Things to Do in Mendoza
It would be a shame if, while visiting Mendoza, Argentina’s most populous city in the western part of the country, you didn’t make it up to the Andes. Not only to see the border between Chile and Argentina, but most importantly, to glimpse these giants of the mountain world, including Aconcagua, which is the tallest mountain in the western hemisphere, at 6962 meters or 22,841 feet. A winding drive up from Mendoza reveals snowcapped peaks at every turn, and short turnoff brings you to a mirador, or lookout point, for Aconcagua itself.
While climbing the mountain is a serious affair, subject to permits, regulations and climbing fees, visiting the Provincial park of Aconcagua requires little more than a three-hour drive from Mendoza, and also puts you close to the Puente del Inca, a nearby natural attraction. Once at the Aconcagua Park, you have a few options for day hikes, including a one-hour loop suitable for children.
Potrerillos is an artificial lake surrounded by snow-dotted mountains and cypress forests on Mendoza’s doorstep. A dammed waterway on the Mendoza River, the lake measures 12 km long, 3 km wide (7.5 miles long, 2 miles wide). Popular as a day-trip and weekend destination from Mendoza, it’s the outdoor venue for rafting, paragliding and lakeside hiking.
The region has developed into a popular resort area, and a cluster of hotels, resort villas, clubs and sports facilities have sprung up to cater to day-trippers and visitors looking for outdoor activities. Choose from kayaking, guided treks, horseback riding, mountain biking and fly-fishing for trout.
This boutique winery traces its history back only to 1998, shortly after the beginning of the Malbec boom in Mendoza. The winery is Argentine and Italian owned, and the winemakers all have decades of experience extending back to far before this project began.
The Achaval Ferrer Winery has four different vineyards on which they grow their grapes, representing four different terriors, from between 700 and 1,100 meters in altitude, with flood irrigation that decreases the chances of phyloxera. In some cases, there are cherry or olive trees lining the vineyards. Grapes are harvested by hand, and in the early morning hours. In case of hail damage (which happens occasionally), damaged grapes are removed from the plants to keep bitterness at bay in the final product. These practices, as well as several others (such as low density of plants), keeps production low, but quality high.
The name Andeluna comes from a combination of the words Andes, in the foothills of which these grapes are grown, and luna (moon), which the winemakers say impart magic and inspiration to their winemaking. Andeluna harvests Argentine grapes from vineyards originally planted 125 years ago by early Italian immigrants. These are brought to a 48,000 square foot winemaking facility for the de-stemming, crush and fermentation. Andeluna was started in 2003 under the tutelage of one Argentine and one American investor, H. Ward Lay, of the Lays potato chip fortune.
The winery is located in Tupungato, Argentina, near Mendoza, and here they grow Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc, all at altitude, in this case at up to 4300 feet above sea level. The winery features classic architecture with views of the Andes Mountains, over some of the area’s prime grape vines.
A 14-ton bronze national monument atop the steps of the Hill of Glory pays tribute to the Army of the Andres battle for liberation, which freed Argentina, Chile and Peru from Spanish rule in the early 19th century. Travelers can wander the crooked path through San Martin Park, past a Greek theater and soccer stadium, to this historic monument, which was designed by a Uruguayan artist and is a recognized part of the urban skyline.
Stones for this iconic memorial were trekked in from the Uspallata area of the Mendoza Mountains. Life-like images depicting struggles, victories and historic moments are etched into the sides of the Hill of Glory, but it’s the massive statues of brave soldiers perched atop the towering rocks that make this piece of public art so noteworthy.
Unlike some of the smaller wineries in the Mendoza area, Trapiche is very well known in the international wine scene, and in fact, the winery traces its history to 1883, and began sending wines to international competitions in Paris as early as 1920. Since the 1970s, Trapiche has been exporting its wines to the international market and has won the Argentine Wine Producer of the Year award twice. Their wines are imported by businesses in 40 countries.
But that doesn’t mean that they have sacrificed quality, and some of their best-scoring wines are a line of single vineyard Malbec, which is made from grapes from high altitude near the Mendoza River valley. Other wines they produce include Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Chardonnay, Torrontés, Rosé, Viognier and a Pinot Grigio. Visits to the winery include a multimedia presentation, walks through the cellars and tastings.
