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Mendoza, Argentina’s premier wine region, is an ideal choice for a food and wine-focused ultimate weekend getaway.  Mendoza has become the new Napa with its boutique luxury wine resorts set in the middle of vineyards, excellent restaurants, wineries producing world-class wines, stunning scenery, nice weather (it’s summer during the Northern Hemisphere’s winter) and a huge variety of activities – horseback riding, hiking, zip lining, fishing, white water rafting and, in winter, heli-skiing.

Mendoza is home to more than a thousand wineries and produces over 80% of Argentina’s entire wine production.  The province of Mendoza is quite large, with five separate wine-producing areas but for a short trip we recommend limiting your visit to the Mendoza River Area, which is just south of the City of Mendoza, and the high-altitude Uco Valley. Both of these areas are stunningly beautiful, with vineyards and orchards filling the valleys and the towering snow-capped Andes in the background.  It is also where you will find the best wineries in Mendoza. 

Friday

For your first day, we recommend staying in the Mendoza River Area and visiting the excellent wineries in department of Lujon de Cuyo, which is just south of the city of Mendoza.  While you could stay at the 5-star Park Hyatt Hotel located in the center of the city of Mendoza, we prefer the boutique luxury wine lodges that have sprung up over the past few years.  For your first night in the Mendoza area, we recommend the Cavas Wine Lodge, a small 18-room Relais & Chateaux boutique hotel located about 30 minutes south of the city of Mendoza and set in the middle of a vineyard. We highly recommend the one-bedroom villas, which have over 2,800 square feet of indoor and outdoor living space, and include a separate living room with fireplace, comfortable bedroom with a king-size bed, an enormous bathroom with shower built for two, an outdoor hot tub and a plunge pool.  We love the hotel its romantic atmosphere, spectacular views, gorgeous sunsets, luxurious rooms, and attentive service.

Cavas Wine Lodge // Website

The area of Lujon de Cuyo is considered one of the best wine growing areas in Argentina.  The wineries in this area produce exceptional Malbec, as well as excellent Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.  Many of Argentina’s best wineries are just a short drive away from the hotel, including Viña Cobos, Catena Zapata and Achaval Ferrer

Viña Cobos, just down a dirt road from the Cavas Wine Lodge, produces some of the best wines from Mendoza.  Viña Cobos was created by combining the talents of two local winemakers with the American superstar winemaker Paul Hobbs.  The winery is housed in a modern glass and cement building and has an enormous double-height reception area that serves as the tasting room.  The winery has a large portfolio of wines, from relatively simple wines to the complex and award-winning Cobos Malbec and Cobos VolturnoCobos Volturno, which is a blend of predominately Cabernet Sauvignon, is one of the best wines of Argentina and consistently receives high scores from the Wine Spectator and Robert Parker (96+).

Not far from Viña Cobos is Catena Zapata, a stunning winery housed in an imposing Mayan-inspired pyramid and considered one of the best wine producers in Argentina.  Nicolas Catena, the founder of Catena Zapata, is widely regarded as having transformed Argentinian winemaking from mass production to the high quality wines of today. The winery produces a number of excellent high-quality wines focused on three grape varietals – Chardonnay, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon.  All of these wines consistently receive high scores from the Wine Spectator and Robert Parker.  If you have the opportunity, try Nicolas Catena Zapata, which is a made from a selection of the best lots of Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec and is only produced in outstanding vintage years.

Lunch

After visiting Catena Zapata, we recommend having lunch at Ruca Malen, a great winery with a fabulous restaurant that serves a 5-course lunch paired with the winery’s excellent wines.  The restaurant’s seasonal menu takes advantage of the delicious vegetables grown in their garden and the ripe fruit from the surrounding orchards.  A summer lunch might include a garden-inspired quinoa starter, traditional beef empanadas and, of course, grilled Argentinian beef.

Bodega Ruca Malen // Ruta Nacional Km 7, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza // Website

Afternoon

 Photos courtesy of Achaval Ferrer

Photos courtesy of Achaval Ferrer

After lunch, if you still have the stamina for visiting another winery, Achaval-Ferrer produces some of the best wines in Argentina.  Their small-production Finca and Tempous bottlings are exceptional and set the bar for top quality Argentinian Malbec.

