Vineyard Rotations in Northern Argentina

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Crossing the border from Bolivia into Argentina represented the most dramatic change in countries on our trip to date. First impressions of Argentina were of a prosperous relatively advanced country, whilst Bolivia and a lot of what we had experienced in the previous months was everything I had imagined about an impoverished South American state; dusty streets, ramshackle housing and poor infrastructure. The easiest way to convey crossing the border from Bolivia into Argentina is by way of a hotel analogy; we went from the Holiday Inn to the Ritz! We felt like we had been catapulted back to Europe as soon as we arrived. Suddenly everything seemed familiar, ordered and the influences of European immigration were instantly apparent. 

Argentina is everything we had hoped for … fine wines, great food, an abundance of  supermarkets, stunning vistas and unrecognisable Spanish!! All this at a cost as prices inflated overnight. We were used to paying about $5 a night for a room and we were now looking at an average of $20 a night. It is time for the tent to get an airing if we are to stay within our daily budget through Argentina!

Our main destination was Salta through the Quebrada de Huamhuaca, a stunning gorge through the Andes which stretches from San Salvador de Jujuy to the Bolivian border. The main road through the Quebrada is Ruta 9, which runs to Buenos Aires.

Ruta 9

Stunning scenery, an introduction to Argentinean life up close and personal and the first signs of springtime are just some of the memories we have from our cycle through the Quebrada de Humahuaca en route to Salta.

I decided it was high time I dispensed of my leg warmers which had kept me warm through the Andes. Martin still refused to remove his thermals… for those familiar with his blue and white cardigan .. these thermals are taking its place on the trip!

 

We expected an easy cycle to Salta but we hadn’t anticipated the extremely strong winds through the valley which were in our face all the way. It was an interesting experience pitting gravity against the winds of the Quebrada, one which the winds were winning judging by how much pedalling we did. We crossed the Tropic of Capricorn during our first days which is the furthest from the Equator that the sun will appear directly overhead. Funny now to think back on our ‘Equator crossing’ in Ecuador all those months ago.

We had already decided to spend 10 days or so around the Salta region and the vineyards of Cafayate to indulge and pamper ourselves. It was to be our holiday. Salta is an affluent city that retains much of its former glory, modern styles appear mixed with colonial features and relics from the Spanish-ruled past peak through around every corner. Much of our time there was spent relaxing in our hostal, cafes and cooking up nice meals. Cooking together and trying out new recipes is one of our favourite things on this trip. We also went to the concert hall for a night of culture to see a performance of the Salta Philharmonic Orchestra for the bargain price of US$5. After a few days in the city we were starting to really like Salta and it proved to be the perfect place to unwind.

Facets of Argentinean life, their ways and what is important to them became apparent very quickly during our first week in Argentina. Some initial observations:

Heladerias ..Ice cream parlours abound and there is one on every street corner. Instead of people queuing outside pubs at night, Argentineans have a love affair with ice cream and the queues are endless so we joined in for more indulgence.

Lomo, Bife, Chorizo ..The supermarket meat counter is a sight to behold in Argentina… more long queues! The numerous cuts of meat was and still is a bit overwhelming for us and we are a bit clueless as to what to buy. We have yet to attend a proper Argentinian BBQ to find out what is what. On the side of the road, in people’s backyards there are BBQ’s set up for their famous asados where meat is cooked over charcoal or wood embers. No part of the cow is spared it seems. Carnicerias are a feature in every town. Meat is very cheap and of excellent quality; A kilo of beef costs the equivalent of  5 euros.

The mate drinking ritual ..Mate drinking is one of the most famous customs in Argentina and is a kind of institution. People young and old walk the streets with cup and flask in hand. I personally am not a fan but apparently it is an acquired taste. The jury is out on that one ..

 

Spanish…We have at this stage I suspect developed a kind of strange mountain Spanish following our time in the Andes. Spanish in Argentina is a whole new ball game .. the inflection and flow of Argentine Spanish is much closer to Italian due no doubt to the large number of Italian descendents living here but takes getting used to.  

Eating habits and opening hours ..Siesta is strictly observed here … shops close between 1pm and 5pm. We knew this before arriving so now have to plan our lunch breaks on the road around the opening times of shops. Evening meals are eaten sometimes as late as 10pm or 11pm.

 

The next part of our holiday was a four day trip to Cafayate and the surrounding area. We travelled through the Calchaquíes valley from Salta which I can only imagine would be a geologist’s dream. We were surrounded by multicoloured mountains of red, green, brown, and yellow striped stone. We have been privileged to see and experience so much of the ever-changing landscape of Argentina and this is only the beginning.

Cafayate and Las Rutas del Vino

We did plenty of taking it easy in Cafayate, nowhere more so than in the bodegas. Cafayate is known in Argentina for it’s wines, produced in these local bodegas, most of which are in the town or on its outskirts. The signature wine of the area is Torrontes. Not much of this wine is exported outside Cafayate province. Wine ice cream was even on sale in the heladeria.

The best way to see the vineyards was on our two wheels so we set out on our vineyard rotation only to discover that most of the vineyards were closed for siesta. We had however read about one 7km out of town www.bodegamounier.com which was open and hit the road. It was in a much more organic and pleasant setting than the other vineyards and we spent a few hours there soaking up the surroundings and enjoying a tasting. 

 

Before arriving in Cafayate, Martin had told me that he had booked a two night stay in a boutique hotel in the middle of a vineyard outside Cafayate to celebrate our cycle over the Andes. Anyone that knows me will know that I love boutique hotels and wine so it was a dream for me. We set out on the 14km cycle from Cafayate to Tolomon to reach AltaLaLuna. I was very excited. As we did not have any good clothes for our stay, we had to make some last minute purchases in Salta to make ourselves look respectable. As we approached the hotel we had to make a pit stop by the roadside to change into suitable attire and checked in to what was to be two days of bliss.

Martin changing by the roadside .. 

Alta La Luna Hotel

The hotel’s wine cellar and bar

Oh and did I mention that Martin proposed to me by the vineyard 🙂 And the answer… 🙂

Champagne

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