The artistic hub of Mendoza and a popular meeting place for locals, Plaza Espana offers a tranquil retreat, just a short stroll from the central Plaza Independencia. The striking centerpiece of Plaza Espana is a beautifully tiled fountain, overlooked by a series of mosaics depicting scenes from Argentina’s Spanish colonization.
Stroll around the grassy lawns, settle on one of the mosaic-tiled benches for a picnic lunch or visit on the weekends, when a lively artisan’s fair takes place and local musicians provide impromptu entertainment.
The Navarro Correa Winery in Mendoza dates back to the year 1798, when the first grapes were planted at the foot of the Andes by Don Juan de Dios, who would later become an important political figure in the area.
Nowadays, visitors come from all over the world for guided tours and tastings of the reds, whites and sparkling wines for which Navarro Correa is known, which are drawn from different plantations of grapes in the Tunuyan, Tupungato, Maipu, Ugarteche, Pedriel and Agrelo regions near Mendoza. The gleaming, minimalist architecture of the tasting area and installations built in recent years have also won the vineyard attention from architecture aficionados. The visitors’ center, which is nearly 8,000 square feet, houses a wine bar, two tasting rooms, the reception area, and space for art exhibitions. Navarro Correa’s dedication to art is also seen in their wine bottle labels, which have been designed by renowned Argentine artists.
More Things to Do in Mendoza
The highlight of Mendoza’s Iglesia de San Francisco complex is the Renaissance-style pink stucco basilica dating from 1875.
The Franciscan church replaced the original Jesuit structure that was destroyed by the devastating earthquake of 1861. Venerated throughout Mendoza, the church is the hallowed home of the miraculous Virgen del Carmen de Cuyo, patron saint of the liberating Andean Army.
The basilica also houses the tomb of the daughter of General San Martin, and is celebrated for its elaborate altar, Virgin’s chapel and priceless religious artifacts. The church is a National Historic Landmark and one of Mendoza’s most important features.
Known as the Napa Valley of Argentina, Mendoza is Latin America’s largest wine-making region with more than 800 wineries. Uco Valley in particular is known for its malbecs, cabernet sauvignons, syrahs and ruby red tempranillos, which benefit from 250 sunny days a year, very little rain, fertile soil and a cool micro-climate where the average temperature is 57 degrees F.
An hour’s drive southwest of the city of Mendoza, Uco Valley is a popular destination for travelers on the Argentina Wine Route. As well as producing the highest altitude (900-1,200 meters) wines in the province, the valley is renowned for its beauty. Covering 45 miles by 15 miles on the eastern slopes of the Andes, Uco Valley follows the northern course of the Tunuyan river as it flows down from the surrounding snow-capped peaks. As you visit the valley’s vineyards, looks out for almond trees and orchards too.
The area surrounding Mendoza, Argentina is of great historical importance, having been used as an important pass connecting the east and west parts of the South American continent. There is a natural bridge called Puente del Inca, not far from Mendoza (towards the Andes) over the Río Mendoza, that used to have a hot spring. It is hypothesized that the bridge itself was formed by the accumulation of sediment over ice, such that the sediment petrified, and when the ice melted, it left the orange, yellow and ochre-colored bridge behind. The bridge was given its name due to the presence of the Inca people in this area, and the belief that they would have visited the springs for the curative qualities of the water.
Luján de Cuyo is another part of the Mendoza wine-producing region (in addition to Maipú), and was the first Argentine wine-producing region to establish its own appellation of origin. It has a long history of wine production, and is best recognized for Malbec, which is made from a grape that is originally from Bordeaux. In Luján de Cuyo, they also produce Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, San Giovese, Barbera and other red wines including Pinot Noir. Among whites, there are several for which they are well known, including Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling.
In the area of Luján de Cuyo, there is also cultivation of olives and almonds, and there is some adventure tourism, including rafting, rappelling, horseback riding, parasailing and hiking, though of course some of the main activities here is visiting wineries and enjoying the local foods. Luján de Cuyo has a high concentration of vineyards, and has more than 35 wineries that are open to the public.
The Bodegas Salentein, located in Mendoza’s Valle del Uco (Uco Valley) has the largest “cool climate estate” in Mendoza. The estate covers almost five thousand acres, over 1,000 of which are planted with grapes in three different plantations, ranging in altitude from 3,000 to about 5,500 feet. They plant 80 percent red and 20 percent white grapes, and are well-known for their malbec, merlot, chardonnay and pinot noir wines.
