Falling for Estancia life

la alejandra caballosAmanda Barnes enjoys the serenity and stars of estancia La Alejandra in the Uco valley.

I’ve been to the Uco Valley many times, but Estancia La Alejandra is a world apart from anything I’ve experienced there before. Get to the Uco valley, and then head into the mountains on the bumpy dirt road for another 30kms into Valle la carrera and you’ll arrive at a beautiful micro-climate that is completely different to anywhere else in Mendoza. Always ten degrees cooler than the city (a huge bonus in the summer) and with a lot more rain and humidity, the land is green here! Not water pumped and irrigated green, but naturally, beautifully lush green. And yellow, and orange, and purple, and of course stunning bright blue above. It is vividly colourful, and mind-bendingly big and empty.

This is a traditional estancia land with land as the greatest luxury. Although as a wine lover I think of Uco Valley in terms of vineyards and luxury hotel resorts, the valley was separated into enormous sprawling ranches and estancias for centuries and once you wonder off the truck-beaten track, that’s what you’ll find again. Lots of land. While 100 hectares seems like a kingdom in terms of vineyards, these estancias at 900 hectares are entire continents.

Fortunately getting there is a lot easier than it used to be. “My grandmother told me how she used to come to visit the estancia,” says Matias whose family have owned the estancia for all the generations he remembers, but always lived in the city, “she would take the train to Cachueta then gauchos would meet her there with horses and bring her here after a few hours. Of course, after spending a long day on the journey, she’d stay for a few days!” It takes less than two hours to arrive there by car now, but you’ll equally want to stay a few days.

la alejandra ranchoWith traditional estancia buildings made for people who lived and worked on the estancia, the low stone walled dwellings are just a tiny dot of the gorgeous stretch of the landscape that sweeps across the entire Cordon del Plata, Tupungato volcano and pre cordillera foothills all around you. Four years ago Matias extended the 100 year old estancia house into an intimate three bedroom posada preserving the historical building and traditional style with stone walls, low ceilings and warming fireplaces, as well as horse themed artwork and a good cellar of Uco wines. On arrival we watched the sun go down with a gaucho mate (herbal tea) and a cup of coffee. As the sun sinks behind the very nearby mountains, the sky begins to light up with slowly emerging stars and the full moon bathed the rippling foothills. It’s very hard not to get swept away with the romance of the place, especially as you sit staring at the ever unfolding carpet of stars with a glass of wine in hand and some delicious campesino cuisine being cooked up on the wood fire behind you.

Waking up to a twitter of birdsong, a hearty countryside breakfast awaited to put us in good stead for our gaucho day ahead. As well as the exclusive posada, the estancia is used for potato farming, outdoor adventures and horse rearing. While most horse riding here is on criollo horses (smaller, sturdy and mountain worthy), the estancia has strikingly beautiful European breeds too. I’ve never been one to drool over horse breeds, but their tall, muscular form and dark eyes certainly made us all dribble a little. Another first for horseriding here in Argentina is that I was given a helmet and a safety talk before setting off – nicely assuring. Taking off towards the mountains we trotted around the outstanding estancia taking in the beautiful views, spotting birds (spotting is an understatement, they were practically flying alongside us) and even saw some new fowls learning to walk after only a couple days in the world.

Back at the estancia we took a little break with bubbly and humita (one of the best food pairings) before heading to the neighbouring estancia, Atamisque. This historic estancia was bought by a French couple a few years ago who have built a winery, a golf course and a trout farm as well as maintaining the handsome mature trees, gardens and fruit orchards. First we stopped for some fresh trout ceviche and a voluptuous viognier at the pretty restaurant before hopping back on our horses to visit the beautiful and vast grounds. After a breathtaking weekend with some of the best views in Mendoza, as our horses casually strolled past the owners’ house in the middle of their 1600 hectare plot, I couldn’t help but feel a little estancia envy. And also the true delight and privilege of being able to take part in this world too.

To book a night at La Alejandra contact Cordon del Plata