Achaval-Ferrer // Cobos 2601, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza // Website

 Spa at Cavas Wine Lodge

Spa at Cavas Wine Lodge

Since dinners usually start late (around 9:00 pm), after a day of wine tasting we suggest returning to the hotel to relax by your private pool, enjoy a spa treatment or, perhaps, take a short nap.

Evening

For dinner, famed Argentine Chef Francis Mallmann’s 1884 Restaurante is a must. Since the restaurant is located in the city of Mendoza, we suggest arriving a little before your reservation time to explore the central square and tree-lined surrounding streets.  The main square is typical of Latin American cities with vendors selling various goods, friends and lovers enjoying the warm evening and musicians or performers entertaining a crowd on an open-air stage. In addition to producing excellent wines, the Mendoza region produces exceptional olive oil.  You can sample the area's olive oils at Verolio, just two blocks from the main square.

 Photos courtesy of 1884

Photos courtesy of 1884

1884 is located in the old Excorihuela Winery and features Francis Mallmann’s unique fire-based cuisine.   Chef Mallmann is somewhat of a national hero in Argentina and is widely known for his rustic, open fire cuisine. Upon entering the charming restaurant, you will be welcomed with a glass of sparkling wine from the beautiful bar running the length of the reception area.  The best tables are located in the central courtyard and garden.  The wood-fire cooking area, which has a blazing grill, clay oven and an open fire roasting area for slow roasting meats and vegetables, is located at the end of the courtyard. The ambiance is very romantic, with linen covered tables nicely spaced throughout the large patio and garden and lit only by small lanterns . The menu is seasonal and reflects Mallmann’s rustic cuisine.

Some of Mallmann’s signature dishes include ash-roasted vegetables, grilled meats and his exceptional “burnt” fruit dessert with ice cream. The restaurant also has an extensive wine list featuring many fabulous Argentine wines.

1884 Restaurante // Belgrano 1188 - Godoy Cruz, Mendoza // Website

 Photo courtesy of Cavas Wine Lodge

Photo courtesy of Cavas Wine Lodge

After returning to the hotel, consider enjoying the night sky with a glass of wine and roaring fire in the wood-burning fireplace on your casita’s upstairs deck.

Saturday

Morning

Having explored a number of the best wineries in the Lujon de Cuyo area of Mendoza, we recommend spending the next two days in the Uco Valley (Valle de Uco), which is a high altitude valley south of the city of Mendoza that produces exceptional wines. After a leisurely breakfast on the veranda of Cavas Wine Lodge, the trip to the heart of the Uco Valley takes about an hour and passes through a number of small farming towns and past acres and acres of verdant farmlands planted with fruit orchards and grape vines. 

The Uco Valley is situated in the foothills of the Andes and is a relatively new wine growing region. In the last two decades, the region has been discovered by wine makers from all over the world and is now highly regarded for producing exceptional wines due to the high altitude and excellent growing conditions. Many of the best vineyards and wineries in Argentina are located in this region.  The magnificent vistas, together with the stunning wines of this valley, make for a memorable visit.

The best wine lodge in the area is The Vines Resort & Spa, a boutique super-luxury resort located in the middle of 1,500 acres of private vineyard estates.  The main building of the resort is a low-rise modern structure made of river stone and concrete, with a stunning reception area featuring dark marble floors, a stone fireplace and 25-foot ceilings.  The resort’s 22 private villas are well dispersed around the property and connected by a winding path.  The villas are very large with a huge living room area, a modern kitchen, comfortable king-size beds with a romantic fireplace in the bedroom and spectacular bathrooms. We highly recommend the deluxe villas, which offer over 1,900 square feet of indoor/outdoor space and feature a private deck with an outdoor tub, shower or plunge pool/hot tub.  The main part of the resort includes an infinity pool and beautifully landscaped grounds bordered by rows of grape vines and the towering snow-capped Andes in the distance.  If you want an immersive wine making experience, The Vines of Mendoza offers a full day wine camp during the fall harvest where you will participate in every aspect of the harvest, including picking, sorting and crushing the grapes.

