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A Long Weekend in Mendoza

October 29, 2010

A few of weeks ago me and my friend Danielle took what was perhaps my favorite trip of my time in Argentina so far (it´s so hard to pick just one!) to the lovely Mendoza, Argentina. Mendoza is most famous for being the heart of Argentina´s wine country, and with over 1,300 ¨bodegas¨ (wineries) to choose from in and around the city, this is definitely a big part of the appeal. But as we quickly learned, this is only a small part of what the city and surrounding areas have to offer…  From Aconcagua (the tallest mountain in the world outside of Asia) to paragliding, to hot springs (and more!), Mendoza is a not-to-be-missed destination for anyone traveling through Argentina.

A bodega (winery) in Mendoza

This was the first trip I´ve booked through the booking agency that´s located in the basement of my university in Buenos Aires, and I was delighted by the results. We booked our bus tickets, hostel for 3 nights (with breakfast) and 2 tours through the agency, leaving the other two days open for us to decide what we wanted to do when we arrived. Having tried the fly-by-the-seat of your pants style of traveling it was definitely a nice change to have a little voucher book with all of our tickets and details laid out for us. If your university offers a service like this I would highly recommend looking into it.

A lake near Mendoza

Our bus left Buenos Aires at 9pm on Thursday and arrived around 11am the next day. Since it was a relatively short bus (for Argentina) and cost over $100 pesos less, we opted for semi-cama this time, which means the seats are more like the economy seats in an airplane, except they lay back a little further. I definitely noticed a huge difference in comfort level but for this length of trip, it was bearable. If you´re doing anything over 15 hours though, I would stick with cama seating if you can.

Our room at Hostel Suites

When we arrived in Mendoza we took a taxi to Hostel Suites, which is located in downtown Mendoza just a few blocks from Plaza Independencia. Before I continue I must say that this is hands down the cleanest, nicest hostel I´ve stayed in thus far during my travels. The rooms are bright, the sheets are new, the rooms are cleaned daily, and the staff is super friendly and helpful (although they do insist on speaking to you in English most of the time which is a little annoying if you´re trying to practice your Spanish).

Wine Barrels at Bodegas Lopez

After we checked in and had lunch, it was time for our half-day tour of the bodegas (wineries).  The first bodega we visited was an industrial winery (meaning they produce large quantities of wine per year) called Bodegas Lopez. We had a tour and a tasting there, but I decided to wait to make any purchases, knowing that we would be going to an organic bodega later on. Next, we headed to an artisanal olive oil factory called Pasrai that produces high-grade extra virgin olive oils, where another tour and a tasting resulted in me making my first purchase: a case of 3 delicious olive oils to bring back the US as gifts (if I don’t cave and eat them first!). Finally, we stopped at a small organic bodega called Bodega Familia Cecchin where we had another tour and tasting. Despite my normal preference for red wines, I ended up leaving with a bottle of white Moscatel de Alejandria, which was just too delicious to pass up, as well as some organic honey.

I love my giant wine bottle ❤

Olive oil tasting at Pasrai

 

The Family Cecchin Organic Bodega

The following day (Saturday) we woke up bright and early to start our next tour at 7am. The High Mountain Tour is a full-day driven tour through the Andes that border the city of Mendoza. I was surprised to learn that Aconcagua, the 3rd-largest mountain in the world – and the largest outside of Asia – (at an astonishing 22,841 feet) is located in this section of the Andes that divides Chile and Argentina. We drove most of the day, stopping at interesting points along the way to take pictures and take in the scenery, and did an hour hike through a national park, before heading back toward Mendoza. It was a very beautiful tour, however all the hours in a bus did get a bit tedious at times.

Jumping for joy in the Andes!

Oooooh Aaaaah

Hiking at Parque Provincial Aconcagua

That's me flying through the air above Mendoza!

