It's the season of chocolates and roses, but all we can think of is Argentinian red wine, horseback riding in the Andes, and dancing the tango (or at least making an attempt).
MENDOZA, Argentina – There's a certain joie de vivre in the air in Mendoza, the famously romantic wine region located on the western edge of Argentina. And why wouldn't there be when there are breathtaking hills covered in vineyards to explore, world-class meat and Malbec to gorge on, and the Andes Mountains standing guard in all their glory. I recently explored the province for four days from its verdant capital, also called Mendoza, and returned home with a handful of experiences that make this part of the Argentinean countryside unforgettable.
WHAT TO DO
Schedule a Spa Day
The health benefits of red wine don't just come by the glass — its antioxidants have positive effects on complexion when applied to the skin. A vinotherapy or grape-seed-based treatment is a great way to refresh after a long flight. Entre Cielos offers wine baths (and glasses of vino to sip while in the tub), and Kuau Club & Spa at Park Hyatt does rejuvenating wine facials using local grapes.
Visit the Uco Valley
The elevated winemaking region, an hour away from Mendoza, rotates through hot days and cold nights, producing some of Argentina's best wines. Super Uco, a small biodynamic winery that experiments with wine treatments and grape varietals, sells bottles to take home, most notably Fratello, a tasty house blend of Syrah and Malbec. Clos de los Siete, an expansive winery offering informative tours, is the place to be for an afternoon of tasting.
Ride the Mountains
Mendoza is surrounded by the Andes, a stunning backdrop for horseback riding. Cordillera in the Uco Valley, known for its unpaved, winding roads and altitude of 3,000 meters above sea level, is the place to be to completely tune in with nature. Kahuak offers tours, and the sunset one is particularly memorable.
Sample Olive Oil
Mendoza doesn't just market some of the world's best wine, it also produces phenomenal olive oil. Break from sipping vino at Pasrai, a family-owned olive oil business devoted to traditional technique in Maipú. A tour of the lush grounds consists of rambling through olive, cherry, and apricot trees and sampling a variety of olive oils, from classic to unfiltered to flavored varieties.
Learn How to Tango
You can't leave Argentina without taking a stab at the sultry dance. David-Nancy Dance studio throws tango soirées, which combine semi-private lessons, personal coaching, practices, and parties. There are breaks within the two-hour session, giving you time to make some new Mendozan friends.
WHERE TO EAT
Lunch Among the Vines
An outstanding six-course lunch with wine pairing awaits at Andeluna Cellars, a winery with an open-kitchen restaurant on the way back from Super Uco and Clos de los Siete. A tour of the cellars may followed by whimsically constructed dishes like braised pear, asparagus, and cheese; braised pork and gnocchi; and signature Argentinian beef. You'll be thinking about this meal long after leaving the country.
Taste a National Treasure
The lomito sandwich — beef, cheese, fried egg, and mayo — is a much-beloved and low-key staple. Don Claudio (Tiburcio Benegas 744; +54-261-423-8784) is the most famous place to get one, but Balzac is a reliable backup, especially for groups looking for a quick and easy meal.
Take a Break from Steak
The menu at the sceney Mediterranean spot María Antonietta is filled with great vegetable-based dishes, like a delicious Neapolitan eggplant appetizer with burrata, chicken and spinach toast, and fettuccine with zucchini and crispy flowers. People dine late in Mendoza. It's easy to spot tourists if they're eating before 10 p.m.
WHERE TO STAY
Entre Cielos is located on a vineyard just outside Mendoza, and produces three labels of their very own Malbec, including an award-winning Gran Marantal. The sixteen-room hotel has a loft suite that stands on stilts above the vines, offering seclusion, views of the starry sky, and an outdoor bubble bath. The spa is the only six-stage hammam circuit in Latin America. The restaurant, Beef Club, is a temple to the Argentinean staple. Guests can partake in a traditional asado and learn to make empanadas before sitting for a succulent beef dinner.
PLAN YOUR TRIP
How to Get There
The closest major connecting airport is Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport (SCL) in Santiago, Chile. Fly there direct with LAN from New York, Miami, or Los Angeles and connect on a short 1.5 hour flight to Mendoza's Governor Francisco Gabrielli International Airport (MDZ).
Rent a car from the airport to to explore the region and its vineyards.
When to Go
Summer is December through March — perfect if you want to escape winter in the Northern Hemisphere. Spring (October, November) and Fall (April, May) are warm and beautiful and also a great time to plan a trip.
Tipping ten percent for meals is considered courteous though not expected. Tipping in hotels is customary.
What to Pack
Bring outdoorsy clothing such as leggings and boots for horseback riding.