Well I am not going to lie, upon arrival I thought we had come to the wrong place and that the photos on Google were that of San Rafael in California. My heart sank. The bus route into town was far from charming; passing abandoned houses, empty lots and scattered litter. From the photos, we had assumed that the town was by a lake, and by a lake it definitely wasn’t!
Luckily, it was the right place, but all the natural beauty was 30km out of town… PHEW!
Our couch surfing host Lucas was lovely and even picked us up from the bus station. He lives in a beautiful house with fresh fruit growing in his back yard; grapes, plums and apples.
What to do:
Valle Grande – Hiking
Day 1: We woke up at 6am to catch 1 of the 3 buses that go to ‘Valle Grande’ each day. It was 4km to the bus station so we decided to run there. All was fine except feeling slightly unfit after a week of doing no exercise in the mountains! As we ran through the empty streets there were a few growling dogs, but we didn’t think much of it.
That was until 2 dogs leapt out of the shadows, one of which promptly attached its mouth around the back of Rick’s knee! Rick in shock stopped and roared at the dogs and they backed down slightly, enough for him to regain his pace and make his escape. I kept running. Wounded Rick needed to stop as he was in pain from being bitten and was struggling to keep running. However, I was not ready to stop until we had put enough distance between us and those dogs, much to Rick’s frustration! Looking at the damage when we did finally stopped, we realised Rick had been very lucky and the wound was pretty superficial… mainly bruising and only a couple of punctured layers of skin, but no blood. Scary and tense none the less.
We finally got to the bus stop and waited and waited and waited, but the bus never arrived. A kind man named Hugo on his way to take a minibus tour gave us a lift, then a hotel employee took us a bit further, then some guests from the hotel took us the last stretch of our 30km journey that morning. Finally we had arrived at Valle Grande and the reward was worth all the effort.
Cycling and Wineries:
Not two things that you would think go well together, cycling and drinking, but it’s one of the tourist musts for San Rafael, the heart of Mendoza province. There are vineyards everywhere and conveniently most are in close distance of each other. Hire a bike and go winery hopping. Free tasters are available in almost all, along with free winery tours. Our favourites were Murville for their sparkling chardonnay and La Abeja with their chilled Tempranillo rose.
Early evening Aperitivo:
We found an absolute gem ‘El viejo almacén’ on Av. San Martin, for an early evening glass/bottle of wine and mixed charcuterie known as picada. For just £10 we got a delicious malbec and generous mixed board of meat and cheese. The owner Herman was very hospitable and his recommendations were great.
Next stop Malargue!