Sunday morning we slept in a little later, then headed out for my favorite excursion of the weekend: paragliding! It ended up just being me and Danielle and our pilots, and after a long and very bumpy drive up the mountain, we suited up and got ready to run – yes RUN – off of it. After a few heart-pounding seconds of anticipation I took the leap, with my pilot in tow, and we were flying! It was such a peaceful, beautiful experience to ride the updrafts like a bird over water, and we spent a good 20 minutes or more just flying around. At times we would rise up to 2 meters (about 6 feet) per second, and at others we simply glided slowly downward. My favorite part was the last couple of minutes when we did acrobatics, spinning and plummeting our way toward the ground, before making our landing. The second I hit ground, I wanted to do it again. It was relaxing and exhilerating all at once and I would HIGHLY recommend the experience.

See those little tiny white dots at the top? That's where we jumped off!

With Danielle, ready to jump!

Smiling in-flight

The view from the top

We spent the rest of Sunday afternoon relaxing at the hostel and walking around the nearby Plaza Independencia, where a festival and market commemorated the Bicentennial Celebration of Chile’s Independence. We got our charicatures drawn and bought some gifts at the market, then when the sun went down we had some food and sangria and watched the performances in the plaza.

Getting my charicature drawn in Plaza Independencia

Monday was our last day in Mendoza, and I had originally been planning to do a trekking, rappeling and hot springs tour. However, I had also heard a lot about how much fun doing a bike tour of the wineries was supposed to be, and having only had visited 2 bodegas all weekend, I was anxious to go to at least one or two more before I left. So at the last minute I changed my mind and went in search of the famous Mr. Hugo and his bike rentals with some new friends and other students from my school in Buenos Aires who were staying at the same hostel as us.

With Mr. Hugo

I had been hearing about “Mr. Hugo” from everyone, and his fame was reaffirmed when we got on the collectivo (bus) to take it 40 minutes outside of the city in search of his bike rental shop. We asked the bus driver if he knew where to get off for Mr. Hugo and he immediately pulled out a flyer and said that he would tell us when we were there! Before he had a chance to though, another random passenger informed us that “this is where you get off for Mr. Hugo,” and sure enough, a young man on a bike was there ready to escort us down the street. As soon as we arrived we understood what all of the fuss was about. Not only is it only 25 pesos to rent bikes for the day (about $6), but the second you arrive, Mr. Hugo brings out a big pitcher of free wine and starts pouring . . . and keeps refilling your glass as soon as it is half-way empty. No wonder everyone loves Mr. Hugo!

Biking between bodegas

After a refill or two we finally set off for our first destination: an olive oil, liquor and chocolate maker where we paid 15 pesos for a very extensive tasting of all the olive pastes, jellys, liquors and chocolate your heart could desire. Then we set off again, a little dizzy from the Absynthe we’d daringly opted to try, in search of the first bodega. Unfortunately, Trapaiche closed just as we were passing it and so we headed to a microbrewery in the area instead, where we enjoyed a very delicious glass of beer in the shade. By then it was nearly 4:30 already (the bodegas are further apart than you really think about beforehand) and we were determined to make it to at least one bodega before they closed at 6, so we set off again.

At the microbrewery

After a tipsy, exhausting, uphill bike ride we finally made it to the Tempus Alba Bodega around 5:30. It was worth the work to get there though, and we spent the next hour and a half enjoying a delicious tasting of 3 wines each (as well as splitting a couple of scrumptious desserts) on the outdoor terrace overlooking the vineyards. I tried a Syrah, a Malbec and a Cabernet, and to my great surprise, the Cabernet was by far my favorite. Thus despite all of my good intentions to go home with a Malbec (usually one of my favorites), I ended up opting for the Cabernet instead, which they graciously packaged up well for me so that I can get it back home safely in my suitcase. They even threw in a free olive oil as a thank you! This one I decided to keep for myself. 😉

Wine Tasting

Dessert

On the terrace at Tempus Alba Bodega

By the time we made it back to Mr. Hugo’s it was already nearly 8:30, so after one last glass of wine we headed back to Mendoza to pick up our things and catch our 10pm bus back to Buenos Aires. The bike tour was definitely my other favorite experience in Mendoza and I would have to agree with those who say that it is the best way to experience the bodegas. I would recommend starting earlier though (try to get to the bike rental place by 11am or 12pm if you can) so you can make it to more bodegas before they close.

To sum it up: great weather, friendly people, fun adventures and delicious wine. What more can a girl ask for?

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Laura Huober permalink
    October 31, 2010 4:41 pm

    Ok, only a little jealous!!!

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