A scenic 45-minute flight across the Andes from Santiago, Argentina’s Mendoza wine region is a destination easily combined with a visit to Chile. Modern wineries and resorts stand amid vineyards backdropped by snowcapped mountains, creating some of the most attractive wine country in the world. The weather is reliably fine, averaging 300-some sunny days per year, and the wines have reached new heights of quality.
Many of the best vineyards are in the Uco Valley, a high-altitude region about an hour south of the city of Mendoza. A lack of sophisticated lodgings previously relegated the valley to a long day trip, but the recent opening of The Vines Resort & Spa has brought some of the region’s top wineries such as Clos de los Siete and O. Fournier within easy reach. Set amid 1,500 acres of vineyards and gardens, The Vines has only 21 villas, arranged in an oval around a well-groomed meadow cooled by fountains. Villas 1 through 12 have the best locations and most privacy, with unobstructed views of the vineyards and the Andes. We stayed in a villa facing the interior meadow, but this barely felt like a compromise, as the mountains rose high above the roofs of the low-slung accommodations.
Done mostly in warm cream and brown tones, our One Bedroom Deluxe Villa offered an impressive 1,975 square feet of indoor and outdoor space, divided among an open-plan kitchen/dining room/living room, a bedroom with king bed, and a bath with dual vanities and showers. The full-size refrigerator contained an array of complimentary beverages, and a different tempting snack appeared on the heavy wooden kitchen island each day (the first was a plate of perfectly ripe wild strawberries). Nearby, an armchair and overstuffed leather sofa flanked a woodburning fireplace. An array of hand-knit woolen fabrics softened the bedroom and gave it a sense of place, enhanced by a cowhide rug. And outside, a wide patio had room for a well-cushioned four-person dining set, two armchairs, two loungers, a fire pit and a private hot tub. The small roof terrace lacked shade, but it was a pleasant alternative at sunrise and sunset. The Vines’ smallest accommodations lack the roof terrace and private hot tub, but with 1,000 square feet of space, the One Bedroom Villas are unlikely to feel cramped.
On the winery’s patio, we had a marvelous time creating our own blend, settling on a mix of Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Syrah.
It would have been easy to spend our entire stay lounging on our patio or beside the swimming pool, but I was glad we had scheduled a private tour of the property’s on-site winery with talented sommelier Martin Krawczyk. He explained how the facility produces up to 300 different wines a year for the 150 people who own vineyard acreage on the property — an astonishing organizational achievement. On the winery’s patio, we had a marvelous time creating our own blend, settling on a mix of Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Syrah. I expressed interest in trying some of the more unusual local wines, and for that evening’s pre-dinner tasting at the bar, Krawczyk assembled a unique assortment including a rich Rhône-style blend and a rare Ancellotta varietal. The following day, a horseback ride through the vineyards proved both relaxing and illuminating. We passed through a construction site destined to become a winemakers’ village, home to several upscale tasting rooms and wineries. Somewhat distressingly, resort staff referred to the project as “The Disneyland of Wine.”
A spa is also under construction and is scheduled to be finished by the end of the year. In the meantime, a converted guest villa offers a limited range of treatments. The resort’s other main amenities include a striking gym in its own building perched above the vineyards, and the restaurant Siete Fuegos, led by Argentine celebrity chef Francis Mallmann. Its name refers to the seven types of grilling employed to create dishes such as charred green beans with hazelnuts and fresh cheese curds, and slow-grilled pork with homemade chorizo, salt-crusted beets and chips made from aromatic local sweet potatoes. The service could be grindingly slow at both dinner and breakfast. Otherwise, we had an exceedingly pleasant stay, and I hope to return after the completion of the spa and the wine village.
AT A GLANCE
LIKE: The immense villas; the vineyard/mountain views; the engaging staff; the beautiful pool.
DISLIKE: The slow restaurant service; the immature gardens.
GOOD TO KNOW: Guests can access their Netflix accounts through the televisions, and in-room iPads have satellite radio.
The Vines Resort & Spa 95 One Bedroom Villa, $850; One Bedroom Deluxe Villa, $1,000. Ruta Provincial 94, km 11, Tunuyán, Uco Valley. Tel. (54) 261-461-3900.
I had high hopes for another new resort, set amid vineyards just south of Mendoza. Alas, our stay at 16-room Entre Cielos started on the wrong foot at the Mendoza airport, where the driver arranged by the property arrived late. A young man greeted us at the gate with welcome drinks, and pointed in the direction of the spa. When I inquired after the location of reception, he replied, “Oh, I told you about the spa so you would know where not to go. Reception is on the right.” We walked, unaccompanied, through gardens and vineyards to the main building. Our Gran Reserva Duplex Suite comprised a ground-floor living room with two sofas and an armchair, a small terrace with two canvas loungers, an upstairs bath of polished concrete and green glass tile, and a bedroom with a freestanding soaking tub and a king-size bed. The minimalist style was pleasing enough, but the room proved inconvenient in several respects. For example, the terrace, which faced the swimming pool, afforded no privacy (rooms on the other side of the hotel have more seclusion but a less appealing view); there was no box of tissues or wastebasket by the sink; and the bathrobes were too small even for someone of average build.
