Mapplr’s irreverent travel guide to Mendoza, Argentina

View of Andes from Hotel Aguamiel in Mendoza, Argentina

View of Andes from Hotel Aguamiel in Mendoza, Argentina

If you are going to Mendoza, Argentina to sample the incredible wine and cuisine in the region, here is a short travel guide with tips on where to stay and where to enjoy tasting menus with wine.

The region of Mendoza is Argentina’s largest and most visited wine region. The wine produced here is mostly Malbec, but they also produce Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. The best way to sample the wines of the various bodegas is to indulge in a multiple-course tasting menu lunch, as wine is best enjoyed with the appropriate food.

The first thing you need to figure out when you are planning a trip to Mendoza is whether to stay in the center of Mendoza city or outside. The city is quite ugly and uninspiring so I recommend NOT staying in the city. Since you have come to a beautiful agricultural region with the express purpose of enjoying food, wine and the scenery — the stunning Andes mountain range never fails to impress visitors — it is best to stay in one of the small towns outside Mendoza or in one of the wineries dotted around the countryside, many of which have a small hotel or private apartments.

I like the town of Chacras de Corio which is about 20 minutes by car from Mendoza airport and I recommend that you stay there. Unless you have arranged a private wine tour where someone actually drives you around, you will need to rent a car from Mendoza airport. The airport is tiny and there are two car rental agencies. The most important thing you need to be aware of is this: the rental cars are quite old and somewhat decrepit, but you will find that nearly all the cars driving around the Mendoza area are even more ancient (and breakdown with alarming frequency) than the one the rental agency will give you. Just remember to turn off the lights when you park. Because the rental cars are so old, they don’t have little alarms to tell you when you’ve left the lights on. They also use manual controls to roll up and roll down the windows (fancy that).

Back to Chacras de Corio. Why do I like it? It’s a small cozy town that is home to several family owned boutique wineries such as the Clos de Chacras which has an excellent lunch tasting menu. In Chacras de Corio, you can even cycle to the wineries. There is a small town center with delightful restaurants serving Italian food and Argentine grilled beef, as well as cozy cafes with excellent coffee and pastries. Chacras de Corio is where many winery owners live and wealthy Argentines have second homes, so it’s quite upscale and has all of the accoutrements of the good life. There is also a shopping mall on the outskirts of Chacras de Corio in case you need to buy clothes and gorgeous Argentine leather goods (shoes, bags, belts, jackets).

A word of warning about Chacras de Corio and Argentina in general. Roads, sidewalks and other public spaces are poorly maintained, even in an upscale town like Chacras. Highway signs are confusing or non-existent. Highway overpasses seem to be in an eternal state of “almost ready”.

Safety is also a serious problem. A few years ago, luxury hotels in Mendoza were attacked by armed gangs who robbed guests at gunpoint. There have been no such incidents in the past year but judging by the fortifications and security guards around expensive hotels and restaurants, it may happen again. Most hoteliers put up some sort of barricade around their property and keep the doors locked at all times, even during the day. My advice is to always ask your host about safety precautions.

One of the most fascinating things about Argentina is the sharp contrast between public areas (broken sidewalks, potholed roads, dirty streets and squares) and private spaces (chic restaurants, hotels and boutiques). When you go to one of the wineries’ restaurants for a tasting lunch, you will be amazed by the gorgeous interior decor, the near perfect service, the exquisite food and attention to detail, if only because out there, nothing works. The trick to enjoying Mendoza is to observe keenly the differences and become intrigued by the question: how do business owners thrive in a country that is, in essence, a failed state? While contemplating political theory and economics, you can enjoy the Malbecs and the incomparable Argentinian beef. Now on to the accommodations.

My recommended place to stay is the Posada Borravino in Chacras de Corio. You can read my review of Posada Borravino to get a sense of what it is like to stay there. For me what’s most important about a hotel in Mendoza (and elsewhere) are:

  • My room has to be quiet.
  • The staff or the owner has to provide excellent tips and help me make reservations at places I would never have found myself.
  • The breakfasts have to be good.
Posada Borravino exceeded all my expectations. It is very quiet because it’s a tiny boutique hotel, not a chain hotel with long corridors, dozens of rooms and anonymous guests running up and down the hallways. Located on a small street lined with trees outside the center of Chacras de Corio next to large country manor houses and family wineries, the only thing you will hear at Posada Borravino will be birds and an occasional car driving by. The owners are a couple: he is from Andorra and she is from Argentina. They’re wonderful hosts. One of the very best things about Borravino is they serve tapas in the evening if you request (i.e. if you don’t feel like going out for dinner) and the tapas consist of the most divine jamon curado, mortadella and salami from the farm/vineyard of the owner’s cousin, a plate of cheeses including blue cheese, tapenades and bread. It’s really enough for dinner. And they also serve excellent wine from Finca 8 (Finca Ocho), which belongs to the owner’s cousin.

I have listed a few other hotels outside Mendoza if you want to see what else is on offer. None of the hotels I’ve recommended are in Mendoza city and they are all boutique hotels, some of which are in wineries (much easier to stagger to your room after one too many glasses of wine).

Since the whole point of being in Mendoza is to sample the wine and cuisine, I have also put together a guide to which wineries have the best tasting menus. Note that they’re all for lunch since the wineries close late in the afternoon. Please read: Eating Out in Mendoza, Argentina. I found that after a large meal at lunch with wine, I really did not want to eat anything heavy in the evening (hence the dinner of tapas at Posada Borravino).

There is one particular winery that you absolutely must visit (also for their tasting lunch) for its stunning architecture: O. Fournier, a large winery located about 40 minutes from Mendoza city. It resembles a space ship dropped onto the vineyards and its magnificent modern architecture, interior and exterior, is impressive. The tour of O. Fournier is one of the most memorable bodega tours I have ever had.

A final tip before you drive out to the airport to leave Mendoza. Petrol stations in Argentina often run out of petrol (come to think of it, grocery stores in Argentina also run out of supplies regularly and limit the amount of milk, flour, sugar and other staples you can buy). So before you leave Chacras de Corio (or any other town you are staying in), it’s a good idea to ask the host where is the closest petrol station that is open to refill your rental car. Locals know which ones have petrol and which ones don’t. Or you could just observe as you drive: the ones with the queues have petrol. They do not take credit cards either, but most places (restaurants, shops, hotels) take credit cards, indeed prefer credit cards because a lot of the paper money in Argentina is fake (you will notice that people taking money out of ATMs hold the bills up to the light to check that they are real — such is the extreme distrust Argentine citizens have for their own currency and their central bank).

At the airport, there are a few things you can buy that will delight and surprise you. The duty free shop has gourmet specialties such as small bottles of fruits in syrup (figs, pumpkin and others), with or without liquer, which are extremely delicious. I bought a couple of these, one of which was figs, and regretted later that I did not buy more. These are very much worth buying in large quantities as you will not find them in many places and they make terrific presents.

All in all, despite the severe dysfunctionality of Argentina, Mendoza is an absolutely wonderful place to visit and I will definitely be going back.

About Esme Vos

Esme Vos is the founder of Mapplr, a travel site featuring boutique hotels, luxury resorts, travel guides and restaurant reviews. You can find her on and Twitter.