We couldn’t go to Argentina without checking out Mendoza, the country’s famous wine region. Seventy-percent of Argentinian wine is made here.
We arrived via a Lan flight from Buenos Aires after a rather long journey from Montevideo that also involved a bus and a ferry.
Mendoza city isn’t very big itself and is a bit rough round the edges. It does, however, have good bars for drinking that blare out Arctic Monkeys and The Fratellis taking me back to the golden years of my youth, so I was happy enough.
When here a wine tour is a must. There are loads of different options available ranging in price. We opted for a more pricey one ($170 USD) as we’d heard price denotes quality. We went with Trout & Wine on a full day tour of the Uco wine valley.
We started with three reds at Pulenta Estate, where we also tested our wine nose. We had to close our eyes and identify different foods by scent alone. I was pleased to find out my big nose has some advantages and I identified most scents correctly. My husband, on the other hand, can’t tell the difference between blackberries and apples.
Then we went to Finca Sophenia, named so after the owners’ two daughters, for a white and three reds. In the UK Sophenia supply The Gaucho and Cau restaurants. Check them out next time you go.
Lastly we went to Andeluna Estate where we were greeted with a glass of champagne and had a four-course meal with matching wines. The wines were topped up during the meal, as well, so by the time we got the mini-bus home we were both pretty pissed.
I’ve been on numerous vineyard tours including in Croatia, the Hunter Valley in Australia and even in Dorking, UK but this was my favourite. I was impressed with how modern and sophisticated the bodegas were and the wines were all brilliant.
Mountain trekking – encountering altitude
In Mendoza there’s also lots of trekking to be done in the Andes mountain range located a short distance from the town.
We booked with Andes Vertical to attempt our first mountain climb. We’d booked it a week or so before, by email. At the time I was a little unsure about doing it, worried that I might not be fit enough or that the altitude – you go to 3660 metres, which is classed as high altitude.
The day of the trip I’d forgotten all about these worries, however.
We were a small group of, our guide Frederico – an Adam Levine lookalike – a Mancunian and a girl from Buenos Aires.
Driving up the mountains Frederico asked if we’d ever encountered altitude. Suddenly all my irrational fears came rushing back and I started to panic slightly. I asked the Mancunian girl, who had been at altitude in Peru, what it feels like.
‘It sort of feels like it’s hard to breathe,’ she said.
Immediately my throat felt like it was closing up and I became very conscious of my breathing.
‘What?’ I said. My husband looked at me knowingly.
‘It’s ok, don’t worry about it. Just drink lots of water’ Frederico assured.
I spent the rest of the ride up the mountain telling myself to stop over reacting while talking the Manc girl to death in an attempt to take my mind off of the impending trek.
The hike was tough but we managed surprisingly well – Frederico said we were one of the fastest groups of the season, all that running around Rushcutters Bay in Sydney had obviously paid off – and the altitude didn’t affect me at all.
It took us about 2 hours to reach the summit of 3657 metres, climbing around 1000 metres in total. The scenery was beautiful and we saw some llamas running in the distance.
Coming down was tricky because of the steepness and all the loose stones. You sort of had to slide down the stones on the heel of your foot. The slight Porteño girl (what you call someone from Buenos Aires) did not like this at all and she spent half of the descent on her arse and the other half flailing about like a puppet on a string as she tried, painfully, to navigate her pebbly path.
Notes for fellow travellers:
Things to do: I’d recommend Andes Vertical if you’re planning a hike in Mendoza. Frederico had excellent English and was interesting to chat to. He lent us light jackets, caps and he also had spare rucksacks.
However, if you’re short on money and time the mountain hiking in El Chalten is better and you can do it on your own, so cheaper.
There are other hikes to do in Mendoza and you can also visit estancias for horse riding and barbecue.
The last day in Mendoza we went on the city tour because we got it free with our wine tour (you can pick up and buy tickets outside The Park Hyatt). This was great for orientation and seeing the city via a comfortable bus.
Duration: We spent a leisurely four nights in Mendoza which is enough depending on what you want to do.
Travel: We flew to Mendoza from Buenos Aires (£90 each 1800 pesos). Leaving, we took a 19-hour bus journey to Barriloche. We travelled in cama class (the lowest class) but it was comfortable. Book as early as you can as spaces were limited and first class was booked up. Also, it’s not cheap, around £70 each (1,400 pesos).
Food: La Lucia is fancy and has good food. Try the parrilla. Two-course meal for two with wine costs about £34 (680 pesos).