Set in the south of El Cuyo region in Argentina's mid-west, Mendoza Province is blessed with spectacular scenery. As far as the eye can see the land is drawn with the vines' straight green lines, a row of poplars stands to attention on the horizon and the majestic snow-capped spires of the Andes reach into the clear blue sky. A visit to this region will no doubt be dominated by wine, but with the soaring peaks of Aconcagua and Mecedario within easy distance, the region is also known for mountaineering and other outdoor pursuits. The region's mild climate with low rainfall and 300 days of sunshine per year make it ideal to visit at any time of the year.
A city of tree-lined boulevards and leafy plazas, Mendoza is a place that you could happily up sticks and move to. Founded in 1561, it was early Jesuit settlers who realised that the dry soil, altitude and intricate irrigation system constructed by the indigenous tribes, were ripe for cultivating vineyards. Fast-forward to Argentina's financial crash of 2002 and the economic conditions were a windfall for the local wine industry. The cost of production dropped, high-quality vintages could be exported at low prices and investors rushed to snap up huge swathes of vineyards that breathed new life into the region and production.
Compared to other cities of its size, Mendoza has an airy less compact feeling. This is practical town planning: in 1861 a devastating earthquake destroyed much of the city and was consequently rebuilt with low buildings, wide avenues and open squares. At the city's heart is Plaza Independencia where decorative fountains grandly portray the story of Argentinian independence surrounded by flowering magnolia trees and shaded by tall plane trees. Positioned like a five on the face of a die, Plaza España, Plaza Italia, Plaza San Martín and Plaza Chile are a short stroll from each corner of the central plaza. By far the prettiest of these is Plaza España where ornate tiles imported from Andalucía depict literary and historical heroes. Unsurprisingly for a city of Italian descendants, a strong café culture prevails with locals filling up the sun drenched terraces for their morning espresso and evening diners slowly stretching into the night.
Mendoza province is home to Argentina's largest concentration of wineries producing over 80% of the nation's finest wine, a fact all the more remarkable when you remember that the area is technically desert. The region's star grape is the Malbec, a grape that has thrived in Mendoza's dry soil and altitude and one that has become synonymous with Argentine viniculture. Not to be ignored however are other varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and grape of the moment Cabernet Franc. Many of the vineyards, ranging from the small and traditional to the large and industrial, are open to visitors for wine tours and tastings, some also offer elaborate lunches with wine parings.
Under an hour from Mendoza and straddling the banks of Mendoza River, Luján de Cuyo vineyards are renowned for their Malbecs. The area is home to many of the region's oldest vineyards. Here you will find a fashion for ultramodern bodegas and boutique hotels that are starting to spring up and cement the region on the wine route. Lying on the south-western slopes of the Andes is the Uco Valley, an area of outstanding beauty. Here the vineyards reach a dizzying height of 5,580ft, the highest among the Mendoza region. The wineries here are younger than those in the Luján de Cuyo region and the viticulturists are typically more experimental with their grape blends and production techniques. Lying to the south-east of Mendoza is Maipú, an area where you will find some the region's most well-known vineyards nestled among olive groves. Wine produced here is known for its smooth, full-bodied flavour.