Located just over the Andes mountains from the Chilean border, the city of Mendoza in western Argentina is perhaps best known for the wineries which pepper its surrounding countryside. Mostly family-owned and operated, these bodegas comprise the largest production source of malbec wine in the world, although most wineries produce other types of wine as well. Take a bus from the city center of Mendoza to the nearby town of Maipú and spend an afternoon biking through the Argentine wine country — and, most importantly, sampling the wine and food for which the region is world-famous.
How to Get There
Getting to Maipú from the city center of Mendoza takes only about an hour by bus. To make your life easier before you get on your way, purchase a “RedCard” from any convenience store in Mendoza. Available for a cost of 3.5 pesos — in addition to any credit you load on it — this pass allows you to board local buses without having to use cash. This is extremely useful given the chronic shortage of coins in Argentina, which often results in you being shorted change for purchases you make with bills — if merchants accept your bills at all.
Ask your hotel or hostel’s front desk for directions to Mendoza’s central “Plaza Independencia,” then head east on Avenida Garibaldi, the broad pedestrian road which runs horizontally through the center of the park. Cross over Avenida San Martín — after which Avenida Garibaldi once again becomes a shared vehicle- and -pedestrian road — until you get to La Rioja, a small street you may need to ask a local to identify for you, given Mendoza’s sometimes inconspicuous street signs. Turn left and walk to the first bus stop you see. Board any Maipú-bound bus — specifically, buses 171, 172 or 173.
Mr. Hugo Bikes
When I headed out to Maipú in late March 2011, I overestimated the complexity of taking a local bus from a small Argentine city to an even smaller neighboring town. Indeed, Maipú has but one main street — and you’ll know you’ve exited Mendoza proper because the bus you’re on will cease making turns (or regular stops, for that matter). Instead of attempting to explain where you want to go to your driver, who likely won’t care to help you, sit on the left side of the bus and keep an eye out for a sign that says “Mr. Hugo Bikes.” This is a bike rental shop and one I highly recommend.
Mr. Hugo is cheap — just 30 pesos gets you a bike for the entire day — but that isn’t the only reason I recommend that you use his shop. Family-owned and operated, the service here is top-notch, even if your gringo Spanish isn’t as impressive as mine. To boot, each rental comes with a complimentary glass of wine when you return your bike, which will probably end up turning into three or four by the time Mr. Hugo finally lets you leave.
Tips and Tricks
Whether or not you get your bike from Mr. Hugo’s, you’ll get a map of Maipú which provides the approximate locations of all the bodegas and other attractions around town in relation to the main road. No one way of getting around town is more advisable than another — and from a tangible standpoint, no one winery is better than any of the others, with most offering five-wine tastings and tours for between 15 and 20 pesos — but I would suggest beginning far out and making your way back to town.
If you’re anxious to start drinking, then by all means begin your first tasting straight away — and if you take my advice and do bike all the way out from the get-go, do yourself a favor and start at the Di Tommaso Family Winery. Otherwise, bike slowly along the quiet road and enjoy views of the Andes Mountains and the seemingly endless fields of grapes that extend outward in all directions.
Wineries are definitely the most common reason foreigners visit Maipú, but are by no means all there is to do here. For example, biking north along the town’s main road from Mr. Hugo’s and taking a right onto Montecaseros brings you to “A La Antigua,” a chocolatería whose delights are equally as intoxicating as those you’ll find in any nearby bodega. Similarly, a quick visit to “Laur” or any of the other many purveyors of aceite de oliva in the vicinity allow you to sample what’s perhaps the second most-famous export of this fertile regions.
It should go without saying that the Argentine wine country is a prime spot to sample the country’s famous beef, available in several cuts in any of the countless restaurants that exists between, around — and, in some cases, within – Maipú’s wineries. If you’re overwhelmed by your choices, asks the person who facilitates your wine tasting for his or her personal recommendation, which is usually a safe bet for an amazing piece of meat.