There are times when we hop from one amazing place to another. Others, we let the places go by and enjoy the food and the people we meet along the way. The food and the people.
At last, a long weekend
Chocolates, Swiss-style architecture, a beautiful lake and plenty of mountains offering excellent viewpoints. On paper, an attractive destination waiting for us to check it out. First though, time to recharge our batteries, Argentinian style. And yes, that is a penguin holding one litre of house wine. Bad times eh!
We had only been in Argentina for over a week, and through its people and characters like Evita Peron or Che Guevara, we had already learnt a great deal about this country and to some extent the entire continent. History, it seems, can be quite different to what we learn at school or on the papers. And there is a lot more waiting for us further north. In the meantime, let’s enjoy an ice cream. Or should I say, the mother of all ice creams.
Only pictures of food? – I hear you asking. Yes, at last, we were having a weekend.
Taking in the views and finishing on a high
I can think of worse places to stretch your legs than the forests around Bariloche. Having had a good dose of snow and cold weather in El Chalten, we welcomed the blue skies and glorious sun as we took on the gentle slopes of Cerro Llao Llao.
Great views, yes. However, our bodies and souls were crying out loud for a rest. So we cut our trek short and head back to town seeking more mundane activities. As it turned out, Bariloche is blessed with a handful of small breweries and their craft beers were the perfect appetiser for what was about to become, one of the best dining experiences of the trip.
From the minute we walked in to La Salamandra Pulperia we knew it was going to be a special evening. Two comfy chairs by a vintage sewing machine and a simple menu. And a simple menu often means freshly made food cooked to perfection. Let’s see, first, empanadas.
Tasty. A good start, but what came afterwards was better, much better. So good that I could easily say that this was probably the best piece of meat I have ever had in my life.
For desert, flan, of course. Homemade and perfect – although I must admit that anything with a huge scoop of dulce de leche on top classifies as perfect to us these days.
By now, our eyes were set in the north of Argentina, a few thousand kilometres away. Given our love affair with Malbec, it just made sense to stop for a few days in its headquarters, Mendoza.
Not quite what we thought
Our bus ride came with a little surprise as half way through the journey we were given bingo cards for a chance to win a bottle of white wine. Take note Ryanair. A few hours later, Mendoza appeared before us, popular for being close to Aconcagua (highest mountain in the Southern Hemisphere) and the Andes and for being at the center of the largest wine producing area in Latin America.
Since climbing the Aconcagua was not on our wish list, we set off to Luzan de Cuyo to sample some wine. First stop, the small winery of Carmelo Patti. Much to our surprise, Mr Patti himself hosted the wine tasting session. It was such an inspiring experience, listening how he has refused to use modern wine-making techniques, designed for bigger profits. Instead, Carmelo has remained faithful to his traditional methods, from the shape of the bottles, to the corks and the selection of grapes. In his own words – “I could be making loads of money, but that would not be me”.
With Carmelo’s words still echoing in our heads, we headed to the next winery. Producing millions of bottles a year, Alta Vista sits on the other side of the spectrum when compared to Carmelo Patti. The setting is unbeatable, with the Andes in the background.
Interesting fact: each french oak barrel costs about one thousand euros and can only be used for a few years.
The afternoon gave way to the evening and for us it was time to try something new. By ambulance, plane, train, bus, boat, bicycle, motorbike or campervan – over the last ten months we have tried nearly everything. Nearly.
Flanked by the Andes on one side and vineyards on the other, the sunset ride was perhaps a bit too much of a cliche for our tasting. But hey, it was nice and pleasant too, and after all, it was still our own long weekend.
It is very nice to meet you
Let’s be honest. Mendoza and Luzan de Cuyo are not that charming, sorry. So when we heard that in Maipu one can rent a bike and cycle from one vineyard to another, we were sold. Sounds idilic, right? Not quite. The dusty roads, busy side roads and rocky tracks are definitely not made for two wheels.
So the actual cycling around was a disappointment, but there is a bright side to this story. In Maipu we met Henri and Carolin. A few weeks ago we almost bought their campervan for our South American trip and now we were sharing a bottle of Malbec while chatting about our travels, our past and our future. See you guys soon, somewhere, anywhere!
And so, two places as different as Mendoza and Bariloche ended up having something in common, at least in our story. While neither one of them will go on our travel blog as an unforgettable destination, the superb food and the people we met along the way will make sure we will remember our days here. It was like having a rest in between two special places. Patagonia and…
A small car, five days and surreal colours – the north!