Sunday, 24 May 2009

Colome´ and Cachi







The drive from Cafayate to Cachi is via Route 40, a 180km winding track of dirt and sand and dust and rocks. This was no place for a rented Fiat Uno but our little amigo Oscar refused to bow to logic and ploughed through with typical Italian gusto! Dave was very proud (though very tired by the end). But the reward for our effort was a visit to one of the highest altitude and secluded wineries in the world - the Colome´winery, about 50km from Cachi and another 20 odd km away from the nearest road and town.

At the end of that track is a hidden paradise, where vines more than 150 years old grow in blissful isolation from pollution, parasites and prying eyes. At our 'closed door' dinner at Casa Felix in Buenos Aires, we were lucky enough to try Colome's magnificent Torrontes and silky smooth Amalaya red blend of malbec, cabernet, syrah, bonarda and tannat. We tried those again at our onsite degustation, together with their 'Vino Mysterioso' (a torrontes-sav blanc blend you can only get at cellar door or in their restaurant) and their Malbec Reserva. Dave still dreams about that Amalaya and Libby has big plans to import Colome´ Torrontes direct to East Sussex!

Cachi itself is a small town, nestled high in the Valles Calchaquies. The views from the hilltop cemetery are great but the real delights lie in the drive back to Salta via Routes 40 and 33. The drive starts with a winding road to Payogasta but we soon hit the 14km straight that is Recta Tin Tin, running through Cardones National Park full of huge candelabra cacti. Oscar then pulled uphill to Piedra de Molino before plunging down the valley via a steep and tight dirt road through the Quebrada de Escope.

This really was one of the great drives of Argentina and Dave has grand plans to return with the boys on dirt bikes one day - a warm thought to keep in mind before heading back into Salta to prepare for our midnight bus to the border and the prospect of subzero temperatures when we tried to cross into Bolivia!

Mr and Mrs T x

Cafayate




We hired a car in Salta to do a 650km round trip to Cafayate and Cachi, hitting as many wine bodegas we could in between, on what turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip so far and some of best travelling we have ever done.

Oscar, our Fiat Uno 'Fire' arrived on Tuesday morning and we headed out of Salta on Route 68 towards Cafayate. About an hour out of town we hit the beginnings of the Quebrada de las Conchas, a very prehistoric Land of the Giants style valley, punctuated by ever changing landscapes and rock formations including huge ampitheatres worn away from the rock by 1000's of years of erosion and wind. Oscar dealt with the sinuous but sealed roads well, giving us the ability to stop for endless photo opportunities, something you don't get on a bus tour.
Cafayate is a very pretty mountain town, surrounded on all sides by cactus filled ranges and sandy plains. Its high position in the ranges means they have a very protected microclimate, turning in around 340 sunny days a year and very steady seasons. As a result, Cafayate and the surrounding Calchaquies region turn out some of the best wine in South America and in our very humble (but now a little more knowledgeable opinions), the world.

We started our wine tasting tour at El Esteco, one of the largest and high end bodegas in the region, producing a magnificent range with a large proportion exported under their founder's name 'Michel Torino'. They were lovely enough to put out a little welcome sign for us, even if it said 'Welcome Lilly & David'. Our tour guide, Cesar, recommended we visit his colleague's wine bar in town that night, which we duly did. Chato's Wine Bar is surprisingly the only one of it's kind in Cafayate but we weren't complaining as we worked our way through a very yummy picada (platter of cold meats and cheese), accompanied by three wonderful local Torrentes wines chosen by Chato for us - a Vasija Secreta Lacrado (Libs' fave), a Finca Humanao and to finish, a very refreshing Torrentes Consecha Tardia (late harvest wine so a little sweeter on the palate) from Bodega Etchart. All in all, a day to remember.

The next day was just as good. We started out with breakfast in the mirador at our Hostel de Valles, a third story sitting room with 360 degree views over Cafayate and across the ranges. With our bellies full and hearts strong, we hired mountain bikes and rode the 5km uphill dirt track to the Jose Luis Mounier bodega at Finca Las Nubes (homestead in the clouds). This bodega sat at the opposite end of the spectrum to the high tech set up at El Esteco, with Las Nubes employing only 5 people all year and their production line consisting of two tables at the end of a small bottling machine! They only produce 8000 bottles a year, all numbered, and what wine it is! The Finca Las Nubes Reserva red blend of malbec, cabernet savignon and tannat was Dave's fave. And the views from their little homestead on the hills were breathtaking.

