Mendoza: Land of Contrasts

by Tamra Bolton

The region of Mendoza in Argentina is a place of sophistication and mystery.  There is a huge contrast between the capital city of Mendoza and the harsh arid plains to the south and the jagged backbone of South America to the West.  Inside the city, you can find every sort of comfort and luxury you desire.  Like most cities in Argentina, Mendoza is an unusual blend of Old and New World architecture, food and design.

The city’s largest park General San Martin Park has a massive set of gates at the entrance that was originally made for the Red Sultan of Turkey.  These ornamental beauties were made by an ironworks in Glasgow, Scotland and when the Sultan was overthrown in 1907, the Government of Mendoza bought the gates and installed them at the entrance to the park.  Just past the gates, you can see the Little “Horses of Marly”, two sculptures – a wild horse and its horse breaker – on each side of the avenue.  They are reproductions of the original Marly horses that are at the entrance to the Champs Elysees. Everywhere in the city you have that interesting blend of European and Latin American style which makes Mendoza a real feast for the eyes.

Just an hour away from the busy streets of the capital city, you can escape to the open plains where you can enjoy a horseback ride and get a small taste of the gaucho lifestyle.  Like our cowboys of the American West, the gauchos of South America have reached the status of legend in popular lore.  Noted for their rugged lifestyle in the harsh open plains of Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina, the modern gaucho is still very much alive and working just as he did over three centuries ago.  Over 150,000 of these cowboys still herd cattle and horses in Argentina today, many of them 5th and 6th generation gauchos.  When asked what makes them stay committed to such a hard way of making a living, one older gaucho replied, “Solitude in the pampas (open plains), sipping mate around a campfire, listening to the night sounds fall around you…” Hearing his romantic description makes me want to taste a little bit of that gaucho lifestyle myself!

After an invigorating trip on horseback, a stop at one of the top ten wineries in the region is a perfect way to end the day. At Bodega Ruca Malen, you can taste some of its award-winning wines while you soak in the stunning views of its verdant vineyards against the backdrop of the snow-capped Andes.  You can make a game out of trying to spot Mt. Aconcagua, the highest point in the Western Hemisphere at 22,834 ft., or you can join in the Ruca Malen’s wine blending game where you play the “wine-maker and judge”.   Spending a day discovering the treasures of Mendoza and ending the evening with some of Argentina’s best wine and wine-makers will make for an unforgettable experience in South America.