Moni & I have just spent 6 nights in probably the most famous wine region of Argentina called Mendoza. The town is beautiful, the wine is plentiful and the weather was gorgeous, what more could you want?
Days 364 – 370 – March 1st – 7th, 2015.
Sure enough, the town was bustling and we had probably picked the most busy time of year in Mendoza. Harvest time and with that comes the famous festival.
This explains why trying to find a place to stay in the town was difficult when I was searching a while back. We manged to find a place on AirBnB to stay in Mendoza, but it would not be our favourite and reaffirmed to us that we are probably getting too old for the sharing space, backpacker hostel kinda thing. Oh well, you live and learn.
Wanka Boutique Wine and food Tour
No, that is not a spelling mistake, the company is called Wanka Viajes y Turismo.
With Mendoza being a massive wine region in Argentina it stands to reason that we should take a wine tour. Javier, our host made the booking for us and at exactly 2pm the bus arrived to pick us up.
We were first on and took up the front seats. The bus proceeded to pick up a whole crowd of Argentines from various accommodations around the town before making our way to the first stop.
About 30 minutes out-of-town we visited a winery called Domiciano de Barrancas winery in Mendoza. The commentary from the guide on the bus was all in Spanish which we were ok with, not that we could understand apart from a few bits here and there.
The bonus for us was that at each place we visited, we actually had our own English-speaking guide, sometimes just for the two of us, so it was like a private tour.
We have been on a few wine tours in Australia and New Zealand and know what to expect. However this wine tour was the best one so far. What set it apart from the others was that it was not such a rush in taste, buy and rush out again. Sure we obviously had a schedule to run to, well I thought we did until we arrived at a place that had closed at 5pm and it was now closing in on 6pm…
We toured the boutique winery, we saw the production, the storage etc all the way to the finished product. Then the fun bit, the try before you buy part, not that we bought any wine, we did buy some other goodies, but more on that later. The wines we sampled were all very nice and not overly expensive. This reflected in the cartons, yes cartons, that were carried onto the bus by the locals.
After this winery we made our way to a boutique olive oil outlet. Here the guide gave a bilingual tour which was great and we were explained the process for the production of olive oil. After the tour we actually got to sample some oils and also a variety of pastes that the Pasrai company produces.
These were all fantastic, and made without any additives etc. The oil produced is only cold first pressing olive oil. The excess olive mix that is left over after the first press is then sold to other companies for them to then produce a second press and then the heated extraction which obviously then is blended and stretched to make the basic olive oil that is mass-produced.
We bought a selection of pastes here and they have lasted for ages, great on baguette and in a pasta sauce.
From here we made our way to our next winery. Florio boutique winery make Italian style wines using all local grapes. Again only cellar door sales here and a few cartons made their way on the bus. Our private tour was great and very informative, followed by a generous tasting.
Next up we visited a boutique cheese producer again on our private tour we got to look around where they make the cheese and store and then sell it. They only make a limited amount of cheese here along with some preserves from the fruits that are harvested on the property.
After this stop we made the 40 minute drive back to town to drop us all off. We were one of the last to get off, and noticed that not one person tipped the driver or tour guide which we found very strange. Just goes to show that not many Americans have been here yet and destroyed the market. I know I had to say it, needless to say we didn’t start a new thing and spent that 30 pesos on a bottle of wine.
This tour cost 250 Argentine Peso per person which is $37 AUD. It was great value and we’d highly recommend it, even though the bus commentary was in Spanish we still had a great tour at each of the visits.
Mendoza City Bus Tour
Like the wine tour above, we have been on a few city bus tours over the years. Some of them have been great where others have sucked. I’m pleased to report that this tour was not the later.
The Mendoza city bus tour runs from 10am every hour on the hour continuous route, with the last one leaving at 7pm. It is a hop on hop off bus that has 16 stops on the route. As with many city bus tours they have a commentary that is pre recorded and available in many languages, this can be good or bad, lucky for us the commentary was in sync with the bus and the sound through the headphones was clear.
