Mendoza is Argentina’s top wine-producing region, where long-established bodegas make sophisticated, prize-winning wines from impeccable emerald vines stretching out to the distant snow-capped Andes mountains. Their pure snow-melt irrigates the vineyards, and perfectly sunny days, cool nights and pristine air provide ideal conditions, not only for grapes, but for a week of rest and adventure in Argentina’s dramatic western region.
Start in the stylish city of Mendoza, for its fine food and pretty park. But choose accommodation in the wine regions just to the south, Maipú and Luján de Cuyo. Here, several bodegas have opened smart boutique hotels, and we've picked out the very best so that you can stay immersed in wine-country as you tour the vineyards.
Then head west towards the border with Chile, to Alta Montana, the dramatic mountain region around Mount Aconcagua, for wonderful walking in summer. Don't count on bagging the highest peak, at nearly 7,000m, unless you're an experienced climber with 2 weeks to spare.
In the south of Mendoza province, there are champagneries in San Rafael, and still wilder landscapes beyond: go rafting in the eerie ravine of Cañón del Atuel or bird-spotting in Llancanelo lagoon. Or try superb skiing in winter at the country’s most famous ski resort, Las Leñas.
North of Mendoza, 2 great natural attractions straddle the border between San Juan and La Rioja provinces: the spectacular Valley of the Moon at Ischigualasto, and the dramatic eroded canyon formations in Talampaya National Park. Geological splendours to blow your mind, and wines to wow your senses.
Start in the stylish city of Mendoza, for its fine food and hip wine bars. Its broad, tree-lined avenues were designed for speedy evacuation in the case of rare earthquakes. The museum at Area Fundacional commemorates the city’s original centre, which was razed to the ground by an earthquake in 1861. There are also 5 pretty central plazas - don't miss Plaza España’s delightful mosaic murals. Designed by Charles Thays, Mendoza City's Parque San Martín was named after the great liberator and has a lakeside restaurant. The nightlife is good too, especially along Calle Arístides Villanueva, with lots of great bars and restaurants making the best of the area’s fresh produce. Try Azafrán, at Sarmiento 765 in Mendoza City, for excellent gourmet food and fine wine tastings.
Vendimia is a huge annual festival in late February-March to celebrate the wine harvest, complete with a festival queen.
Mendoza is Argentina’s top wine-producing region, where long-established bodegas make sophisticated, prize-winning wines from impeccable emerald vines stretching out to the distant snow-capped Andes Mountains. Their pure snow-melt irrigates the vineyards, and perfectly sunny days, cool nights and pristine air provide ideal grape growing conditions.
Just south of the city, the 2 major wine regions are Maipú and neighbouring Luján de Cuyo. Here you’ll find a wealth of wineries along leafy lanes: take a personally guided tour to make the most of them.
Our favourite wineries:
There are 2 ways to reach the dramatic landscapes of the Andes on the road to Chile: either head north to Villavicencio, home of the famous mineral water found all over Argentina, with pretty walks through the abandoned spa, and then over the high mountain pass with spectacular views. Alternatively, head south to Potrerillos, for rafting along the Rio Mendoza (not for the faint-hearted) and a detour via the glorious thermal springs at Cacheuta, a delightful leafy place for summer sports and rafting.
Either way, you’ll reach picturesque Uspallata (where Seven Years in Tibet was filmed) and head west from here to the Chilean border. Aconcagua is the centrepiece of its national park, at 6,959m, you’ll understand why 2 weeks are required for the ascent. If you don’t have the necessary time, there are lesser peaks offering great walking. Or low-key, family skiing at Los Penitentes nearby.
Mendoza province has a second city in the quiet, airy and gentle San Rafael. Here, amongst French-inspired buildings set in fertile fruit- and olive-producing land, you’ll find more bodegas, and some dedicated Champagne makers, including the county’s most famous, Bianchi. South of town, there's exhilarating rafting at the Cañón del Atuel, a fabulous 20km-long ravine of extraordinary rainbow rock formations, from pink to green.
Sleepy Malargüe is the base for natural paradises at Llancanelo, where thousands of flamingoes rise from the Prussian blue waters. Ride a horse through the starkly beautiful volcanic landscape of La Payunia, where elegant guanacos roam unhindered. Most importantly, Las Leñas has spectacularly long pistes of powdery snow, where the chic go skiing and the cool go snow-boarding.
A spirit of adventure is definitely needed to explore the quieter provinces of San Juan and La Rioja, but the intrepid will be rewarded with wonderful forgotten valleys offering perfect peace and natural beauty, if somewhat lacking in infrastructure.
The undoubted stars of the region are 2 national parks - likely to make you feel dwarfed by both time and space. The Valley of the Moon at Ischigualasto is indeed an out-of-this-world landscape: a 200 million year-old lake-bed, strewn with fossils from first life forms to dinosaurs. And Talampaya’s vast canyons of terracotta rock, eroded by wind into gigantic sculptures, are magnificent at sunset, when they turn a vivid red.