Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Experience the Finest of Mendoza

article from January 22, 2012
by Julie R Butler

The city of Mendoza, Argentina, is many things: a leafy desert oasis, an important agricultural center, a travel hub, a cultural gem, a wine connoisseur’s paradise, and a base camp for outdoor adventures in the high Andes, to name a few of those things. While the name Mendoza is probably most closely associated with wine, there is something for everyone in this provincial capital.

Mendoza is among the top most-visited cities in the country, along with Buenos Aires and Córdoba, with its wide, tree-lined avenues and relaxing, shade-filled parks being a welcome respite from the crush of humanity in those two megalopolises. The setting is nothing less than spectacular, with the Cordón del Plata towering from the west, behind which looms the highest peak outside of the Himalayas, Cerro Acongagua.

Some who fly into Mendoza might find it hard to believe that they are in a semi-desert climate because of the agreeable greenery and the gurgling fountains. And flying into Mendoza from international destinations via Lima, Peru or Santiago, Chile can be advantageous because the hefty reciprocity fee that is charged to US, Canadian, and Australian passport holders at both of the airports that serve Buenos Aires is not charged here (if you book your bags through at Santiago, you will not be charged the fee in Chile, either). From here, the closest major destination is Santiago, a nine-hour bus trip (allowing two-hours for the border crossing); while within the country, Córdoba is ten hours to the north by bus. So you might as well stick around for a while before heading off again.

Wine tours are what Mendoza is famous for throughout the world. Traditional bodegas (the word used in Argentina for wineries), can be found in nearby Luján and Maipú. Tours range from do-it-yourself bicycle tours that will include a wine tasting, as long as you show genuine interest in making a purchase, to personalized private tours that include gourmet meals. One and a half hours to the southwest is the Valle de Uco, where you will find many innovative, foreign-owned wineries that are moving beyond the famous Malbecs and other wines that are enjoyed by the Argentines, producing world-class blends with a growing number of grape varieties that are new to the region.

If art and culture are your passions, then Mendoza has much to offer. Visits to art and historical museums will be interspersed with pleasant strolls through the beautiful city center with its many plazas (where you are likely to find artists with their easels, capturing the ambiance for posterity); lingering coffee breaks at the numerous cafés (where the people-watching is superb, as long as it is not siesta time); shopping excursions for leather goods or wine (great bargains are to be had); and delicious meals that range from traditional Argentine beef barbecues to modern cuisines (mmmm!).

Then there is the natural splendor of the Andes Mountains to explore. Activities include everything from day hikes to serious mountaineering excursions, rafting to paragliding, fly-fishing to horseback riding, and anything else that you can image the Western Hemisphere’s highest mountains to offer.

All that activity calls for a spa treatment! Termas de Chachueta comprises a network of hot springs that are located just an hour away from the city. The full luxury treatment includes masseuses, Jacuzzis, and more, with a buffet lunch, to boot. Or, you can simply soak in the warm healing waters in a relaxing natural setting.

Back to the city: You will find it to be bustling in the morning and very quiet during the hot afternoon hours of siesta, springing back to life for the evening and into the nighttime, when the youth come out to see and be seen. The dinner hours begin at 8 pm, theater or music shows do not begin until after 10 pm, and the bars and dance clubs are empty until about 1 am, with the party going on into the wee hours.

In order to experience the best of Mendoza, I recommend Posada de Rosas Garden Apartments. My husband and I visited the posada recently and had the chance to sit down and talk to the proprietors, Ellen and Riccardo, over coffee and croissants.

A tour of the grounds revealed three elegant studio apartments, each opening onto a captivating courtyard that includes a lush garden, a romantic terrace, a grape arbor, a very inviting swimming pool, and of course, a parilla, or Argentine barbecue. During the heat of the day, the earthy colors in the sitting area in the residential home at the front of the property was the perfect setting for our little gathering, from where the play of bright sunlight off the patio just outside created the peaceful ambiance of a quiet oasis in the middle of a bustling city.

During out chat, I was even more impressed with the character of Ellen and Riccardo, finding them not only to be very interesting people, but also very professional, very attuned to what travelers need, very informed about the region, very attentive to every little detail, and wonderful hosts. They operate Amazing Mendoza Tours, a highly regarded tour company that offers different kinds of excursions and tours, including cooking classes, visits to artists’ studios, and much more. They very successfully take advantage of the knowledge and skills of a professional travel writer and an artist, with both of them being experienced travelers, themselves.

And if all of that were not enough, well, you know what they say about location (location, location). Posada de Rosas is within easy walking distance of Mendoza’s main square, Plaza Independencia, in one direction and Parque General San Martín, the 420-hectare park that is considered to be one of Mendoza’s highlights in the other direction, as well as the vibrant nightlife center of “Aristedes.”

So when you come to Mendoza, be sure to make bookings and purchase travel tickets well in advance, particularly if it is during the high season, December to March.

[Image of Mendoza via Wikipedia]

Julie R Butler is a writer, journalist, editor, and author of several books, including Nine Months in Uruguay and No Stranger To Strange Lands (click here for more info). She is a contributor to Speakout at Truthout.org, and her current blog is Connectively Speaking.
email: julierbutler [at] yahoo [dot] com, Twitter: @JulieRButler