advertisement

You can practically do it all here in Mendoza -- live large, indulge your palate, and experience thrilling adventures and marvelous scenery. This journey starts with a few nights based out of Mendoza, a marvelous city with excellent restaurants, charming cafes, and plenty of plazas and parks. Then head out of town to relax in the wine country and explore the three principal wine areas: Luján de Cuyo, Maipú, and the lovely Valle de Uco. You'll also want time to relax and get a good look at the spectacular Andes Mountains, which make a majestic backdrop for the rural countryside here. Good restaurants are another hallmark of the region. Tables are in high demand, so I recommend that you plan ahead by making dinner reservations each morning before you head out. Ask your hotel reception to do so for you, and plan to take a taxi to dinner so you can drink wine. Driving the high mountain roads requires some attention and care. Keep a good map on hand, and don't be afraid to ask for directions. Mendocinos are very friendly, proud, and happy to have you visiting them.

Day 1: Mendoza

A midmorning flight will have you in Mendoza, from either Buenos Aires or Santiago, in time for a leisurely lunch in town. Check into a downtown hotel; the posh Park Hyatt and the midrange Hotel Argentino have the best locations, in front of the Plaza Independencia. Head to the outdoor tables in front of Azafrán to acquaint yourself with the local specialties. After an afternoon exploring the parks and plazas of Mendoza, relax by the pool. Then stop by one of the local wine stores for some sampling. The Wines of Mendoza runs tastings and offers glasses by the flight. It's a good place to mingle and grab some light dinner. If you've still got room, indulge in some of the continent's best ice cream.

Day 2: Wines of Luján

After a nice breakfast in your hotel, head out for a day exploring the wines of Luján de Cuyo. This is the "Tierra del Malbec," where Argentina's signature varietal has found its most harmonic home. Because it's your first day in the area, it's worth signing up for an organized tour to help you get the lay of the land. Ask for a tour that includes three vineyard stops and lunch (I highly recommend Lagarde and Ruca Malen). In the afternoon, relax in a plaza or by the pool. Then hit the funky Las Negras for dinner, and stroll the sidewalk cafes and bars of Calle Aristides before hitting the sack.

Day 3: Wines of Maipú

Today is a good day to switch to a more rural inn. After breakfast, check out of your hotel and pick up a rental car. Then head south of town and drop your bags off at your inn in either Chacras de Coria, at Finca Adalgisa, or farther out of town at the posh Cavas Wine Lodge. From either one, you can head out on bicycle or in your car to explore more vineyards. How about lunch at the new bistro Divina Marga? Don't forget an afternoon by the pool! If you are at Finca Adalgisa, stroll into the charming heart of the village of Chacras de Coria and follow your nose. At Cavas, just stay put. Either way, nighttime amid the vines is romantic and relaxing.

Day 4: Alta Montaña

Eat breakfast, pack a sweater, and pick up supplies for a picnic (local olives, local jam, local cheese, local bread -- it's all right here!), and drive west into the Andes. The road first heads south out of town and then west on RN 7 to Potrerillos and on to the Chilean border. After Uspallata, it's a wild and winding mountain road that takes you to the base of the highest mountain in the world outside the Himalayas, the mighty Mt. Aconcagua. Don't miss the photo opportunity at the mystical Puente de Inca. If you're a confident driver, return via the winding spiral, cliff-hanging Ruta 52 past the thermal springs at Villavicencio. When you're back in the Mendoza area, it's worth the effort to dine at La Bourgogne. Take a taxi so you can enjoy the excellent wines at the Vistalba vineyard.

Day 5: Day Off

You'll be tired, perhaps, from driving and indulging. If you're still raring to go, head out for horseback riding or white-water rafting on the Mendoza River. Or rent a bike and explore the rural roads. Be sure to save room for a spectacular dinner at celebrity chef Francis Mallman's outstanding 1884 -- another excellent reason to call a taxi.

Day 6: Wines of the Valle de Uco

It may be the most scenic area of Mendoza, and well worth the 2-hour drive south of town. After breakfast at your inn, follow the Pan-American Highway RN 40 toward the town of Tunuyán. It's a land of rolling hills, poplar-lined country roads, and in-your-face close-ups of the high Andes. Your first stop should be the impressive Bodega Salentein, which includes an interesting art gallery and one of the spookiest and most fascinating cellars in the country. Either their vineyard cafe or the nearby Posada Salentein makes a good stop for lunch. Drop in at another "it" vineyard such as Andeluna or O. Fournier in the afternoon. A light dinner may be in order: How about a tabla de picadas -- a sampling of local cheeses and meats, served with a glass of Malbec on a patio at your inn?

Day 7: Shopping & Home

If this is your only stop in Argentina, it's worth checking out the shops in town for leather goods and other souvenirs. After eating breakfast and checking out of your hotel, stop by the Palmares Open Mall and then park in downtown Mendoza for one more stroll down the shop-lined pedestrian mall. Then head to the airport to drop off your car and catch your flight home.

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.