoran travel itinerary.
Day 1 - Downtown Mendoza
Mendoza is a sleepy town. If you aren't aware of siestas and long days, you will be once you arrive somewhere outside of the hustle and bustle of Buenos Aires. Downtown Mendoza is like most typical small-town downtown areas with squares, parks, restaurants and stores. But come lunch time, everything shuts down and the town truly takes a siesta for a few hours in the early afternoons. Though, if you tend to have a busy lifestyle where you realize you forgot to relax until it's time to go to sleep, this will definitely bring you back down to Earth. It's absolutely wonderful.
We spent our first night in downtown Mendoza, which allowed us time to really sit and enjoy the parks and surrounding architecture of the city. The details are really quite impressive. Each of the squares represent a piece of Argentina's history. Plazas Italia, España, Chile and San Martin are each decorated with unique statues and tile work that relate to the history of what each plaza was named after. All of which surround a larger central park known as Plaza Independencia which is constantly full of people, dogs, birds and passerbys. If you find yourself in downtown Mendoza, we highly recommend taking some time to walk through each of the parks and squares. It will really give some great insight on the country.
As mentioned previously, Mendoza is a sleepy town, so if you're gearing up for some good relaxation time, it's just the place for you. Whether you start in the downtown area or go straight to the wine country, the scenery is just gorgeous. Although Mendoza is listed on most every major Malbec bottle out of Argentina, it actually encompasses a huge area of various wine regions miles and miles from the city of Mendoza. Chacras de Coria is where we traveled to next. It's just South of Mendoza, easy to get to, walkable, quiet and sleepy, but nearby with some fabulous bodegas and really wonderful people.
Though we were only in downtown Mendoza for an evening, we did stumble upon some pretty delicious restaurants. From a cozy little bistro to a fun, authentic Italian restaurant, the food here really will not disappoint you. Sometimes you just have to jump on Yelp and see what's around and open.
Maria Antoineta was one of our first stops for a bite to eat at lunch. It's a cozy little french-style bistro in downtown Mendoza. From their baked goods to freshly inspired dishes, this place really takes the cake. The ambiance is what drew us in with it's outdoor flower boxes, enticing smells as well as the simple subway tile decor with pops of red. Conveniently enough, this place was open early afternoon after we arrived in Mendoza and was just next door to the hotel we stayed at for the night.
For dinner, we stumbled on this really authentic Italian restaurant that sounded divine called Francesco Barbera Ristorante that between Plaza Independence and Plaza Chile. Any place that has homemade pasta is always a place we strive to eat at. And let use tell you, this place was absolutely fantastic. Since we're American and didn't truly fall into the Argentinian dinner schedule, we were, of course, one of the only tables at dinner because we got hungry earlier. But the service was really attentive and the food pretty phenomenal. Pictured below is their homemade fettuccini Alfredo dish with prawns and their specialty flan desert with a side of dulce de leche. Word of advise, though, if you pay with a credit card and want to leave a tip, be sure you let them know when you ask for the check. We got the receipt back with our card and, though there was a line to add tip, it was a big 'no-no' trying to fill it out after the fact. (We got a few awkward stares, even from the waiters who weren't waiting on our table.) But other than that, this was a really great restaurant find.
Day 2 - Chacras de Coria
Once we left downtown Mendoza, our goal was wine and adventure. We chose to stay in Chacras de Coria because it was close to Mendoza but also further south toward some very prominent wine regions that we planned to visit. But before diving into that, we have to talk about the El Encuentro.
One of the major highlights of our Mendoza experience was our 4-night stay at the El Encuentro in Chacras de Coria. If you desire a neat, family owned and run hotel, then the El Encuentro will be your home away from home. It's set on a quiet residential street just down the way from the square of Chacras de Coria within walking distance of some great restaurants and a few wineries. Due to it's size, it almost feels as though you're staying with a local family.
The grounds themselves are clean and relaxing with only about 10 guest rooms, each acting as it's own little cozy cabin. Our first night we stayed in one of the smaller rooms but, due to a leak in the bathroom, the hotel staff upgraded us to a suite that had it's own private and spacious living space and a large patio overlooking the green space of the hotel. We were drawn to the coziness when we first arrived but this upgrade was truly icing on the cake.
