Unique in the world, the province of Salta, in northwestern Argentina, offers stunning mountains, giant cacti and unforgettable wines.In the North of Argentina, nearly on the border with Bolivia, there is a long chain of valleys where the vines grow below the blazing sun, on rugged slopes populated by cacti as high as an oak tree. Known as the Calchaquí Valley, the epicentre of wine is in Cafayate, the main city in the province of Salta.
At a height of around 1,700m, twenty or so wineries are producing unique red and colorless wines, where the rugged landscape is a key component. Visiting them involves winding dirt roads, crossing rivers with large potholes and tasting some of the most representative dishes of Argentine Creole food. In small, a three-day adventure, complete with wonderful hospitality and a hundred picture postcard views.
Starting point Salta
The colonial capital city of the province, is the starting point of the Calchaquí wine route.
The Cerro San Bernardo, which is reached by cable car, has the most complete view of the city. In the central square, look out for the Cathedral and the Museo de Arqueología de Alta Montaña. For its vital pre-Columbian collection, the museum is a visit worth your time; where one of the most stunning exhibits is a collection of mummies exposed in the Llullaillaco volcano, at a depth of more than six thousand metres. At nighttime, Balcarce street and its folkloric clubs, where you can listen to folklore guitar and watch traditional dance, go on until dawn.
But, it is in the food where the real journey starts. And excellent salteña empanadas are the perfect snack: filled with sliced meat, potatoes and red peppers, they are small and very
Onwards to Cafayate
The best way to travel is by car. The route is not hard, but care should be taken. During the two hundred kilometre journey which links the city of Salta to Cafayate, Route 68 winds through hills and ravines, with greens giving way to the copper, red and russet shades of the mountain rocks. Previous to long, the landscape becomes less forest and more desert and is populated by huge cacti, called Cardones. On the edge of the Calchaquí Valley, in the Quebrada de las Conchas, wearing away has carved the rocks into fanciful shapes: a toad, an obelisk, a friar and the most well-known, Garganta del diablo or devils throat, all of which make for some fantastic photos.
At the heart of the valley, Cafayate has sweeping views of vineyards dotted here and
Around the square of Cafayate life flows to the rhythm of slow bicycles, restaurants filled with parishioners and travellers and the craft markets. Take a walk around to buy some souvenirs and visit the Museum of the Vine and Wine, where they will clarify how the terroir of the Calchaquí works and why its wines are different due to the particular warmth ranges, intense sun and alluvial soils.
Now the only thing left to do is visit some of the wineries. On foot, one can visit Vasija Secreta, the oldest of the bodegas. Then El Porvenir de Cafayate, which has a more modern style, and Bodega Nanni, a small winery which produces organic wines.
By car, on the way to Divisadero, Bodega Amalaya, is the most modern in the area, and higher subdue, Finca Las Nubes, from winemaker José Luis Mounier.
In the area, three fascinating wineries to visit are San Pedro de Yacochuya, owned by the Etchart family and French winemaker Michel Rolland. Piatelli, with very modern architecture, an brilliant restaurant and panoramic viewpoint. And Domingo Molina, whose terrace offers a perfect sunset spot.
The highest vineyards
Leaving the town of Cafayate and heading north on the winding route 40, you arrive at Molinos after crossing the lunar landscape of the colorless and rocky Quebrada de las Flechas. Further up the road in Molinos are Bodega Colomé and Tacuil, two of the highest and most remote wineries in Argentina. The first is one of
From Molinos we return to Salta via Cachi, a whitewashed village, tucked into the hillside. Amongst the key moments of the drive back is the Quebrada del Obispo, which descends into the forested ravines below, and will be one of the highlights to remember. It should be seen previous to midday to take advantage of the brilliant skies and gorgeous greenery.
A curious thing happens to travellers who have visited the Calchaquí. Those who have toured its ravines, met its people and walked along its rugged geography, have an extra sense when uncorking its wines. There is nothing better than uncorking a Malbec Salteño to remember the elegant power of its wine in the rustic charm of the valley.
Written by Alejandro
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