Drink Up & Giddy Up Like the Gauchos
A bottle of Malbec and a steak dinner is obviously the best way to get a taste of sun-kissed Mendoza, Argentina’s most beloved wine region. But the area isn’t revered only for its wineries; it’s also home to one of the country’s best and most accessible outdoor playgrounds. To work up your appetite and a thirst, spend some time giddying up into the wilderness.
Just 3 hours from Buenos Aires, Mendoza makes the perfect getaway for adrenaline seekers too short on time to reach Patagonia. Outside of the small but lively center city, the countryside’s vineyards, desert landscape, rolling hills, rushing river, charming villages, and ski resorts are framed by the Central Andes, best known for the Western Hemisphere’s highest peak—Mt. Aconcagua—at 6,962m (22,840 ft.). November to March is climbing season, when you can attempt to reach its summit or take one of the many other challenging hikes through this vast mountain range. Bikes are readily available for exploring wineries. And the Mendoza River is a popular place for white water rafting. But the most exceptional thrill in this part of the world comes from galloping into the rugged landscape on horseback with an Argentine gaucho (cowboy).
Depending on your skill set and interest level, local tour companies and estancias (ranches) can arrange horseback rides that last a few hours or a few days. The best place to ride a hardy Argentine Criollo, the favored breed among gauchos and an equestrian symbol across Latin America, is at La Guatana (www.criolloslaguatana.com.ar). Ask for Cesar.
As your horse picks his way through the bush, up and down steep terrain, between the rows of orderly vineyards, through streams, and straight across open plains, the environment’s diversity is startling.
Around noon when the sun is really beating down, it’s time for a break. If you’re lucky, you’ll be rewarded with a traditional asado, the Argentine barbeque cooked on a parilla (grill). Starting with morcillas (blood sausage), followed by mollejas (sweetbreads), the meal slowly progresses toward finer cuts of meat such as ribs and flank steak. The customary carafe of red wine is a perfect complement to this midday feast.
Argentina Tourism Board ( 0800-555-0016; www.turismo.gov.ar/eng).
Tour: Malbec Experience ( 54/0261-454-8981; www.malbecexperience.com).
When to Go: Year-round, but especially Oct–May.
$$ Finca Adalgisa, Chacras de Coria ( 54/0261-496-0713; www.fincaadalgisa.com.ar). Estancia el Puesto, Alto Valle de Uco (54/261-439-3533; www.estanciaelpuesto.com.ar/English).