Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Mendoza: Heart of Argentina’s Wine Country

article from October 13, 2011
By Jamie Douglas

Serving as the capital city of the province with the same name, the city of Mendoza’s metropolitan area renders it the fourth largest in Argentina. Nine hundred thousand area inhabitants make sure that all the grapes are picked and the olives harvested and pressed for the lucrative olive oil market that is centered around this region. The city is more famously the center of the winemaking industry in the province of Mendoza.

Mendoza was founded in 1561 by Pedro del Castillo but has suffered from several severe earthquakes, with the one in 1861 being calculated to have been a 7.2 on the SWM scale – severe enough to kill more than one third of the city’s population and destroy almost all the buildings, including the cabildo, the government house. Wisely, the city was moved and rebuilt with earthquakes in mind, using a better method of construction that, to this date, has resisted further tremors.

Compared to its southern neighbor San Rafael, the city of Mendoza is downright cosmopolitan. There are a number (seven, at the time of this writing) of free Wi-Fi access points serving web surfers. The thoroughly modern CBD stands out from the neighboring areas with several tall buildings overlooking the nearby Parque San Martín, a 971-acre urban oasis that opened to the public in 1898. There are 34 sculptures scattered throughout the park. It is made up of many different little areas that allow one to forget that they are in a large urban area. The park is home to the Malvinas Stadium, the Universidad Nacional de Cuyo, the very imposing monument of the Army of the Andes and a large amphitheater.

Mendoza is home to the Fiesta Nacional de la Vendimia, or National Grape Harvest Festival, with next year marking the 75th anniversary of this event celebrating the famous wines of the region, which have been produced since the 17th century. This festival is truly one of the most spectacular celebrations in Argentina, lasting from the last Friday in February through the end of the first weekend in March. The highlight of the opening weekend is the Benediction of the Fruit. On the first Friday in March, beauty queens from each of the 18 departments are paraded through the center of town, each with her elaborate gown that is designed to celebrate that region’s winemaking traditions. One of those young ladies, of course, will be selected to be the queen of the event, and she will reign for the year. Saturday morning will feature the Carrousel Vendimial, where once again, the aspiring beauty queens will parade through town. They are followed by folkloric dancers that are representative of the various styles in the different regions.

Then there is the Acto Central, the actual highlight of the whole festival, which takes place in Parque San Martín’s Frank Romero Day Amphitheatre, which pays homage to “El Virgen de Carrodilla” and features a large selection of yet more dance, music and other entertainment. The highlight of this extravaganza is the selection of the Reina Nacional de la Vendimia, the National Wine Queen!

But if you are unable to make it to Mendoza during this wonderful event, fret not. There are smaller events scheduled throughout the year, and you will always find many diversions in and around the city. Not very far from the heart of the city is the hemisphere’s tallest mountain, 22,841-foot Mt Aconcagua, and there are many opportunities to go fishing, hiking, camping, mountaineering, rafting and horseback riding in the region. In the southern winter, there are several world-class ski areas to enjoy, from beginner to expert.

Back in the city, you will find numerous sidewalk cafés, many fine dining establishments and a variety of upscale stores and boutiques. If it’s culture you are after, there are many museums and performance venues, as well as universities. Mendoza is also a longtime favorite for those wanting to learn castellano, the proper Spanish that is spoken in the country. But it is the ever-present Andes mountains hovering just to the west that make this such a lovely destination.

Jamie Douglas
San Rafael, Mendoza

[Images of Mendoza City, Mendoza winery via Wikipedia;
Image of Vendimia by Julie R Butler]

I encourage you to write me at cruzansailor [at] gmail [dot] com with any questions or suggestions you may have. Disclaimer: I am not in any travel-related business. My advice is based on my own experiences and is free of charge (Donations welcome). It is always my pleasure to act as a beneficial counselor to those who are seekers of the next adventure.

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