After a 16-hour overnight bus ride from San Junin de los Andes we arrived in Mendoza, about 1,000 km north, at 7.30 on Easter Sunday morning. We had booked the “cama suite” seats on the bus which, unbeknownst to us, was like flying first class. Each seat has its own video screen with a selection of videos. Food and wine is served by the hostess, or stewardess, or whatever you call this person on a bus. And the seats fold down into a bed so you can actually get some sleep. So, we arrived in Mendoza feeling pretty good. We put our bikes back together in a corner of the bus terminal and consulted the GPS about where to go.
The city was absolutely dead quiet. The sun had only just risen and it being Easter Sunday, not many people were out and about. No shops were open yet. The cab drivers were standing around hoping for an overnight bus traveller in need of a ride. But other than that, not much was going on in this city of a million people, Argentina’s fourth largest metropolitan area.
We had marked two or three hotels and hostels as possible accommodation and cycled the few kilometres into the city centre through the quiet streets. I love those early mornings in cities. A city has such a different feeling at that time of day. It’s fresh and quiet and full of possibilities.
We cycled right into the centre to Plaza Independencia, the largest of the five plazas in the centre. The other four, Chile, Italia, España and San Martin – all with their own historical references – are two blocks away from each corner of Plaza Independencia. They are great green spaces in a city that is already green because of its thousands of sycamore trees planted along the main streets providing welcome shade from the sun shining down on this city 300 days of the year.
We find an available room at Quinta Rufino B&B. The room was big, it was clean, had a private bathroom, use of the kitchen and a fantastic rooftop deck and only a few minutes’ walk from Plaza Independencia. The bed had a bed spread with maple leafs embroidered all over it. How could we not stay there? Maira, the front desk clerk, was very friendly and made us feel welcome so we booked the room for the next three nights. However, we could not check in for a couple of hours but Maira pointed us to a nearby coffee shop on Aristedes Avenue where we sipped divine espresso and ate fresh media-lunas while checking email.
Mendoza is arguably South America’s wine capital. There is a robust wine industry in and around Mendoza with hundreds of vineyards, wineries and bodegas scattered around the countryside. Malbec has become Argentina’s national wine and Mendoza, especially the higher altitude areas of Lujan de Cuyo and the Uco Valley on the outskirts of Mendoza are known to produce the most highly rated Malbecs.
After exploring the city for a couple of days, we ventured into the countryside and found a lovely accommodation at Posada Cavieres, owned by a Belgian expat, Hans, who welcomed us at his small vineyard in Maipú, making it a perfect base to visit other nearby vineyards to taste their offerings.
In all, we spent five lovely, relaxing days in and around Mendoza. Let me sum it up: we cycled, we drank lots of wine and ate some very fine food. We tasted many Malbecs but also Temperanillo, Carmenere blends, Cabernet Sauvignons, Syrahs and several other varietals I can’t remember any longer. Or as written by Michel De Montaigne, in Of Drunkennes: “Like shop-boys and workingmen, we should never refuse an opportunity to drink, and should have that desire always in our minds”.