The amenities, though simple, were really great as well. Every morning you're provided with a complimentary continental breakfast, including an assortment of pastries, cheeses, deli meats, fruits, cereal, croissants, juice, coffee, etc. It sounds basic but every morning it really hit the spot. We fell in love with having a medialunas every morning, which is simply a warm croissant with honey drizzled on top. Very Argentinian and oh so delicious! We could eat those every single day for the rest of forever.
The best part about this hotel was definitely the staff. They are all family members, who will do anything to make your stay as enjoyable as possible. With wineries walking and biking distance away, they also will help book private tours for you to the best wineries in the region. Though we did do the biking wine tasting tour, which was great, but, speaking from experience, can be quite tricky in such a small and rural town. The wineries are far enough away that cause you to cycle along fairly busy streets with drainage ditches about 2 feet across along the side of the roads. Emily may or may not have slipped into one of the storm drains on the way back from wine tasting, but that's neither here nor there. Wine + Bicycles. You do your own math.
Of the few wineries we visited via bicycle, our favorite by far was the Bodega Lagarde. Not only was the estate just beautiful, but the wines were absolutely phenomenal and the staff extremely knowledgable on their wines. We had a great tour and tasting and would highly recommend this place to others. It's a bit of a hike by foot, but getting there by bike was fairly painless.
The great part about going to a few of these more local wine tastings was running into this couple from England. After meeting them at a tasting where the wine maker spoke zero English, they took us under their wing and helped explain to us the wine maker's story and processes. After chatting a bit with them, we decided to have lunch together and they told us their fascinating travel story. They both quit their jobs at the beginning of the year and spent over 6 months traveling through Mexico, down across Latin America all the way down to South America learning Spanish along the way, practicing with everyone they met. Argentina was one of their last few spots before heading back home to start settling back into their routines again. They were extremely inspiring. What an amazing experience to have in a lifetime.
Finding Local Eats for DinnerTo wrap up our first day, we had dinner at a small, quaint little place called Lo Del Pajaro. Again, being that we aren't Argentinian, we apparently ate dinner too early (7:30 PM) and were subsequently the only ones in the restaurant.Though the restaurant owner didn't speak much English, and likewise we didn't speak much Spanish, we had a wonderful time eating at this restaurant. It was quiet, and cozy to say the least. Wine selections were decent and the food smelled delicious. This is where we discovered Papas Bravas - a fabulous plate of wedge cut potatoes with olive oil, garlic aioli, cheese and greens. Doesn't sound like a meal, but it definitely was filling enough to be one!
Day 3 - Adventures in the Andes
If you're looking for some adventure in your Mendoza experience, we highly recommend taking a trip out toward the Andes Mountains to really take in nature in it's rawest form. Due to our trip taking place in September and knowing this would be toward the end of the winter season, we booked a snowshoe tour via Mount Aconcagua Trekking Tour to Confluencia. A driver picked us up from our hotel, drove us out a few hours toward the Chilean border to see the highest mountain in the Southern Hemisphere - Mount Aconcagua. Being that we aren't super serious hikers, it was nice this company offered a day trip. Whereas, if you really want to have the whole hiking experience and want to climb the mountain, it takes up to two weeks to complete.
Not only was the snowshoeing extremely fun, we also were able to spot a few condors flying high above us on our trek. According to our guide, it isn't common to be able to see them in a close enough range to be able to tell what they are. Condors, if you didn't know, are some of the largest birds alive today with wing spans up to just over 10 feet! They're majestic and amazing skating through the air at such high altitudes.
If you aren't planning a visit to the Patagonia region in Argentina, then we highly recommend some sort of excursion out to the Andes outside Mendoza. The scenery, the possible wildlife sightings, the fresh air, the weather - you won't regret it one bit!