The ride downhill was thankfully easier on another one of Cafayate's sunny days, so we stopped in at Bodega Nanni where we got to try 5 wines for 5 pesos (their Torrentes Tardia was their best). Not bad for less than a pound! We still had time to drop in to the Domingo Hermanos bodega where we came across our favourite red of the day, a 2004 Domingo Molino Cabernet Savignon. So good in fact, that we bought a bottle to take home for siesta together with a block of the local goat cheese we tasted with.

After a few glasses of that Domingo Molino red and a little shut eye, we emerged for late dinner at El Rancho restaurant, where our very smiley waiter was impressed by Daveo's effort in polishing off a freshly roasted kid goat!

Cafayate really is a magical place, the kind of place you could just stop and happily not move on from. But move on we did, as Cachi via Colome´beckoned.

Salta

Heading out of Capilla del Monte back to Cordoba, we passed the most amazing sunset over Carlos Paz and its lake, stunning amber and pink hues drifting as a backdrop to the sierras in shadow. Unfortunately, getting a shot of it through the bus window proved impossible so you'll have to rely on good old imagination for that one. Sorry kids.

Bus trips in Argentina have been a little hit and miss so far. After the more than first class service and seat room we had from BA to Cordoba, it was a bit of shock to encounter a very rude Basil-esque attendant on our ride from Cordoba to Salta. No sooner than we'd sat down and the bus pulled out of the terminal, Señor Doushbag (we have changed his name to protect his identity) strutted down the aisle, dropping food trays in our laps, then dashing back downstairs to get the hot food portions that were equally flicked around with abandon, and then, before anyone could actually eat the 'food' on offer, El Doush came around with a black trashbag demanding the trays be handed back! There was a little confusion from all passengers as to what the bloody rush was given this was an overnight bus ride, but it soon became apparent that he had his eye on a garbage bin beside the tollbooth we were just passing through and El Doush was obviously under the impression that this was the only bin between Cordoba and Salta. Maybe he was right. To top it off, when we couldn't manage to drink the 'wine' (aka paint thinners vintage 2008) he'd served, he refused to take the full cup back. Thanks Señor Doushbag!

Thankfully, Salta was refreshingly pretty and glowed under a perfect blue sky that day. We tried the regional delicacies of humita, tamales and locro (Davey Two Meals continues to live up to his moniker! - the best ones are served at La Criollina in case you're ever in Salta) and visited the mummies of Llullailuco, three indigenous children who were left in a tomb atop a volcano mountain northwest of Salta some 500 years ago and unearthed in 1999. The mummies are incredibly well preserved and it actually a little spooky to stand face to face with these children who died so long ago but remain so lifelike!

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Our trip to Cordoba









We left BA on Sunday 10 May and took an overnight bus to Cordoba (1st class baby!). We spent a couple of days in Cordoba (basically chilling out doing some shopping and more eating, and watching some movies in the hotel, english movies with spanish subtitles is good for learning - that's what we tell ourselves anyway!).

From here we took a day excursion to Las Traslasierras - where we took a trip across the sierras to see some beautiful sites, unfortunately for us that day it was thick low cloud and we saw absolutely nothing! Brilliant! The guide kept saying "you´ll just have to imagine that you can see beautiful rivers and the sierras for miles just here" and all we could see was grey clouds, grey, grey, grey and more grey. We actually just had to laugh in the end because it was either that or cry! The guide also told us they have weather like this about 3 days a year - the perfect comment to end a great grey day!
The highlight of that terrible grey day was a visit to this very random museum in a town called Nono (which is indian for boobs as there are two little hills there that look like breasts), basically some french dude was a bit of a hoarder and so he decided to build a museum for all the random things he has collected (like weird dolls, radios, mummies, massive moths and even irons!) - quite amusing really when you think about it! I'm asuming his thought process went something like this: do you know what? I don't know what to do with all this junk lying around and I can't bring myself to throw it away, so I know what I'll build a museum for it and then people can come and pay to see all my random things. Genius!

