Mendoza

2002 Visit –  Mendoza was very enjoyable (although it is certainly a modest city with nothing like the world-class array of restaurants and shops in BA).  First there was the hotel, the Hyatt Plaza, a real five-star with totally modern facilities and a fabulous restaurant, attached to the facade of a classic late nineteenth century hotel on the main plaza.  Almost like landing on a different planet from the simple spots we had visited elsewhere in the province.  Mendoza was completely flattened by an earthquake in 1861 and there is virtually nothing left from the earlier city.  They rebuilt with a very geometric setup of wide streets and big plazas, with earthquakes in mind - no skyscrapers.  There is a park of four square kilometers filled with 50 thousand trees, a lake, the zoo, a university, several museums, etc. etc .   Such a pleasure to walk around; there are trees everywhere.  We made one not very successful excursion looking for wine routes (apparently there are some but you have to have insider info, make reservations ahead, etc.) but we enjoyed the country drive looking at autumnal-hued vineyards against the snowcapped mountains.  And we had two fabulous meals, one in the hotel in the Bistro M, and the other in a bodega just outside the city center –  the Escorihuela Winery, with the restaurant 1884 of chef Francis Mallman.

Our other excursion was out toward the border with Chile.  The mountains were simply spectacular, and everywhere along the valleys were groves of beautiful poplar trees turning color.  We went as far as Aconcagua, the monster mountain of the Andes, (highest in the Western and Southern Hemispheres) which in fact looked quite insignificant behind its fellow peaks - particularly as it was covered with clouds.  This excursion can be done in a private car or with a tour company (see below); an interesting stop is the Puente del Inca, a natural stone bridge used by the Incas in their short incursion into Argentina, and by other native peoples long before that.   A spa resort was built there but destroyed in a flood; apparently you can still bathe in some of the old tubs, but in April (Northern October weather) that is not likely to be appealing…

2004 visit.  Wine routes are becoming a bit better organized, but it is still not easy; it is definitely NOT like visiting wineries in California or France.  In many respects the best place to taste the wines is in the Bistro M, especially upstairs in the bar which has a long wine list.  To explore some of the actual wineries, you can take a wine tour, choosing from many firms in Mendoza city – one recommended in a recent NY Times piece is Aymara at 9 de Julio 1023; see www.aymara.com.ar.  Others are Andesmar, Espejo 189 at España in Mendoza, www.andesmar.com.ar; Sepean, Primitivo de la Reta 1088 – www.sepean.com; Fuga, specializing in personalized tours www.fugaturismo.com.ar, at Emilio Civit 270, Or you can hire a car and driver (a remise) to take you to specific places; this is a good option, and the prices are very reasonable.  Recommendation: don’t rent a car and drive yourself!  You will probably get lost; and you want to be able to taste the wine without worries!  Some wineries (Familia Zuccardi, producer of the excellent Santa Julia, in Maipú, is one) have lunch or dinner possibilities.  Don’t miss the Francis Mallman restaurant at Escorihuela; if you have lunch there you will be able to visit the winery as well.  

Several recent articles have recommended Finca Adalgisa in Chacras de Coria as a place to stay, as it is a small inn with its own winery still operating.  We stayed there, and enjoyed the company of the owner very much.  But there are several drawbacks, primarily the absence of any easy way to get around other than riding a bicycle.  There is a sort of restaurant but you eat at extremely low tables sitting on a sofa, and there is essentially one choice.  You can just nibble on cheese and olives with a glass of wine and that’s fine.  If you want to stay in a winery, try the Club Tapiz – five rooms and a very nice restaurant – and a good view of the mountains.  It’s part of the New Age Hotels group.   In Mendoza, the Park Hyatt is exceptional – but check the prices, and make sure they are not charging you in dollars more than they are charging in pesos.  We stayed in a less expensive place for our second visit, the NH Cordillera, and it was fine; it was fully soundproofed so we slept well even though we were right on the street on the second floor.  More modest hotels, such as the Argentino kitty-cornered from the Park Hyatt, will offer good small rooms but the soundproofing may not be what you need.  There are also several B&Bs recommended by the main Argentine travel mag: Las Escondida, and Plaza Italia are two.  Details provided on request!

Other than Bistro M, we had a fine meal at Mande Faustino on Sarmiento 785, a stroll down from the Park Hyatt.   It’s in the middle of a little restaurant row and is quite nice.   Another one nearby, Facundo, at 641 Sarmiento, also recommended. 

Shopping: There are branches of the main BA shops in Mendoza.  For example, Cardon, which offers lots of leather goods, belts, crafts.  There is a craft market on the main square on Sunday, which is quite miss-able if you have been in BA first.  The provincial tourist office has a small market with some amazing traditional regional crafts.  The entrance is almost invisible; it’s in the basement of the “Sub-Secretaria de Turismo,” on Avenida San Martin 1143 near the corner of Paseo Sarmiento/Garibaldi.  (Tip: Many streets have very long names, e.g., Avenida General Jose de San Martin.  No one will call it anything but Av. San Martin.) 

© Copyright 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, Richard W. Tripp, Jr.