After a long day of road tripping to and from the Andes, a Peruvian dinner at Manos Morenas was a must. It was just down the street from our hotel and a really tasty find. Again, we were the only couple in the restaurant having dinner, since we came so early, but it was nice having a relatively quiet meal after a long day of trekking.
Day 4 - The Land of Malbec
As we mentioned earlier, we wound up booking the majority of our wine tours directly with the hotel. A private driver through Elixir Wine Group picked us up and took us to 3 different wineries in the morning with lunch and wine pairings included. All of the wines we had were absolutely fantastic and it was nice having someone drive us around (especially with all of the drinking) - it made it so easy. Since most tourists in wine country in Argentina are Argentinians or South Americans in general, we had all private tours and tastings with an English speaking guide. We absolutely loved it. Kept things very intimate.
Of the various bodegas they have in their tour packages, we visited the following:
Winery Pulenta EstateSet along a gorgeous scene at the base of the Andes Mountains, the Winery Pulenta Estate was a perfect start to our day. Since we were the only English speaking couple, we had our private wine tasting on their patio overlooking the vineyards with the mountains in the background. It was absolutely picturesque and the wines were fabulous.
The Winery Atamisque served up some pretty interesting wines. We received a full tour of the wine making facilities, which felt very sterile and mass-produced, but interesting none-the-less. The wines were tasty but overall our tour felt a bit rushed. It might be partly because of the time of year we were visiting and, unfortunately, we didn't take as many pictures of the estate itself but the scenery was just as great with the Andes painting the background.
Winery Domaine Bousquet
The Winery Domaine Bosquet prides itself on it's organic farming techniques and their unfiltered wines. Their website has some very interesting literature to read, if you're interested. But this gorgeous location is also where we had a pretty delicious, albeit long drawn-out multi-coursed lunch. In all honestly, by the time we arrived here (which was close to 11:00 AM) we both had quite a bit to drink, so we don't remember the wines or courses very well. So yes, lots and lots and lots of wine. BUT there were cats here, which was something Emily always tends to seek out on trips. Photographic evidence below.
Dinner of Champions
After a day of drinking and a long, relaxing drive back to our hotel (we napped), we spent the rest of the evening watching Netflix and relaxing in our hotel room. We had little to no desire to get out to find dinner in town, so we asked the hotel for suggestions of ordering in.
In America, it's very common to order pizza and sodas for delivery. Here in Mendoza, you order empanadas and wine to be delivered. These suckers were the perfect ending to a day of wine tasting and to enjoy while relaxing in a beautiful setting.
Day 5 - Relaxation
We had an extra day planned in Mendoza that we decided to spend at Termas de Cachueta, which is a natural springs nestled just outside of Mendoza in the mountains. The funny part about our experience was the timing of our trip. Every September, local teachers will come out to the spa on their Teacher's holiday. The bus that picked us up to go out there was completely packed full of female teachers of all ages, who were giggly that the two Americans, who spoke virtually no Spanish, were going out to the spa. We didn't really understand the humor behind it, but went along for the ride to enjoy our day.
The pools are pretty fantastic and you can make the day what you wish. We spent the majority of our day basking in the sun in the various pools and catching up on reading a good book. The spa does have a buffet lunch that was fairly good with lots of variety in food. We read several mixed reviews on this location, but it met all of our expectations. If this is your idea of vacationing, then it's worth the trip.
Our Last Dinner
Our last night at dinner we made reservations at Clos De Chacras Restaurant, which is a very delicious and fine dining restaurant found at the Clos de Chacras Bodega. All of the dishes are artistic in presentation, unique in flavor, and one of the fancier places in town for dinner. Since it's also at a winery, the wine selection was supurb. And, best of all, we actually held out until just after 10:30 for our dinner reservation and had dinner with other people! Overall, this made our last dinner here a success story.
All in all, Argentina is a pretty fascinating country. From it's European influences to the agricultural landscape and how it plays into the culture, we have even more areas to explore far beyond what two weeks truly allows you to see. We plan to come back in some form or fashion to explore other areas of it. And, of course, to come back and drink more Malbec.
To read more about our Argentinian adventures, check out our post on Buenos Aires.