On Thursday we took a bus 3 hours outside of Cordoba to a place called Capilla del Monte (as recommended by our Spanish teacher and friend Juan). It was a lovely little hippy town, and it was nice to escape the sounds of the cities (i.e. old loud cars and dogs!) for some beautiful mountainous scenery and wilderness (we still didn't manage to escape the sound of dogs though!). The beautiful mountain surroundings of this lovely town really were stunning.

We climbed a "hill" on the Friday (i.e. anything under 4,000 metres is a hill not a mountain here!) called "Cerro Uritorco" - it was about a 4-5 hour round trip climb, on some pretty hard core terrain - well worth it though as the views were amazing, the weather was perfect, bright blue skies and you could see for hundreds of miles!

On Saturday we took the bus back to Cordoba and then took the overnight bus to Salta...we'll leave Salta for the next update...

Big love,

Mr and Mrs T x

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Hola de Buenos Aires amigos!






















We have been enjoying the first days of our honeymoon (that's ´luna de miel´) in Buenos Aires, exploring the sites by foot, bicycle, Subte (the tube), and the crazy buses. We have been lucky enough to have the lovely Kirsty show us around (http://www.baboutiquetours.com.ar/) and to help sort us out on the local transport. We very much enjoyed our photography and shopping tour with Kirsty around La Boca, San Telmo, Recoleta and other wonderful spots.

You can´t go wrong with the food and wine here - Argentina really lives up to its name! We have eaten in some lovely places, in particular Casa Felix (a closed door restaurant) serving a set 6 course meal of local Argentine produce and local vino from Mendoza and Salta which was simply amazing, as was the surroundings of the chef's house. The chef (Diego) and his wife (Sandra)showed the guests (about 12 of us) around their herb garden and lovely house as we sipped on brazilian rum blended with plums and lemon juice whilst awaiting their fantastic meal. As they delivered the food to our table, they eloquently described every course and the complementing wine which makes it even more special. We would recommend any one to go should they be in BA (we never thought we would get to try Patagonian toothfish - in fact we never knew that even existed! which by the way was fantastic). We have eaten in some other wonderful local places, mainly those recommended by Kirsty, all of which have been wonderful. Dave said the steaks here are probably the best he has ever eaten. I agree, although I have nothing to compare to as you can see above, here in BA is the first steak I have ever eaten! In Argentina they seriously love their steaks, wine and dulce de leche (they just can´t get enough of this stuff, you even get it for breakfast!) As you can probably tell Argentina is definitely the place where diets go out of the window!

On the weekend we went on a bicycle tour of the south part of the city through the reserva, La Boca, and San Telmo which was lovely. The markets in San Telmo are fantastic. On Monday we went to the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (Malba) which was lovely, and Tuesday we went wine tasting at Terroir which was wonderful (Argentine wine is amazing and so cheap! We can´t wait to visit the wineries in Mendoza and Salta!). Yesterday we went on a bike tour to Tigre and did some kayaking in the delta waters, it was lovely to see the beautiful scenery by bike and kayak.

The spanish is coming along, we have had a few lessons with Juan now, who is a great teacher and we went to a Spanglish evening on Monday, we have another one tonight (there´s nothing like throwing yourself in the deep end with these things!).

We have been staying in a lovely part of BA in Palermo, the first five nights in a lovely hotel with a roof top terrace and jacuzzi which we very much enjoyed and we are now staying in a lovely boutique hostel 5 minutes from the old place. Palermo has some wonderful shops (Libby is too tempted by the shoes and handbags and is wishing she had packed less and had a bigger rucksack!)

Tonight we are planning to go for dinner at La Cabrera, which many friends who have been to BA have recommended (whilst you wait in line to get in, they give you champagne!). We are just about getting used to going out to eat at 10pm - things in BA really don´t get going until then! Tomorrow we have a beer tour in San Telmo which we are looking forward too (whay Brits abroad!!!).

We leave BA on Sunday night and are taking the overnight bus to Cordoba for the next part of the adventure so we´ll write again soon.

We hope everyone is well and thank you again to those of you who gave us the gifts we have been able to experience in BA (truly amazing!).

Lots of love

Mr and Mrs Toscano xx