Charlie O’Malley checks out this picturesque corner of southern Maipu
Take a drive south of Mendoza for 20 minutes along the legendary Route 40. The snow-capped Andes roll past to the right as an imposing background to the ever expanding urban sprawl of Greater Mendoza. Residential homes with identical water tanks, corrugated warehouses, tacky wholesale retailers and upscale gated communities stretch ever further south, encroaching on lush vineyards and olive plantations that have been here since colonial times but are now slowly losing their foothold to progress.
At the busy exit for Lujan de Cuyo town center, swing left and east into the shabby plains of southern Maipu, where Mendoza’s original wine boom happened 140 years ago. What were once thriving vineyards and olive groves are now dusty, abandoned lots waiting for the real estate market to pick up. Development spill-over from trendy Chacras de Coria nearby has seen a proliferation of gated communities arise from the dirt, many half- built and sometimes derelict. Huge, over-the-top concrete guard entrances announce their presence. Behind the gates are often sad, un nished streets and houses, waiting for the next housing boom.
Keep going east and the new housing developments slip away. A more rural scene appears with old, fallen-down adobe houses and little farm homesteads becoming apparent. Poverty lurks behind rusty gates and grey, unpainted walls. At the junction turn right and roll down the hill. It is suddenly picturesque. Turn the corner and you could be in Tuscany. The ancient brick facade of a church throws shade over a tiny street. Poplar trees line Old-World pérgola style vines and ancient vines run up a hilly slope.
In the background the red clayed Barrancas mountain runs the lenght of this stretch of the Rio Mendoza, now a dry riverbed of long pampa grass and desert bushes. In the old days this was a wide, meandering waterway that fed the huge lakes and marshlands of central Mendoza where huge ocks of amingoes gathered. Giant stones would roll down the ever-eroding cliff face and crash into the babbling wáter. “Lun lun taaaa” was how the Huarpe tribe described the noise, and the name stuck.
Mendoza’s modern grid of dams, dykes and waterways soon sucked up the river. The swamps and lakes shrank into the scrub and desert. But Lunlunta remains – a lush, green rustic corner that has somehow managed to retain an Old-World, slow-down-there feel. The frenetic pace of the city seems a long way away. Here the streets are made of dirt and the houses of mud and straw. Parakeets squabble in the foliage. Strangely there is no plaza. A picturesque champagne house sits amidst olive farms, sleeping dogs and dreeping willow trees. Dusty riding stables, ancient honey farms and unpretentious Mom & Pop wineries can be discovered down the unpaved laneways. It won’t be too long until lodges and boutique hotels appear, and God forbid the gated communities. Whatever happens, let’s just hope Lunlunta’s pastoral, peaceful atmosphere can be preserved, enjoyed and celebrated.
The Juricich family have been making honey here for over 30 years, and some pretty good wine too. The visit includes a ramble through the delightful garden and rustic vineyards and if you are lucky the owner will open a hive and show you the wonders of beekeeping. The house itself is ancient, ramshackle and atmospheric. This experience is truly Old World, family-run, educational and delightful.
Maza y Flores. Tel. (0261) 156672885
Domaine St. Diego
Winemaker Angel Mendoza makes some of the region ́s most prestigious sparkling from this quaint and historic property, as well as some excellent still wines. His daughter Laura conducts a revealing tour which includes enlightening vineyard instruction. Fascinating stuff and one of the few sloped vines in Mendoza. Very picturesque.
Villanueva 3821, Tel. (0261) 4395557
Who says asado cannot be gourmet? The carnivorous staple (check male staple) of the Argentine diet is molded into something adventurous and surprising at this elegant, spacious garden restaurant. For starters, you get to pinch your own empanadas and learn how they are cooked (surprisingly quickly) in the traditional mud oven. A procession of cuts and meats follow, paired with some spectacular wines that include Divina Marga’s own vintage. It seems everybody makes their own wine in this neighborhood.
Calle Publica s/n. Tel. (0261) 5092634
Lunlunta’s main riding stables draws equestrians and want-to-be-equestrians from all over the World to canter through this sleepy district’s leafy by-ways. What makes this riding establishment stand out from the others in Mendoza is the 90-minute circuit is not just mountain views but also includes vineyards, olive groves and riverbed. Owner Cesar provids friendly company and full instruction to beginners. The horses are docile and cooperative, the ride relaxing and inspiring.
Maza Sur 8071, Tel. (0261) 156686801
French owners Philippe & Brigitte first set up this lovely winemaking establishment some 20 years ago and having been wowing visitors with their wines ever since. Set in a traditional country Casona and Old World bodega, the tour includes a visit to the winery and vineyards, followed by a tasting of every range. Be sure to try the Syrah, arguably the best quality and value in Mendoza.
Videla Aranda 3001. Tel. (0261) 4990470
Lunlunta from the Saddle
Join Trout & Wine Tours on a horseback ride through lovely Lunlunta. The excursion starts at 10.30am with pick up at your hotel and 40-minute transfer to Rancho Viejo. What follows is a 90-minute ride through vineyards, olive groves and Mendoza riverbed. The ride ends at Divina Marga restaurant where you enjoy a gourmet asado (Argentine bbq) which includes wood-oven baked empanadas and local wines. Return to the city at 4pm.
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