Why go to California when you can fly to Mendoza in western Argentina, drink more exotic and affordable wines, and go horseback riding across the magnificent Andes Mountains with meat eaters?
With more than a thousand wineries, including boutique bodegas like Vistalba, La Azul, and Achaval-Ferrer, Mendoza has become one of the hottest destinations in South America, even for those who can't tell a malbec from another kind.
An ideal time to visit is during the March harvest (fall there), when the region turns into a weeklong party. But there are also festivals like the Wine Fair (Feb. 15 to 18 for 2008), when big-name chefs from Europe, the United States and throughout South America (including Todd English, Fernando Trocca and Francis Mallmann) take over the kitchens of big-name vineyards in a Dionysian frenzy of food, wine and much song.
Where to stay? Mendoza has large and diverse choices, from very economic and Europeans hostels ( $15 to $40 per day) to 5 stars luxury hotels with an excellent service in any area. From $100 to $350 per night.
Fortunately, we found a American-Argentinean company, (MendozaConnection.com) who provided us a wonderful and fair service guiding us ($10 per day per person) through any side of the cultural life, in the incredible Mendoza. With no English barrier or complicated procedures, everything was easy and enjoyable, we saved a lot a money with the custodial eye of our friend-guide Ariell.
He also helped us obtain the best prices everywhere we visited, that was a very worthwhile service!
After a few days of pure gluttony, you'll want to explore the sun-kissed Andes -- and the best way to do that is on horseback. Local farms offer one-, two- and even five-day rides across the valleys and foothills, so you can gallop all the way to Chile. Try doing that in Napa! Finally, we came back to our town in Albuquerque NM, thinking seriously of the possibility of investing some money in the most amazing place have we ever been.
A special thanks to Stacey & Bob Hobson for submitting this article. Stacey & Bob describe themselves as "Just happy travelers..." Thanks for sharing your experiences in Mendoza!