The Vines Resort & Spa // Ruta Provincial 94, km 11, Uco Valley // Website

While there are numerous wineries worth visiting in the Uco Valley, we recommend Salentein, Andeluna Cellars and La Azul. Salentein is a beautiful state-of-the-art modern winery set in the middle of a vineyard that produces the best Pinot Noir in Argentina.  In addition to the winery, Salentein houses the Killka Museum, an exclusive collection of contemporary Argentine art and 19th and 20th century Dutch artists. One of the most distinctive features of the winery is the giant rotunda under an enormous skylight which looks down on the cask storage area with a giant amphitheater in the center.  After the tour, you can enjoy a private tasting of Salentein’s excellent Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Malbec and their top-end Grand Vu blend in their underground wine cellar. 

Bodegas Salentein // Uco Valley // Website

Lunch

After visiting Salentein, one of the best spots for lunch is Andeluna Cellars, a gorgeous property set on 200 acres that produces excellent wines and offers a delicious 6-course lunch with wine pairings.  Following a tour of the facilities, you can enjoy an excellent multi-course lunch in their elegant dining room or on their beautiful patio that overlooks the manicured grounds and vineyards framed the Andes in the background.  Their summer menu might feature a roasted watermelon carpaccio starter, a pastry filled with squash, ricotta cheese, cured ham and fresh peaches and, of course, grilled beef.

Andeluna // Ruta Provincial 89, Uco Valley // Website

Afternoon

Having seen the large-production wineries of Salentein and Andeluna, we recommend a visit and private tasting at La Azul, a small family-owned boutique winery that produces limited qualities of fine wines, many of which are only available at the winery.  This winery is one of the few remaining high-quality wineries that is still completely family owned.

Bogega La Azul // Website

For the remainder of the afternoon, consider grabbing a lounge by the heated infinity pool at The Vines with its magnificent view of the vineyards and Andes in the distance.  If you are feeling more active, The Vines has an extremely well equipped gym (all TechnoGym equipment) with all glass walls that look out onto the vineyards.

Evening

 Picture courtesy of Siete Fuegos

Picture courtesy of Siete Fuegos

A number of years ago, Chef Francis Mallmann wrote a cookbook called “Siete Fuegos” (Seven Fires) that described seven different traditional cooking techniques using wood-burning fires. Although Mallmann uses a number of these techniques in this other restaurants throughout the Americas (including 1884), he was given the opportunity to create a restaurant at The Vines with a huge outdoor kitchen that features all seven of these cooking methods.  Naturally, he called the restaurant “Siete Fuegos”. 

For a unique and special experience this evening, we highly recommend a hands-on private cooking lesson with the chef at Siete Fuegos. During the cooking lesson, you will learn how to use many of these different wood-fire cooking techniques.  The chef will demonstrate how to make traditional empanadas in the wood-burning oven (horno), salt-encrusted vegetables or fish in an infiernillo (a piece of cast iron sandwiched between two fires), shrimp with rosemary skewers on a chapa (a flat piece of cast iron set over a roaring fire), grilled beef or salmon on a parrilla (grill) and roasted fruits for dessert. You will then sit at the long wooden table that runs the length of the outdoor kitchen area to enjoy your creations, each of which will be served with excellent local wines.

Siete Fuegos // The Vines of Mendoza // Website

After dinner, enjoy the beautiful star-filled sky with a nice glass of wine at one of the outdoor seating areas spread around the property.

Sunday

Morning

The Vine’s restaurant, Siete Fuegos, serves a delicious breakfast buffet with fresh fruits, a large selection of meats and cheeses and fabulous home-made pastries.  When in Argentina, one should definitely try a Medialuna, which is a traditional Argentinian breakfast pastry that is similar to (but better than) a croissant, and they don’t get better than the home-made ones at Siete Fuegos.

While Mendoza is best known for producing excellent wines, the area offers visitors the wide variety of adventures – horseback riding, fly fishing, hiking in the Andes, river rafting, zip lining and, in winter, heli-skiing directly from The Vines Resort. 

Rancho-1.jpg

For a very special experience, we recommend spending the day at Rancho ‘E Cuero, a small ranch (estancia) set in a remote valley in the foothills of the Andes.  The trip to Rancho ‘E Cuero takes about one hour and passes from the flat farmlands and vineyards of the central Uco Valley to the rugged verdant mountains and valleys in the foothills of the Andes. 