We stayed on the bus for the two-hour tour, as did 90% of people. The other good thing is that the ticket is valid for 24 hours, a tip here is buy your ticket around 1 or 2pm which will allow you another chance the following day to re visit a place as we did or even do it again.
Buying the tickets can be done online via the website http://www.mendozacitytour.com/ or at two stops on the route. Most people got on at stop number 1. Here you can buy the ticket from a kiosk which is actually on the other side of the road, somewhat hidden by a large tree. The price is 110 ARG peso per person $17 AUD and like I mentioned valid for 24 hours.
The bus tour takes you past a few places, like the zoo, an aquarium, a reptile center among other places of interest which you could visit if you have time. Mendoza, being close to the Andes mountains, there are a number of tours that go there, as we had driven through them coming from Santiago to Mendoza by bus we decided not to do any mountain tour, they also included rafting and some other activities.
The bus is air-conditioned downstairs and covered yet open around upstairs.
Why is Mendoza so busy?
Good question and I have equally a good answer. It is the Grape harvest festival. And it’s a tradition that has been ongoing for 75 years called Vendimia.
We had no idea it was on and just happened to find out by asking some locals and checking out the tourist information office in the town. There was a night parade on the Friday which we had to miss as Moni was booked with coaching calls. But Saturday from 10am was a similar parade through the town which we did sit and watch for an hour or so.
The parade is also a showcase event for each of the districts elected Queen. A bit like a pageant in a way and they have their photos displayed in nearly every shop window with the Vendimia saturday night main show in the Frank Romero Day Greek Theater, an open air theater where the chosen queen is crowned. At least that is what I understand to be correct. Unfortunately we missed the main show as we had already booked our bus trip from Mendoza to Buenos Aires.
Apparently Vendimia is one of, if not the most important festivals in the country, no wonder it was busy here.
Mendoza is a really beautiful city, a very green city with many parks, and nearly every street is lined with trees that are huge and provide welcome shade during the very hot months. The entire city is irrigated by a series of canals that were built by the Incas and are the only way that the trees get their water. It certainly works well as each tree has grown immensely and in some places the pavements are becoming totally destroyed by the root system of the trees.
Mendoza has a lot of cafes restaurants and bars located all over the town, and at very reasonable prices. We did however find it hard to get a good coffee, maybe we just hit the wrong places, but we had no luck. I did have a beer in the Liverpool pub though.
If you need to change money which I expect you will, then the place to head for is the Cambio Santiago building along the shopping street, not far from where the city bus tour starts. The Argentine peso over recent years has totally lost its value and as a result the exchange rate is very poor. However the tourist still requires to exchange currency and with the banks only offering the standard rate of around 8 Argentine peso to 1 US dollar the black market has began to thrive.
A combination of the poor value of the Peso and the black market, a circulation of fake bank notes are apparently widespread throughout Argentina. Before arriving in Argentina we had read up on this and many people have mentioned it in their blogs.
The black market sellers can be found loitering outside nearby to the Santiago exchange building. We walked up and down the streets and only in this one spot did we get approached by these sellers. We didn’t use any of them as we had changed some Chilean into Argentine Peso while in Santiago to be sure we had some. However we did change some USD dollars a few days later in the Santiago exchange at a rate of 12.4 to 1 USD which was quite good. It’s also worth noting that some stores will take USD, you just have to ask.
We sampled a few places for meals and coffee in Mendoza. It’s safe to say that you won’t go hungry here, you may not find the best food or coffee, but you have plenty of choice.
This place is open 24 hours, we had a basic breakfast a few times and a tasty steak lunch here.
This place below made yummy salads and not bad pizza.
We tried a few places for coffee, but all came up short.
I will certainly miss the medialunas (slightly sweet croissants) which is very popular with coffee, and at least they give you a glass of water with your coffee.
Mendoza is well worth a visit and not just for wine tours…