In addition to wine tours through the cellars with more than 5,000 barrels, and tastings, the winery also has a restaurant and wine bar serving Argentine food beside their award-winning wines. There is also an exhibition space called Killka which houses paintings by Argentine and Dutch masters. Finally, there is a chapel on the grounds, inspired by Andean architecture, with earthen walls, which features lead and granite sculpture and benches carved from old olive trees. The chapel is shaded by carob trees.
Argentina’s hot-spring spa town of Cacheuta has been a popular Andean resort since the early 1900s. Hot springs are a feature of the Andean foothills, and Cacheuta is one of the country’s major spa resorts. The first resort opened in 1904, and became a byword for luxurious relaxation, with bathing establishments and direct access to the spa from the town’s train station.
All this was swept away by the floods of 1934. Today, the ruins of the original spa are preserved within the new resort. Visitors can swim in the resort’s pools, have mud baths and spas in a series of rock pools lining the river, indulge in massage therapies, or go horseback riding and walking. The spa hotel offers luxury accommodation, and day visitors can use the day spa facilities, including sauna, thermal pools and relaxation areas. The resort also has an aqua park for all the family, with pools, slides and waterfalls.
The area of Mendoza is well-known for wine, with production here having started as early as the 1500s. But it was not until the 1990s that Mendoza became world-renowned for its production, mainly of reds. The vineyard Finca Decero is a newcomer to the game, built with foreign (Swiss-American) funds, to plant and construct a sustainable, hand-made vineyard “from scratch,” (as the name de cero means). Decero makes mostly single vineyard wines, inspired by one of the founding family’s connection with Napa Valley in California.
Remolinos Vineyard, one of Decero’s most famous, is located in the highest reaches of Agrelo, in Mendoza, at 3500 feet. With the area’s warm days and cool nights, and small, naturally occurring circular gusts of wind provide perfect conditions for their wines, specifically Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon, though they also make blends with Petit Verdot and other varieties, much of it by hand, and all of it aged in fine-grained French oak barrels.
Villavicencio Natural Reserve is a great alternative or addition to the wine tourism that is the backbone of Mendoza’s tourist attractions. It is easily visited in a half-day tour, though at nearly 175,000 acres, if you have more time, you’d find much more to explore. A visit to the reserve usually starts with about an hour’s drive from Mendoza to the springs for which the reserve are named, and in fact, this is the source of much of Argentina’s bottled mineral water.
The reserve itself has a varied topography, with mountains ranging from 900 to 3200 meters in height and deep ravines between them. Wildlife spotting is likely here, including eagles, condors, rheas (relative to the ostrich), as well as herds of the llama-like guanaco. Lucky viewers may glimpse a puma. One of the highlights of the trip is the view over the Los Caracoles viewpoint, so named for the winding road seen below (caracol means snail), which is said to have 365 twists and turns.
This winery that grows organic grapes is easily accessible from Mendoza, in the Uco Valley, with the closest town being diminutive Tupungato. Domaine Bosquet dates to the 1990s when the Bosquet family, with a long history of winemaking in their native southern France, came to Mendoza. They eventually bought land in 1998 at the current location, where they grow grapes at approximately 1,200 meters in altitude, which makes it one of the highest altitude wineries in Mendoza and in the world. Much of the harvest is done by hand, and Domain Bousquet prides itself on combining French and Argentine traditions.
The winery has a capacity of 2.5 million liters, divided among Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, a sweet Malbec and a sparkling wine. The grapes are certified organic, and the Domaine Bosquet has been certified as fair trade as well.
Maipú is a small city in the Mendoza province of Argentina, with fewer than 100,000 inhabitants. It is located about 10 kilometers from the city of Mendoza. Maipú is one of the most important wine-growing regions in Argentina, and produces up to 2/3 of the country’s wine. It is located on the eastern side of the Andes, and specifically, in the shadow of Mount Aconcagua, which is the tallest mountain on the continent, at over 22,000 feet. Mendoza has wineries at altitude of between 2,000 and 4,000 feet above sea level, assuring the warm daytime temperatures and cool nighttime temperatures essential to wine production.
Maipú represents the greatest concentration of wineries is in Argentina, with more than 150 wineries, nearly 30 of which accept visitors. It is also where the oldest winemakers in the region, such as Trapiche, which dates back to 1883, are located.
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