 Photo courtesy of Rancho 'E Cuero

Photo courtesy of Rancho 'E Cuero

Upon reaching the gates of the ranch, you will be met by the owner, Ricardo Palma, who will pick you up in a 4x4 truck for the last 8 kilometers up the side of a mountain and across flowing streams.   The ranch, which has remained in the Palma family for over 200 years, consists of 2 small lodges located in a beautiful valley surrounded by majestic hills covered with wild flowers and towering snow-capped mountains in the distance. After the warm welcome from Ricardo and his wife, you will be offered a delicious glass of Argentinian wine and appetizers as you get settled. 

 Photo courtesy of Rancho 'E Cuero

Photo courtesy of Rancho 'E Cuero

You will then have an opportunity to explore the property with a hike into the hills and valleys while Ricardo prepares a traditional asado (Argentinian BBQ) for lunch. For non-meat eaters, Ricardo will thoughtfully have caught trout earlier in the day in the steam that runs through the property. 

After lunch, Ricardo will offer to take you fishing in the nearby stream, on a 4x4 trip up the valleys or on a guided horseback ride through the 3,000 hectares of the property.  The ranch’s horses are very gentle and a horseback ride will take you to the top of some of the surrounding mountain tops where the views are nothing short of spectacular.  Along the ride you may see red deer with enormous antlers, guanacos (similar to llamas), condors and falcons.   While a visit to Rancho ‘E Cuero makes for a fabulous day-trip, if you have time, we highly recommend an overnight stay in their rustic, but comfortable, accommodations. If you stay overnight at Rancho ‘E Cuero, you will enjoy a delicious dinner with lots of wine and laughs with your gracious hosts. 

Rancho ‘E Cuero // Website

Dinner

 Photos courtesy of Casa de Uco

Photos courtesy of Casa de Uco

After returning from Ranch ‘E Cuero to The Vines, we recommend dinner at Casa de Uco’s restaurant, which is not far from The Vines.  Like The Vines, Casa de Uco is located in a beautiful location in the middle of a vineyard with the Andes towering in the background.  The resort is located in a very modern low-rise stone and glass structure.  The dining room is filled with huge windows that look out over a man-made pond and the surrounding vineyards.  The menu is international but all of the high-quality ingredients are sourced locally.  Some of the stand-out dishes include ethereal Potato Gnocchi with Ossobuco Bolognese and, for dessert, Bread Pudding with Dulce de Leche Mousse.  The restaurant also has an excellent wine list with a nice selection of Argentinian wines.

Casa de Uco // Route 94, kilometer 14.5, Uco Valley // Website

Final Thoughts

This ultimate weekend getaway requires a significant amount of coordination with different travel providers and wineries and so we suggest using a travel agency to make all of the arrangements.  For this trip, we highly recommend Mai10, a travel agency that has been in business for 30 years and designs bespoke trips that are personalized and experiential.  Mai10 was founded by Maita Barrenechea, who spent years living in Paris and Washington D.C as daughter of an Argentinian diplomat and has been recognized as one of a handful of “Super Agents” by Travel & Leisure magazine. Mai10 focuses on South American and, in particular, Argentina, Uruguay and Chile.  Given Maita’s three decades of experience and inside connections, she can arrange for one-of-a-kind experiences not normally available to the normal traveler. We highly recommend working with Mai10 for any luxury travel to South America.

Mai10 // Website

 

Buenos Aires Excursion

Although Mendoza makes for a fabulous weekend getaway, given the long travel time from the United States or Europe, it makes sense to combine the trip with a visit to other parts of South America.  Some options include Buenos Aires or Patagonia in Argentina, Santiago in Chile (which is just over the Andes from Mendoza and only a short flight away) or Brazil.

