Don a pair of clam diggers and plimsolls in Mendoza City, hop gaily onto a bicycle and meander over hill and dale, knocking on vineyard doors, your pannier slowing filling up with bottles. That’s every wine-lover’s dream – the open road, and the heady pong of fermentation on the wind. Attempt this in Mendoza and you’ll end up dodging trucks on a highway, arriving at your first vineyard just after midnight. The scale of this region, which covers a whopping 58,000 square miles – that’s the size of England and Wales – makes Bordeaux, at 400 square miles, look like Toytown.
Most visitors, who might be more used to Old World distances, wildly underestimate the journey times – even by car, you can only squeeze in 3-4 bodegas per day in the Lujan (half an hour outside the city) or Uco Valley (an hour and a half away). They take one look at the map and whistle up a chauffeur.
But wait! Don’t give up on the two-wheeled fantasy just yet. If, like ours, your legs are restless and your head a little fuzzy after a couple of days touring Uco Valley and Lujan in the car, nothing blasts the cobwebs away like a day in the saddle. And it’s a great taster of what the region has to offer for budget travellers. The costs of touring by car – starting with £100+ (approx. $160 US) for the driver, with wineries and a multi-course lunch on top – quickly mount; you can hire a bike for £10 (approx. $16 US) and wineries in the less prestigious areas are more likely to offer free tours and good-value lunches.
Vineyard Cycling in Argentina – Photo by Micah MacAllen on Flickr
If you’re still determined to take on the Uco Valley or Lujan proper, you’ll need a guide. There are higher-end guided tours such as Sergio Sanchi’s Mendoza Wine Bike Tour, which takes in a couple of bodegas per day and includes a gourmet lunch; or top-end packages like those from Duvine Adventures. Otherwise, hiring bikes for the day in one of the smaller, more self-contained corners of the region is your best bet. The well-established Bikes and Wines operates in sleepy Chacras de Coria, within easy reach of the city. You can opt for a hotel transfer (an extra £5 – or $8 – a head for return transfers) which deposits you at the pick-up point, where staff give you a map – confusing and small, but then getting lost is half the fun – and a bottle of water, point out key wineries and lunch spots and send you on your way. There’s a full day option with an asado, too.
Without a doubt, the most popular destination for cycling day-trips is Maipú, where wineries share the billing with a delicatessen, chocolate and olive oil producers, a wine museum and a beer garden. Budget travellers can scrimp on taxi fares by jumping on a bus from Mendoza to Maipú (just make sure you’ve got change for the fare). Competition between hire companies in Maipú is fierce, so you can take your pick. Bikes and Wines have a pick-up here, while Mr Hugo is a friendly family-run operation.
The joy of tackling Mendoza on two wheels is the freedom. Unlike the large bodegas in the more prestigious areas, very few of the wineries in the likes of Chacras and Maipú require bookings. You turn up, take a look around and taste at your leisure. You’ll find hidden gems – we loved Chacras’ atmospheric Bodega Weinert, where we stopped for pizza and a glass of rose – as well as myriad delights to fill your stomach and your pannier. Just don’t forget that you’ve got to cycle back.
Vineyard in Mendoza, Argentina – Photo by David on Flickr
Six Top Tips for Bodega Tours
- Pack some layers – it might be hot on the road, but temperatures drop in the cellars.
- Don’t expect helmets – this is Argentina. Your route may involve fairly busy roads, so make sure you request helmets if you want them.
- Snacks are a good idea – the combination of wine tasting and road use should not be attempted on an empty stomach.
- Autumn and spring are the best seasons for cycling.
- Take a waterproof in the summer months – showers can be punishing.
- Make your own way to and from the pick-up. We found transfers a little unreliable – better just to take the bus or book your own cab, especially for larger groups.
Latest posts by Anna Longmore (see all)
- Step-by-Step Guide to the Perfect Argentine Asado - August 21, 2012
- Bariloche and the Beautiful Patagonian Lake District - May 8, 2012
- Argentina Food & Drink Festivals 2012 - January 18, 2012