Now that you have your hotel sorted (see A Perfect Vineyard Stay in Argentina) what to do? Number one is no doubt wine tasting! Isn’t that what you came for? But Mendoza also has a number of other exciting attractions and activities to help keep you from falling into a daily drunken stupor.
1. Wine Tour
Mendoza is world famous for its wine. Did you know that today over 75% of the world’s Malbec comes from this region? It wasn’t always so. Malbec originally comes from France and is one of the five main Bordeaux grape varietals, easily recognized by its jagged, shark’s teeth leaves. For years it was considered too intense to be drunk on its own, turning teeth and tongues black, but played an important supporting role in Bordeaux blends. It was also said to have a bad nose (fancy wine term for smell) or beak, which is how it got its name ‘mal bec’.
One fine day in 1868, a Frenchman looking to try out French grape varietals in South America planted Malbec in Mendoza. He discovered that the terroir (climate, soil, and terrain) was very different from France and in fact perfect for Malbec to fully ripen. Malbec grown in France or Argentina taste nothing alike, and Argentinian Malbec took off like a rocket. Today, Malbec is grown in seven countries and is one of the most popular grape varietals.
I learned all this from the Trout & Wine tour company, which picked us up from our hotel at around 9 am and dropped us back just after 5 pm. Our Lujan de Cuyo wine tour took us to four wineries, Vistalba, Renacer, Casarena and Mendel, which is absolutely the maximum number you can do in a day. Honestly, 2-3 winery visits are much more advisable, but I was pleased to push myself to the 4 since it was my birthday.
I was impressed by how modern and luxurious the Argentine wineries were compared to those I visited in Italy. Italian wineries, by comparison, are much more rustic and simple. The tour also included a fantastic lunch with the best steak I had the pleasure of eating during my trip to Argentina. It really is true that you’ll find the best restaurants and food the closer you go to the wine.
2. Action adventure
Mendoza is also fantastic for activities, with its Andes mountains backdrop, lakes and rivers. Argentina Rafting is a great company based in Potrerillos, offering a range of activities, including rafting, canopy, trekking, rappel, rock climbing, mountain biking, horseback riding, paragliding and skydiving! We did the rafting, trekking and rapel, which I’ll be posting about next week!
3. Mendoza City Centre
Mendoza’s city centre is great to visit but not to stay, because you’d only be missing out on staying in Lujan de Cuyo. The city has the usual trappings. Museums, quaint and trendy neighbourhoods, restaurants and bars.
We went into the city for my birthday dinner, black eye and all, and ate at a lovely Italian restaurant called Maria Antonieta. It’s run by the daughter of the famous restauranteur and owner of 1884, serving up mouth-watering Italian classics. You’ll note there is a strong Italian influence throughout Argentina, explained by history. There was a lively bar street nearby but by that time we were so exhausted we decided to go straight back to the hotel.
4. Argentine Cooking Class
Wherever you travel in Argentina, you’ll hear about the cooking classes. Argentine food is delicious and the classes are a wonderful opportunity to hone your steak skills and learn how to make the perfect empanada!
With just three days in Mendoza, we didn’t have the time to take one there, but we did in Buenos Aires. It was called the Argentine Experience. Probably the most touristy version of an Argentina cooking class, but we freakin loved it. We played a game, learned to make Argentine wine-based cocktails, competed for the best handmade empanada, ate excellent steak, all finished off with DIY alfajores. The hosts were funny and entertaining, and taught us some key Argentine expressions that would prove helpful for the rest of our trip.
5. Explore by bike
Another awesome thing to do in Mendoza is go for a bike ride. Again, we ran out of time, although this was probably deliberate since George was never too keen on the idea. If you’re not lazy like George, the area is perfect for it. The hotel reception can help you out with hiring the bikes and showing you where to go. If I were to go again, I’d definitely prioritise this for a day, and bring my camera!