Mendoza is a beautiful city of parks and fountains, a welcome home-away-from-home on my next-to-last leg ofSouth America. I found respite in the Hostel Lao, located within walking distance to the city’s heart, away from the noise and bustle ofSan Martin Avenuewith its shops and restaurants.
It may be a contentious claim, but the Hostel Lao is quite possibly the best hostel I have ever had the pleasure of staying in. It isn’t perfect (shared bathrooms are clean, but at peak rush hour time, the queue is always long), but it comes pretty damn close. Run by Mike, a castaway Englishman, and Celeste, a local Argentine, has that je ne cest quoi that many hostels strive for but few achieve – a sense of home.
There is a small pool, a lovely shaded garden, hammocks, a community library, free wine nights, and the occasional pasta night, when Celeste’s mum cooks up a giant feast of local delicacies and the guests get together to eat it all outdoors in the garden. The hostel is clean and safe, and reservations for outdoors activities can be sorted out by the front desk. Mike and Celeste are also a great source of recommendations.
I spent most of my time in Mendoza reading by the pool, sleeping outdoors in the hammocks, wandering the city’s parks or buying (and eating!) boxes and boxes of alfajores from Havanna, the ubiquitous Argentine shop specialising in the tasty treat.Mendoza’s three most popular tourist activities are wine tasting, river rafting and horse riding; I sampled two out of the three of these.
Uspallata, a nearby valley, is filled with painterly landscapes and can be explored by horseback. I booked a horse riding trip through Hostel Lao that included a barbecue lunch afterwards. Unfortunately the weather was grey and cloudy as we set out, and after about half an hour it started to rain. Proper rain, soaking through my jacket and plastering my horse’s mane to his neck. It was still a stunning, albeit wet, way of taking in the scenery.
Our host, Damien, rode with us, his young sons following him on their own steeds. The horses were reluctant to follow the trail at times, preferring instead to graze – a big no-no, according to Damien, who often had to cede his position as lead and return to nudge a recalcitrant horse and its rider along.
Originally, we were to have our meal outdoors, at a spot with views across the valley, but with such inclement weather, we rode back to eat instead in the comfort of the rustic lodge by the crackle of an open fire. It was a welcome break from the wet and cold, and Damien’s wife set before us a veritable feast.
After being in the cold rain all day, I was reluctant to try rafting the rapids; a spot of wine tasting seemed a far more civilised choice of activity!Argentinais well known for its Malbec, andMendoza, in particular, produces some of the country’s best vintages. There are many wine tours, some specialising in a particular blend, others taking in only the most high-end of vineyards. What you choose depends on your own personal interest.
A typical wine tour goes around to three or four wineries, tasting a few different wines. You then have the option to buy a few bottles, and it is usually cheaper to purchase directly from the winery compared to from retailers. Many of the vineyards offer a direct shipping option. The wineries range from traditional, organic productions to large scale, modern operations, and the wines likewise, exhibit the same large variety. Although not a connoisseur, I enjoyed the wine tour, capped off by a spread of lunch – tapas, in a small bodega on the way home.
Perhaps a more fun (though wobbly) option is to rent a bicycle and tour the wineries yourself. All you need is a map to navigate around the different vineyards – many of the back roads are quieter, with less traffic to contend with, and will be safer than sticking to the main roads, especially after a glass or two of Malbec! Individual tastings and tours cost anything from ARP5 to ARP 20 – ask before tasting. Many wineries also offer small plates of snacks to cleanse your palette in between vintages.
Mendoza is an action-packed town, filled with things to do and places to see. The city itself is green and orderly, perfect for an aimless wander or two. The setting, with the Uspallata valley nearby, the snow-capped Andes as a backdrop and the rows of emerald green vines stretching to the horizon, is spectacular, and if you find yourself with a reservation at Hostel Lao, you might find it so homey you never want to leave.