One never knows how discovering a place or meeting a person will play into their future. We may not think of friendship as a bonus souvenir of travel, but in my case, spending time in Buenos Aires and Mendoza over the past dozen or so years has resulted in adding familiar faces and places into my world that became my saviors when I tested positive for Covid after arriving there on holiday earlier this year.
Like most of us, I was itching to travel after our two-year restrictions. Despite an initial panic when my self-test did exactly as it was supposed to and detected Covid, I didn’t feel stranded or even alone when my travel companions continued on their journey while I stayed behind to unexpectedly isolate 6000 miles from home. I gave in to the Argentina rulebook, which in addition to 10 days of isolation, included peaceful summer days of dusty vines and tumbled Andes stone in Mendoza, and quiet rainstorms and subdued but stocked antique markets in Buenos Aires. I succumbed to the rhythm of earthy wines and late sunsets, and surrendered all that I should be doing, including Dry January, which is impossible in the land of Malbec. I had nowhere to be, except to be in that very moment (I mean a month) and reacquaint myself with what pulled me here in the first place, 15 years ago to the day.
I’m sharing a few of my favorite places so that anyone can experience the huge heart I feel when I think of my home away from home, amongst the expectant vines, under the sparkly Southern Cross.
Where to Stay in Buenos Aires
Legado Mitico Buenos Aires
Legado Mitico Buenos Aires is always my first stop in Buenos Aires, literally. A gem of a boutique hotel with exterior walls draped in honeysuckle vines and interior floors covered with sheepskin, it’s in the trendy Palermo Soho area, which is super walk-able (like most of BA, truth be told). The 11 rooms are themed with characters from politics, art, music, and literature, but most importantly the beds are comfy, the rooms quiet, and the service is warm and informal. The modern hotel is close to my favorite shops like Paul (where I find leather goods, jewelry, home décors like sculptural wooden candlesticks and vintage silver), the Botanical Garden which offers a great morning walk, and a Western Union right around the corner where you can get pesos on the blue market (double the value.)
The Four Seasons
Not only a jewel, but a tiara in Buenos Aires, the Four Seasons combines the best of glamorous old-world BA with modern luxurious comforts, including the greatest bed in the world. Sure, they offer private tango classes and spa services, and the pool is next to an archetypal 20th-century mansion where they hold events. But the best part is walking in after a strenuous day of flea marketing or arriving from Mendoza at midnight in an erupting thunderstorm as I did, and feeling at home in another country. Located in the Recoleta area, you can walk to the Malba museum of 20th-century art, or nearby fancy shops, and then visit the breathtaking Recoleta Cemetery to see the grave of Eva Perón. Make sure to book a room with a view of the mansion. They also helped me find a FedEx to ship home my silver plates from the San Telmo market, which worked but was super pricey, like 10 times the price of the actual plates.
Don’t Miss the Markets
The San Telmo Market is a very valid reason to arrange your entire trip to be in Buenos Aires on a Sunday, and don’t make the mistake of landing in BA on a Saturday night without Argentine pesos as I did, because you won’t find any Sunday morning. The market includes an indoor permanent location open daily with bustling food stalls and some vintage treasures, but the authentic outdoor antique market is only open on Sundays. I’ve seen Argentine silver in all shapes and sizes at great prices there, (I carried back a complete set of Christofle silver plate Vendome flatware on the plane, which is actually French), as well as colorful glass, vintage crocodile handbags, modern wine decanters, and white sapphire rosaries, all worth carrying or shipping. Bring pesos but some vendors will also take USD.
The side streets around San Telmo are teeming with treasure-filled shops, including Los Ezeiza which is filled with vintage designer clothing, accessories, trunks, artifacts, and home décor. There is no shortage here of Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Gucci, Valentino, Prada — even a 1948 Raleigh bike. And the prices, though not cheap, are way better than what you find in the U.S.
Where to Stay in Mendoza
Cavas Wine Lodge
A half-hour south of the city of Mendoza, Cavas Wine Lodge is nestled into 50 acres of vines at the foot of the Andes. (This is also where I took my first of many Covid tests and remained 11 nights until I was negative, while they took incredible care of me, with masked helpers delivering breakfast and dinner.) Each casita has its own plunge pool, blooming wisteria, and spacious bathrooms (plus an outdoor shower) seemingly carved from stone. Dinners on the terrace, wine tastings in the library, hikes in the Andes, tango demos on-site, and of course Asado in the vines are part of the incredible experience. Luxurious in a South-American-vineyard-in-your-imagination kind of way, Cavas is a quiet and elegant spot to spend New Year’s Eve or any special night — or any day, night, or moment, for that matter.
