Mendoza is, quite simply, a marvel. Like Napa, it has a reputation for being beautiful wine country. Jimi and I went there to relax and to drink a lot of wine. And we did. Only, there was so much more to the city than its grapes.
Mendoza sits nestled up against the Andes. There is a constant backdrop of snowy mountains, no matter how hot the temperature down below. In 1861, a massive earthquake completely destroyed the city of Mendoza. Today there is no historical district, no antiquated cathedral, none of the traditional architecture found in Buenos Aires and Córdoba. However, from this tragedy a beautiful and highly modern city has risen.
One of the first things you notice in Mendoza is its trees. Every city block is lined with dozens of them— and this is desert country! The flourishing greenery is made possible by the impressive series of aqueducts adjacent to all the sidewalks. Fresh spring water from the mountains flows down into the canals and gives life to the beautiful avenues. In fact, Mendoza has more trees per capita than any other city in the world!
On our second day in town, Jimi and I hopped on a City Bus Tour. This was not our usual method for exploring (we generally prefer to explore at our own pace), but it seemed like a pleasant way to kill an afternoon. It was extraordinary. The bus took us to the San Martin park— and we spent the next hour and a half driving through it. It was by far the largest city park I have ever been to. Every avenue was lined with trees from different parts of the globe.
We saw people sipping coffee at a cafe hovering over a corner of the lake. Our bus wound up the mountainside past a zoo and a soccer stadium. At the top, we came to a massive statue. It was a monument to San Martin and his accomplishments (possibly one of the coolest statues I’ve ever seen).
But of course, let’s not forget about the wines of Mendoza. Usually when we arrive in a new city, we get settled into our hostel then bust out our handy Lonely Planet book to find a starting point. Unfortunately, Mendoza is not very conducive to spontaneity. Turns out, most people book wine tours months in advance. There was also a serious transportation issue: the wineries were very far apart and there was no public transportation readily available.
So we turned to the internet. Our first piece of luck was finding out about Mr. Hugo’s Bikes. The company sends a car to pick you up, takes you to Maipu (one of three main wine regions in the area) and then loans you a bike for the afternoon. Mr. Hugo himself provided us with bikes, helmets, and maps of the area. While I was completely taken with the whole idea, Jimi was not so stoked.
“You know how people say ‘It’s like riding a bike’? Doesn’t apply to me. I think the first time I rode a bike I was fifteen years old,” he told me, while gamely snapping on a helmet.
The first stop on our map was a local wine bar that gave us a nice selection of wines to taste. We met two Austrian girls who were also just starting out. We toasted to the day’s adventure and munched happily on fresh empanadas.
There were several different options after that. We decided to head south to a “bodega” (winery), splitting paths with our Austrian friends. While there was a semblance of a bike lane on the side of the road, we realized very quickly that this area was not really ideal for biking. The road was narrow and cars kicked up dust down the old highway. At one point I turned around and noticed Jimi walking his bike a long ways behind.
“What are you doing?!” I yelled over the street noise.
When he caught up with me, he shook his head. “No way. I can barely ride a bike as it is. I’m not going to even attempt to ride in this tiny bike lane with wine in my system.”
I rolled my eyes, but didn’t try to argue. I wasn’t exactly having an easy time either.
At last we reached our turn: a beautiful, back-country road leading away from the main highway. Jimi scrambled back onto his bike and we sped up, enjoying the breeze on the hot summer day. When we reached the bodega, Trapiche, we parked our bikes out front and straggled in the front door. The air conditioning felt so good.
We walked up to the front desk and asked, “Can we get a tour?”
The young guy behind the counter shook his head, “Unfortunately, the next tour isn’t for an hour and a half.”
Jimi and I didn’t even have to talk about it— we immediately replied, “That’s fine! Can we wait inside here?”
The employee laughed, apparently taking note of our sweaty, dusty appearance for the first time. “Not a problem. You know, it’s pretty quiet today. I can just set you guys up with a tasting if you’d like.”
Cha-ching! He led us back past the main buildings, pointing out the tour highlights as we went along. We followed him upstairs to a spacious art gallery, overlooking the vineyard. While we settled into one of the leather couches, he grabbed glasses and bottles for us.
After a brief explanation of each of the three wines he’d procured, he left us with: “Pour as much as you’d like!”
We ended up staying there for the majority of the afternoon. Our Austrian friends eventually arrived as well and the atmosphere became boisterous and fun.
At some point, Jimi and I realized we were starving. We checked our map and noticed there was a “Beer Garden” just a little further down the road. We waved goodbye to everyone, scooped up our latest purchase (our favorite bottle of Malbec), and returned to our bikes.
The Beer Garden turned out to be little more than picnic tables outside a small kitchen. It was simple, relaxed, and had an extremely limited menu: beer, pizza, and empanadas. We ordered a pizza and waited feverishly. The food did not disappoint. It might be the Malbec talking, but I’m pretty sure it was the best pizza I have ever eaten.
Finally, we realized it was about time to return the bikes. Jimi and I lazily biked down back roads, avoiding the main thoroughfare. Mr. Hugo greeted us out front and provided pineapple juice to sip while we waited for our ride back to the city.
It was an excellent way to be introduced to the wines of Mendoza.
Coming Soon– Mendoza, Part 2: The “Glam” Wine Experience, Visiting One of the Highest Mountains in the WORLD, and Dining out With Lots of New Friends!