Article and photography by Michael Morcos
At the foot of the Andes lies the town of Mendoza, the home of some of the most famous Argentinian wines. The region is actually home to 1500 different wineries. The city has a laid back feel and none ever seems to be in a rush. Clean and livable, this city is a stark contrast to the capital Buenos Aires.
Copa airlines flies a new route to Mendoza through its hub in Panama City. The Panamanian flag carrier flies more than 315 daily scheduled flights to 74 destinations in 31 countries around North, Central and South America, and the Caribbean. A member of the Star Alliance, they are known as an economical airline with excellent service and above average meals.
On our first day, we headed directly into wine country. The very pleasant drive was breathtaking and we had the Andes as our backdrop. Our destination was the Otaviano Bodega y Viñedos. Ideally located with a wonderful view of the mountains and vineyards all round, it is easy to lose yourself and just watch the grapes growing on the vines in total bliss.
We had the chance to take a cooking class on making the perfect grilled steak. The main and only ingredient was salt; the locals do not believe in using other additives as they would take away from the taste of the beef.
This was the first taste of what I would be enjoying every day during our trip through the interior. Argentinian beef is a big treat, as the country is renowned for its beef, and most of the population has it almost daily.
This winery is only 20 years old, but some in the region date back centuries. The many different wines produced here are rated from very good to exceptional. Paired with a great steak, the fine wines and a breathtaking view made for a great visit.
That night we strolled along the beautiful street of Aristes Avenue. It was jam-packed with tourists out and about, and we spent our evening window shopping the stores and gazing into the many restaurants and bars. The locals only came out to eat after 8:00 pm, typical for Argentina.
We chose to have our dinner in the Jose Fina restaurant. I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the food, all of it fresh and well prepared. For a change to the afternoon beef we had enjoyed, I had river-caught fish and loved it. This restaurant, like most in Mendoza, has its own wine cellar with all the choice that anyone could possibly want in wines.
After the meal we walked down the street and had a few drinks at the William Brown – an Irish pub. It was hard to believe that there was a pub in the middle of Argentina. It looked as authentic as if I was in Ireland. Beer is a growth industry, and Argentineans are getting a taste for it. It has led to a healthy micro brewing industry starting up in the country.
The visit into the Andes on this day was the highlight of my trip. We drove to the Parque Provincial Aconcagua, and getting there was half the fun. The road we used led to Chile, and we ended up being just a few kilometers from the border.
It is very difficult to explain my feelings as we drove through the mountains. The Andes are the longest mountain range in the Americas, and it made me feel very small to be next to these giants. I was walking in a post card. Beautiful deep blue sky, snowcapped mountains and pure fresh air, it was a delight to the senses.
At the top of the path we could see the tip of mount Aconcagua, the highest peak in the Andes and it was an awesome sight. The high altitude did take its toll on me though, at over 12,000 feet, I needed to walk slowly to let the oxygen circulate to through my body. And walk we did. The park is littered with trails. We took one that led from the park’s entrance to Los Horcones Lagoon, which was a sight to behold. Along the way even saw some massive Andean condors.
It was a memorable visit and one I will always remember.
We also visited Puente del Inca, a natural orange rock formation arch that forms a bridge over the Vacas River, a tributary of the Mendoza River. The area is located between the two trails for climbing Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the western hemisphere. There is an abandoned railway station that has been turned into a mountaineering museum (the “Museo del Andinista”), founded by a group of mountain climbers to display the history of the area.
On the way back from the park we stopped at town for a carnivore’s delight at Lunch El Rancho in Uspallata. This restaurant had its own wood fire pit and cooked everything from beef to pig, goat and chicken. Like most restaurants in Mendoza, the portions were extra-large and all ways good.
Even after a big lunch, we were ready for the delicious dinner waiting for us at the 1884 Francis Mallmann, renowned as the best restaurant in the city. This is a Michelin star restaurant, and we took advantage of its outdoor patio in the garden. Typically Argentinian, it had a fire pit and cooked perfect steaks. It is within the walls of a century old vineyard, and once seated, guests are treated to a landscaped courtyard and beautiful dining room.
And finally we had our tour of Mendoza itself. We mainly walked through the city’s wide streets lined with both modern and art deco buildings. Plazas abound, but the Plaza Independencia is the nicest, and is home to the subterranean Museo Municipal de Arte Moderno, displaying modern and contemporary art.
Founded in 1561, its long history is on display in the Museo Cornelio Moyano of natural history museum, and the Museo del Área Fundacional (Historical Regional Foundation Museum).
There are many other historical sites in and around the city as well.
A highlight of the day was lunch at Azafran, a wonderful restaurant in the heart of town. We were treated to a very satisfying meal served in their wine cellar. The food was almost secondary to the great atmosphere, with its old architecture, brick walls and wood floors, and, of course, wine bottles all around. A perfect ending to a great stay in the Mendoza region!
The Intercontinental Mendoza takes pride in the high standards it has set for itself. A new construction, it has spacious, well-appointed rooms that are clean and comfortable. Though our room had a great view of the city, other rooms offered views of the stately Andes Mountains, including some of the many halls used for meetings and conventions.
Within the hotel, we enjoyed their wonderful spa and we used the gym and pool to stay in shape and relax after a full day of eating and touring.
The Olivas restaurante, the Bar La Barrica and hotel’s room service have outstanding menus, international cocktails and plenty of local wines to choose from. The chefs create dishes with excellent quality products and truly represent their country well with a taste of Argentina in every bite.
The hotel is well placed and is close to many of the main tourist attractions Mendoza has to offer. A casino is right next door and it faces the Mendoza Plaza Shopping center, the largest shopping center in the province. There are about 160 stores with a supermarket, cinemas and a playground for children.
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