The next time you sip a satisfying glass of Argentine wine, thank the Jesuits of Córdoba. These resourceful monks planted South America's first vineyards in Córdoba in the 16th century, as they required wine to celebrate the Eucharist. They also needed priests, and, for this reason, they established a college in the city, one of the earliest on the continent. Córdoba soon became the headquarters of the entire South American arm of the Jesuits. In 1621, the college was renamed the University of San Carlos. By the 18th century, the city was known as Córdoba Docta, or Learned Córdoba, the undisputed cultural capital of the Vice Regency of La Plata.

To fund such expansion, the Jesuits operated six flourishing estancias around the province -- three near the town of Jesús María. Produce from their orchards, farms, and vineyards not only paid for students' tuition but funded a massive construction project of beautiful churches and residences. You can still view five of these today, which is a delightful way to get off-road and step back in time.

To visit a provincial Jesuit estancia, contact the tourist office, hire a car, or sign up with a local travel agent, such as Stylo Viajes, Chacabuco 325 (tel. 351/424-6605 or 351/421-8012;, or Córdoba Nativo, 27 de Abril 11 (tel. 351/424-5341; A 1-day tour to three estancias costs $45 (£30).

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.