Things got worse in the highly touted spa, described as “the first traditional hammam and spa in Latin America.” I have visited innumerable hammams and spas over my decades of travel, but never have I encountered such a depressing space. The steam rooms were downright ugly, with unadorned concrete walls marred by water stains. Even more frustrating, the “Classic Circuit” I had reserved did not include the services of a therapist, and I was obliged to scrub myself with the olive oil soap provided. The experience finished in the relaxation room, with extremely unrelaxing stool seating and a snack of rotten cashews shot through with black holes. Nor did the resort’s inconsistent restaurant impress. A dish of local trout was fresh, but the sweetness of the accompanying prune-spiked polenta clashed with the side of chard and mushrooms. We did have a wonderful time at the Sunday asado (barbecue), staged at a formal vineyard-side communal table worthy of a magazine spread. Otherwise, this wildly overpriced hotel has little to recommend it.
AT A GLANCE
LIKE: The Sunday asado; the friendly staff.
DISLIKE: The bunker-like spa; the inconsistent restaurant; the clumsy welcome.
GOOD TO KNOW: “Granada” is the most private accommodation, at the end of the building, followed by “Cardamomo.”
Entre Cielos 87 Reserva Junior Suite, $665; Gran Reserva Duplex Suite, $845. 1998 Guardia Vieja, Vistalba, Luján de Cuyo. Tel. (54) 261-498-3377.
Far better to stay at Cavas Wine Lodge, a half-hour farther south of Mendoza. Composed of 14 Andalusian-style whitewashed adobe guest villas and a mansion-like main building, the resort rises from the middle of the vineyards. Paths leading around the 55-acre property are shaded by high rows of pergola-trellised vines, interspersed with rosebushes and fragrant Mediterranean shrubs. Lines of mature poplars and willow trees complete the idyllic landscape, which, with the Andes as a background, looks more like a painting than a real place.
We reserved one of the two 970-square-foot Corner Rooms. These are identical to the entry-level Luxury Rooms aside from their location, which provides an additional measure of privacy. However, we were upgraded on arrival to the 2,200-square-foot South Vineyard Villa, decorated in classic-contemporary style with exposed stone accent walls, bright abstract paintings and a color palette of biscuit and turquoise. The living room had a woodburning fireplace, as did the roof terrace. In the bedroom beyond, a linen canopy framed the king bed, next to which stood campaign-style nightstands and a rolltop writing desk with woven leather chairs. The master bath contained two separate rooms, as well as twin vanities and a dual walk-in shower. Our patio came with a private pool, loungers, hot tub and two outdoor showers. Despite some maintenance issues — tiles missing from the pool and wood-grain tile floors in need of a good scrubbing — it was difficult to muster any strong feelings of dissatisfaction in such a splendid space.
Regrettably, the spa did not live up to the expectations set by the rest of the resort. The Moorish-style facility requires renovation. In the relaxation area, wide streaks of gray paint mar the bottom of the butter-colored walls. The single shower is unconnected to any of the treatment rooms, which necessitates a walk through the public area. And Mrs. Harper ended her Torrontés moisturizing wrap covered in globs of thick lotion, which the therapist had failed to towel off. She also failed to offer any water or tea at the end of our visit.
In the distance, the Andes glowed purple in the sunset.
The multiple problems in the spa were all the more surprising considering the high level of service we experienced during the rest of our stay. Our last evening couldn’t have been more romantic. Before dinner, the hotel arranged a tango show accompanied by aperitifs and canapés. The owner of the hotel, Cecilia Díaz Chuit, personally hosted the event and translated the accompanying narrative. Afterward, we all moved to the restaurant’s terrace overlooking vineyards punctuated by poplars and dramatic fire pots. In the distance, the Andes glowed purple in the sunset. The components of the asado dinner were delicious, attractively presented and served in portions of a refreshingly normal size. Díaz stopped at every table to chat. After dessert, a waitress alerted us to a surprise waiting on our roof terrace. There, we discovered a bottle of chilled sparkling wine, a plate of gourmet chocolates and a roaring fire. We sat in the warmth for a while, sipping wine and contemplating the stars.
AT A GLANCE
LIKE: The extraordinary vineyard setting; the warm and helpful staff; the spacious accommodations; the private pools.
DISLIKE: Our villa’s floors, which were in need of a scrub; the spa.
Cavas Wine Lodge 93 Corner King, $900; Vineyard Villa, $1,300. Costaflores s/n, Alto Agrelo, Mendoza. Tel. (54) 261-410-6927.