I love traveling, and I love writing about travel. I love exploring new countries, learning about their culture, way of life, and even their food. One of the things I enjoy the most while I travel is trying the local drinks. It could be mezcal in Oaxaca, Mexico; rum in Trinidad, Cuba, pisco in Paracas, Peru; a good ale in a fantastic pub in London, England or a glass of Malbec wine in Mendoza, Argentina. I find that trying the national drink is a good way to get into the local atmosphere, to appreciate the local culture and to complement local food.
Don’t get me wrong, though! I am not the kind of person that could be called an alcoholic. Quite the opposite indeed. I don’t drink much and most people would say I am a light weight. But I am Italian, which means that wine appreciation is pretty much written in my genes. Even more so in my case, as my mom comes from a small village in Sardinia which is quite famous for its vineyards and its delicious wines, and where most families actually make their own wine (my grandfather used to do that too).
Read more about the things to do in Sardinia.
I also love nature. As I get older, I appreciate spending more and more time outside. The hours I once spent bar hopping and recovering from a night out, are now those I use to get out and bike or hike my way through mountain and countryside trails. I value breathing clean air. I enjoy the silence. I appreciate the crispy wind biting my skin and I feel rejuvenated as I puff and pant while I hike up a trail – till the moment I reach the top and get to stare at the view below, completely mesmerized.
My appreciation for wine and nature drew me to Mendoza last March. I had been to Argentina before, and found it to be one of the most incredible countries in the world. But back then, I had no time to visit the most famous wine producing region of South America. So, when I decided to travel to South America again, I made it a point to stop in Mendoza for a few days. Little did I know that I would end up falling in love with this city, to the point that I am planning a second visit for 2016 to stay even longer and explore the region further.
I arrived in Mendoza from Santiago de Chile. It was a long ride, and before boarding the bus I had fully braced myself for it, preparing for interminable hours of snoozing, reading, listening to music and being plainly bored. None of that happened: at every turn, the views that opened in front of me were simply fantastic. The region is home to the Cerro Aconcagua, the tallest mountain of the Western and Southern hemisphere – well deserving the title of Roof of the Americas.
As the bus crossed the mountain range, knowing that I wouldn’t have time to for a proper hike in Aconcagua National Park, I glued my face on the window and made the most of it. I gazed at the pretty mountain villages, envying the groups of people pic-nicking and enjoying the beautiful day. I admired the countryside, rows after rows of vines which would soon be turned into one of the delicious regional wines.
Mendoza welcomed me the minute I arrived. I knew I was in for a good time (despite a short one) when I spotted the wines on sale at the lobby of my hostel (apparently, all good hostels sell bottles of wine in Mendoza: isn’t that a treat?). Furthermore, as he walked me to my room, the receptionist asked whether I would care to join the rest of the guests for the asado that night. Memories of my previous time in Argentina kicked in immediately: all hostels organize asado nights there, and for a more than reasonable price. I had been waiting for the moment when I could taste that mouthwatering meat seasoned and grilled to perfection and accompanied by chimichurri, a tasty marinade made of parsley, garlic, oregano, a hint of chili and olive oil again since the time I had left the country a couple of years before. Staring at the bottles of wine for sale, I said yes – I would be glad to join. And I purchased a bottle of Malbec for good measure.
As it turned out, I was one of the few foreigners at the hostel. Most of the other travelers were other Argentinos who had gone to Mendoza to explore the wine region and the surrounding areas, just like I had.
In the few days I spent in Mendoza, I found the city to be truly charming: wide boulevards, lovely coffee shops, delicious restaurants and a relaxed atmosphere make Mendoza one of the must see cities of Argentina. Although the area where Mendoza sits is pretty much a desert, each square in the city is decorated with beautiful fountains. Mendoza is lively during the day but gives its best at night, when the friendly Mendocinos crowd the restaurants, bars and cafés of Avenida Arístides.
Yet, what I loved the most about the city is the fact that it was really easy for me to get out of it to get to the amazing countryside nearby. That is how I managed to put two of my favorite activities together, in the very same day. I went on a biking tour around the vineyards.
A short bus ride from the centre of Mendoza took me to Maipu, where I rented a bike and, map at hand, I set to explore the beautiful countryside and hopped from one bodega (vineyard) to the other. It was pure bliss. At each vineyard an eager employee guided me and other visitors around, to explain us the history of the bodega and of the family behind it: some of the vineyards are as old as 170 years and the founders had arrived all the way from Italy or France with their vines. Then, we would be given as an introduction to the best wines produced and eventually presented with what we had all been waiting for: an array of wines we could taste.
As if they aren’t perfect enough already, some bodegas also have an annexed restaurant. That meant eating on the grounds. Actually, that meant eating a delicious local meal on a gorgeous terrace with a view of the beautiful vineyards and countryside and a selection of fantastic wines to go along the meal.
It really was as good as it could possibly get. So good that I couldn’t resist and decided there and then that I would do my best to reproduce an Argentinian meal at home, in Italy, and bought a few bottles of wine to go with it. I was so happy with it that I didn’t mind one bit the fact that I could hardly carry my backpack afterwards and almost broke my back in the effort. I wanted to make sure that friends and family at home would get at least a hint of the marvels I experienced in Mendoza.
When I opened one of those bottles a few nights ago, fireplace on and a nice (Italian) meal on the table, memories flooded back. So much so that I resolved to go back to Argentina in 2016 and head straight to Mendoza. And this time, I am staying way longer than just a few days, so that I can get more of the fantastic local vibe. Not only I want to bike across the gorgeous countryside again, taste more Malbec and eat more asado.
Read more about Argentina on my post “Great things to do in Argentina.”
This time I want to go a step further: I want to enroll in a wine tasting course and get my appreciation of wine to the next level. I want to practice my Spanish with the charming locals. I want to be there for the vendimia, the harvest season, when the region is at its best and the city organizes a number of festivals, celebrations and concerts. And as I will be spending a longer time there, I won’t be able to find an excuse not to join a hiking expedition to the Cerro Aconcagua, where I will take on the challenge and test my limits.
With all that it has to offer to its visitors, I wouldn’t be surprised if Mendoza becomes one of the hit destinations in 2016 and the years to come. I can’t wait to go back – and you should plan to visit too!