The Vines Resort & Spa
The first time I visited The Vines location in the Uco Valley was the last day of 2007 when CEO Michael Evans described his vision of hundreds of acres (now 1500) planted with Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah vines where they would make wine for private owners from around the world and create a five-star resort for owners and visitors to use as their Mendoza escape. That vision is so real now, with not only The Vines of Mendoza Private Vineyards making wine for 267 owners including myself but also The Vines Resort & Spa consistently listed in Conde Nast’s Hot List and Travel + Leisure articles about “incredible winery hotels”. Twenty-one villas range from 1000-2700 square feet and are a short walk to the resort’s own Francis Mallmann Siete Fuegos restaurant, all situated in plain view of the Andes. Between the vineyard vines, the luxurious pool and gym, and essentially private villas, you can use this as a home base to experience this special valley of Mendoza and the spectacular wines being produced here and all over the region.
Wineries in Mendoza
Solo Contigo Winery
Next to The Vines Resort is the Solo Contigo Winery that looks and feels a part of The Vines. In fact, its owners Noel and Terry Neelands were involved in creating The Vines Resort & Spa and brought famed winery architects Bormida & Yanzon to both projects. It feels more like a home than a tasting room here, because it doubles as the Neelands’ Mendoza outpost. Decked with Roche Bobois-style and Mendoza-crafted furniture, locally sourced wood and stone, and a modern art collection by Argentine artists, this is the home we all want, nestled into the vines at the foothills of the Andes. Make a tasting reservation, and if you’re staying at The Vines, ask the front desk to give you a ride next door.
I have a warm place in my heart for Benegas wines and the winery itself as I spent time there years ago at a special dinner where Federico Benegas Lynch himself cooked our meal in his oversized winery fireplace. And this year, Bodegas Benegas in Luján de Cuyo is open again every day for winery tours and tastings. In 2021, Decanter magazine named Benegas the #1 Malbec of Argentina in a blind tasting (a very good year indeed for Benegas). The Old Vines Blend of Benegas Lynch is in the same proportion as Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot as Lafite Rothschild Margaux, just to give you an idea. Benegas Lynch is derived from the same Lynch family as is Château Lynch-Bages in France, originally from Galway, Ireland; some Lynches went to Bordeaux, some to Argentina. Don’t miss these wines.
Bodega De Angeles Vina 1924
This winery in Luján de Cuyo grows Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes on vines first planted in the 1880s but recorded as of 1924, hence the name. In 2007, namesake JJ started making wine with his father and grandfather. De Angeles wines are now distributed in New York, Boston, Denmark, Canada, and England. The Touché is 60% Malbec, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon; the Gran Reserve is a ruby red cabernet that is super friendly. The low-acidity olive oil is worth checking a bag for.
Don’t let the fact that there’s no real sign and only a dirt road with some iron gates deter you, Kaikén Winery in Luján de Cuyo is the real deal for an authentic tasting of wines by winemaker Aurelio Montes, taking a tour of their cave and enjoying a fabulous meal by Argentine master chef Francis Mallmann. There’s an outdoor patio with incredible views of the Andes from their own vineyards. I experienced the premium tasting with a very knowledgeable sommelier who presented in both Spanish and English. (Book in advance, despite what the website says.) My early dinner under the vines (yes, alone, while on Zoom to a client in San Francisco) was the best Bistec Papas Fritas of my trip. This was also my first-afternoon adventure after testing Covid-negative — driving myself in Mendoza not knowing that “PARE” meant STOP was the most life-threatening, thrilling day of my entire trip.
La Gloria Cantina
The sweetest little town in Mendoza is Chacras de Coria. I stumbled (read: I was lost) onto an open-air market on the Plaza General Espejo one Sunday and ended up discovering Argentine silver treasures that are now and forever parts of my life. Oak-lined streets give this town a village feel, but it’s not sleepy at night. La Gloria Cantina is a garden bistro and was filled inside and out with lively music, and locals and foodies tasting delicious modern and traditional vegetarian and Asado dishes. I can’t believe I’m writing this, but I had the baked provoleta — otherwise known as cheese — with roasted pumpkin. They also have a cute shop where you can buy glass decanters and their homemade jams on your way out.