3 Apr 2014

Exploring Cafayate A Wine Lover’s Paradise

Cafayate is a tiny town famous for producing Torrentes wine and its quite tricky to reach when you’re heading north so not many travellers venture here which made it even more appealing to us. From Mendoza we took an overnight bus of 15 hours to Tucaman and this bus was by far the worst we’d travelled on so far, inside it was very dated and scruffy with no service but it did stop a lot so we were able to grab some food and use a cleaner bathroom along the way. 

the road to cafayate argentina

Upon arrival at Tucaman bus station we searched out the local bus to Cafayate and were glad we just had a two hour wait, our next bus was so much nicer and the four hour journey took us through some of the most stunning countryside in Argentina - lush green mountains, a huge lake with eerie mist, rolling green hills of grazing cattle and finally rocky, arid plains dotted with cactus.

street life cafayate argentina

As we walked through Cafayate loaded with our heavy backpacks we felt like we were walking through the film set of modern western, were we in the ‘wild west’? We expected tumbleweed and a gaucho to emerge around the corner any minute. It’s such a quaint, tidy little town where all of the buildings are two storey and in muted earthy colours. We loved it! 

dog cafayate argentina
"One of Cafayate's many smiley locals."

The walk across town to our hostel La Morada took just ten minutes and our hosts Rolando and Fabiana were so welcoming and lovely, it was such a relief after our sketchy 22 hour journey. 

Cafayate boasts two main attractions: wine bodegas and the Quebrada de Las Conchas. Our favourite thing about Cafayate were its bodegas that were based within the town itself and we had a great time following La Ruta De Wine and popping inside a few of them for a wine tasting or tour. The best wines were at Bodega Nanni, a small scale organic bodega and El Transito, a stylish, modern bodega. 

bodega nanni cafayate argentina

They both offered more than just Malbec or Torrentes and we purchased a bottle of spicy blend of Syrah Cabernet Sauvignon from El Transito and some Bonarda from Bodega Nanni, this grape is set to be the next big hit in a few years - you heard it here first!

We also enjoyed a tour of Domingo Hermanos which is the biggest operation in town, again the tour was in Spanish but it was easy to follow and we saw everything from grape pressing to bottle labelling plus we got to taste four different wines at the end for just 10 pesos each.

Quebrada de Las Conchas cafayate argentina

Quebrada de Las Conchas is an impressive canyon like landscape just a little north of Cafayate at either side of the main highway that that takes you to Salta. Many tourists visit on a long day from Salta or take a local bus from Cafayate and cycle the 45km return leg. We decided to take an afternoon tour by minibus with a small group of tourists. 

Quebrada de Las Conchas cafayate argentina

Once we arrived at the first stop on the tour we realised that we were with Argentinian tourists and a solely Spanish speaking guide. We think that this is the norm for these tours and although our Spanish had improved significantly we definitely could follow a scientific discussion about the rocky landscape! The first ‘attraction’ was a small cave and our fellow tourists posed enthusiastically inside, maybe we were missing something?

Quebrada de Las Conchas cafayate argentina

The landscape here is unique, colourful and beautiful, in certain parts the rock formations would not look out of place on Mars or some other fiery planet. It was a little cloudy during our tour so the colours were not as vivid compared to a sunny afternoon, we still got the idea though. 

Quebrada de Las Conchas cafayate argentina

At one stop we hiked up a very gravelly path along to a viewing point where we were able to enjoy fantastic panoramic views and see the rows of colour in the rocks - some sections were bright green but we’re not sure why. 

Quebrada de Las Conchas cafayate argentina

At this viewing point Vicky papped Steve at the highest point but when the role of model and photographer were reversed Steve did the classic step back a bit and almost rolled all the way down this steep gravelly hill. Clumsy toad.

Quebrada de Las Conchas cafayate argentina

The next stop was a huge rock called 'El Sapo’ aka The Toad aka Steve’s namesake. Our bus didn’t let us out here though so we had to take a quick photo out the window much to Steve’s disappointment. Maybe it was because the toad didn't like fun and enjoyed silence... One might call it a fun sponge.

el sapo Quebrada de Las Conchas cafayate argentina

The rest of the sites had quite inventive names such as ‘Gargant El Diablo’ ‘Les Tres Cruces’ and ‘Amphitheatre’, we had to apply our imagination to see the connection. Our cynical sides thought the names were added for the tourists sake to make them more appealing. After a long five hours touring rocks we were relieved to be back amongst the comforts of Cafayate, it was a beautiful landscape but we’re definitely decided that rocks just don’t do it for us.

Quebrada de Las Conchas cafayate argentina

We also ate well in Cafayate, there are not lots of restaurants to choose from but our favourites on the plaza were El Rancho for steak and pasta, and Baco where they serve delicious quinoa salad and pizza. Most of the shops sells baked treats to takeaway and the Alfahores shop has over thirty different varieties of these delicious layered biscuits. Try the dulce de leche and white chocolate, it's heavenly! 

alfahores cafayate argentina

Casa de Empanadas have some very tasty fillings such as Roquefort and goats cheese. There are two very popular Heladerias in Cafayate and each offer Malbec or Torrentes flavoured ice cream if you’re feeling adventurous, we weren’t and enjoyed a huge cone each of more traditional but delicious flavours at the Heladeria on the main plaza. On our final evening we also enjoyed an authentic Argentinian asado (BBQ) in our hostel’s garden with our generous host Rolando. 

casa de empanadas cafayate argentina

Originally we’d booked two nights stay in Cafayate but we fell in love with the beautiful town and its laid-back vibe that we stayed for four. It’s definitely worth going out of your way for and we highly recommend a stay at La Morada. Next we headed further north to Salta grateful it was just a four hour bus ride away...

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