Mendoza – home of Malbec wines
After 4 weeks living in the city, we had been looking forward to a “holiday break” in Mendoza and San Carlos de Bariloche. The former is famous for wine, particularly the Malbec and the latter for chocolate. They are both centres for outdoor activities, so we were looking forward to some time in the open air.
A long wait
The day of our departure from Buenos Aires started with a little bit of stress. We woke up at 7am to a message from our landlord that we had to be out by noon instead of the 5:30pm that we’d organised! Panic!! Our BA contact for the property, Luciano, was very helpful and did what he could to ensure all was sorted, particularly as we’d organised to store our extra suitcases with him. Fortunately we’d done most of our packing, so the main thing we had to work out was where to spend the day.
Serendipity to the rescue! After Nati came to collect the keys, we moved on to our favourite couch in the local coffee shop up the street, together with our luggage. Six hours later and after a couple of coffees, medialunas con jamon & queso (ham & cheese croissants), avocado bruschetta and a decadent chocolate brownie, we hailed a cab and made our way to the Terminal de Omnibus.
The traffic to the bus station was crazy! The poor taxi driver was stressing and gesticulating madly – afterwards we thought he may have been asking if we wanted to get out and walk. We had plenty of time so weren’t too worried, even when we arrived and had no idea which terminal we should get him to drop us.
The bus station is enormous! It is nearly 400 metres in length, includes 75 gates and is accessible via five elevated walkways. Buses depart for all parts of Argentina, and for the neighbouring countries of Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia, and Chile, as well as for Lima, Peru. Buses are operated from the terminal by over 100 Argentine and foreign companies. There are also services such as gift shops, a bar, numerous fast food concessions, a pharmacy and a bank. We were certainly glad we weren’t short of time to work out where to go – particularly as there is absolutely no English anywhere! We managed to get some idea of the series of gates we’d likely be at and settled down at one of the bars for a water, rather than waiting in the chaotic departure area. We had heard and read so many security warnings. Our gate would only be announced 15 minutes before departure.
Eventually, we saw our bus company, destination, time and gate pop up on the screen and heaved a huge sigh of relief that we were in approximately the right place. Given we arrived at the gate, checked in our bags, hopped on just in time for the bus to pull away, that was a good thing. We could only assume that there was also an announcement in Spanish that we’d missed as nearly everyone else was on board.
The 15 hour bus trip…
As we had purchased a great deal, we had the cheap seats right at the back of the bus and upstairs, This turned out to be a blessing as we didn’t have anyone walking past. In general, the trip turned out a lot better than expected.
The bus was pretty new and very comfortable. After a game of bingo (in Spanish), dinner was served. Whilst a movie was shown, we reclined our seats and read before closing our eyes and having a few hours sleep. By the time we arrived in Mendoza, we didn’t feel too bad and were ready for a day of exploring.
First day in Mendoza
The taxi ride to our hotel was short and we checked in around 11am. As our room wasn’t ready, we dropped bags and took ourselves on a walk around town – after finding a coffee shop a few blocks down the road for a caffeine fix.
Our first impressions of the city were not great. It was hot and dirty and we found it pretty uninspiring. The central food market was small and didn’t have much of any quality. The shopping area seemed to be full of shoe shops and helado (ice cream). We struggled to find something light to eat and eventually resorted to a ham and cheese sandwich on sweet bread. We were very glad when 2pm came around and we could access our room and the gorgeous view of the mountains that it had to offer.
On heading out to dinner just before 9pm, we started to have a renewed image of the city as it came to life.
One of the trendy restaurant areas, Aristides, was close to the hotel, so we wondered up there.
We stumbled across Josefinas, which turned out to be a great find. The food was a little different to the standard fare and the staff went out of their way to ensure we had the wine we wanted.
Visiting Lujan with Martin
The following morning, after a huge breakfast, we were picked up at the hotel by Martin, our guide for the day. After collecting 2 other people along the way, we drove to his house where our bikes were waiting.
Very soon, we were set up and ready to go – saying goodbye to his girlfriend, Julie-Anne, we cycled off to Alta Vista, the first of 3 wineries we were to visit. Arriving just in time to join a couple of other people on an English speaking tour, we were shown the process of selecting and crushing the grapes. We also met one of the winemakers. After a tour of the cellars, we tasted a number of sparkling, white and red wines – including of course, the Malbec that Mendoza is renowned for.
A highlight of the day was visiting a small family run winery. The owner winemaker was obviosuly passionate about his wine and really focuses on aged wines – something very different to the current trend of releasing very young wines. As with so many things, money talks, and there is an advantage to the bottom line in getting the wine out to market as soon as possible. Older wines tend to command a huge premium in price, so we couldn’t resist picking up a 2009 Malbec for an amazing price.
Our final winery visit was different in that the tasting was done over a meal. The food was very good and the company was fabulous. We spent a good few hours talking about a huge range of topics. Martin was an interesting companion as he’s done so many things in his life, not least of all spending time in South Africa as a tour guide. He had also studied wine making in Mendoza, so has an in-depth knowledge of the subject and knows a lot of people in the area. Annabella and Jennifer, the other members of the group, were from the city of Buenos Aires. They spoke good English and were so lovely that it contributed to a memorable day out.
One of the strange things we noticed was the large drainage canals alongside the roads. When the snow melts they get a lot of water and require large drains to deal with the flow. It was strange (dangerous) seeing them open along the roads.