Buenos Aires is one of our favorite South American cities and is an excellent choice for an overnight (or longer) visit.  There are a number of luxury hotels in Buenos Aires but we love the Park Hyatt Palacio Duhau, a 165-room hotel located at one of the most prestigious addresses in the chic Recoleta neighborhood.  The hotel is housed in a stunning grand Belle Époque mansion formally owned by a wealthy Argentine family that was acquired and converted into a luxury hotel in 2006.  The hotel consists of two buildings – a modern tower and the original mansion.  We recommend the balcony suites in the tower building, which feature large terraces overlooking the hotel’s gardens, or the signature suites in the original mansion.  The two buildings are separated by a beautiful terraced garden where you can enjoy a meal or glass of wine and are also connected by an underground passage that exhibits the hotel’s contemporary art collection. 

Park Hyatt Palacio Duhau // Avenida Alvear 1661, Buenos Aires // Website

Morning

The Palacio Duhau is located in the Recoleta neighborhood, which feels as if you have been transported to Paris with its French-style architecture characterized by its turn-of-the-century palaces and mansions, handsome old apartment buildings, lovely plazas and parks, sidewalk cafes and sophisticated restaurants, upscale art galleries and designer boutiques.  We recommend spending the morning exploring the art galleries and designer boutiques in this chic neighborhood.

Lunch

For lunch, we suggest Fervor, a traditional Argentine steakhouse located on a quiet street in the Recoleta neighborhood just down from the Park Hyatt Hotel.  While Fervor offers traditional Argentine steakhouse fare, they also offer excellent fish and seafood options.  The restaurant has an attractive bar in front and the main dining room features banquette seating in a room filled with natural wood and mirrors.  

Fervor // Posadas 1519 // Website

Afternoon

The best way to see a city in a short amount of time is to arrange a private tour with a guide and a driver.  During a half-day city tour, you will have an opportunity to explore a number of the different neighborhoods of Buenos Aires and get a feel for the diversity of this beautiful city.

Beginning your tour in Recoleta neighborhood, you should visit the Recoleta Cemetery, known for its amazing mausoleums and statuary, and the colonial Pilar Church

From there, drive through the Palermo residential neighborhood, with its tree-lined streets, stately townhouses and mansions and beautiful parts and gardens, to the main square, Plaza de Mayo, where you will find the neo-classical cathedral, the colonial Cabildo (old town hall) and the Presidential Palace known as “Casa Rosada.” 

Also, not far from the main square is Café Tortoni, a well-known old café that was once frequented by famous writers and poets but now, sadly, is just a tourist trap.

Traveling south will take you to San Telmo, the old part of the city.  In this hip area you will find beautiful old buildings, narrow sidewalks, cobblestone streets and numerous antique shops. 

Traveling further south will take you to the La Boca neighborhood, where Italian immigrants settled in the early 20th century and you will find a lively street scene and original multicolor tin houses.  It is also the home of the Tango.

Finally, you should visit Puerto Madero, the old harbor, that is now filled with modern real estate developments and the old brick warehouses converted into lofts, offices and restaurants. as well as the iconic Puente de la Mujer (Woman's Bridge). 

After a day of touring, the peaceful gardens of the Park Hyatt Palacio Duhau provide a nice spot for a glass of wine or a cool drink.  The hotel also has an excellent wine bar, Vinoteca, that offers a one of the best selection of wines in Buenos Aires and is a great spot for an afternoon wine and cheese tasting. 

Dinner

 Photos courtesy of Tegui

Photos courtesy of Tegui

For dinner, we suggest Tegui, which is one of the best restaurants in Buenos Aires.  Tegui is a modernist restaurant located in the trendy neighborhood of Palermo Soho, a hip area known for its cool restaurants and clubs.  Don’t be deterred by the unassuming exterior – the inronic graffiti covered façade and discrete signage -- as you arrive at the restaurant.  The restaurant itself is gorgeous -- tall ceilings, enormous windows looking out to the patio, wooden floors, a glass enclosed wine cellar and reclaimed street lights.  Shortly after arriving at the restaurant, you will be offered a glass of sparkling wine from the chic bar as you wait for your table. Once seated, you can watch the chefs at work in the open kitchen in the rear. Chef Germán Martitegui offers an eclectic multi-course tasting menu that constantly changes based upon the season and the whims of the chef.  We suggest letting the sommelier design a wine pairing to complement the tasting menu.  

Tegui Restaurant/ Costa Rica 5852 // Website