Mendoza, at the northern central part of Argentina, is almost straight across from Santiago, Chile. It is renowned for great wines, especially malbecs, but in summer, you can take an excursion on horseback from Mendoza to Santiago, just like San Martin did in the good old conquering days.
Four adventurous, carefree days, horseback-riding through Andean valleys and crossing passes at more than 4500 metres is definitely something I'm doing before I die, or get too old to ride the horses. There's the burro option for those who like to feel closer to the ground but you might take a little longer to get there.
Mendoza is the capital of the Mendoza province, so when you land in town you must drive about one and a half hours to get to the province's most remote, beautiful places and vineyards.
It is considered the Queenstown of Argentina, a playground for the adventurous.
Popular activities include mountain-climbing, sky diving, rafting and hiking but I went there to try some of its delicious wine and food.
The land of malbec - there are 25,000ha of it in the province - stole my heart. It is a desert surrounded by the Andes.
The only "green" you see is put there by man. It has only 3mm of rainfall a year, so farming is only possible with extensive irrigation systems.
So bare and so dry and yet the area provides so much richness in cuisine, wine and, of course, the people.
The best malbecs come from Lujan de Cuyo and the Uco Valley, located in the foothills of the Andes at an altitude of between 800 and 1500 metres, so road trips are a must to get to these places.
Biking through vines
If you want to get straight to it and get your malbec fix and ride a bicycle through some gorgeous vineyards, head to the Zuccardi family's property. They make some delicious wines and have two fabulous restaurants.
One offers very traditional Argentinian food and the other has a more casual garden-to-table approach.
When you land in Mendoza, head to the restaurant Maria Antonieta. Head chef Vanina Chimeno is the super-talented and gracious host who offers honest, simple and tasty fare. Also, depending on the day you land, it's worth going to the local mercado (market). Mendocinos like to go there on the weekends for a pizza slice, a beer and to pick up ingredients and spices for their asados (barbecue).
One of the best meals I had while there was at Siete Fuegos, created by Francis Mallmann, Argentina's rock star chef. Mallman is known for quoting poetry, smoking cigars, starring on television and being a master at cooking with flame. This restaurant is conveniently located inside The Vines. I had never eaten tomatoes roasted inside the ashes from the fire. Siete Fuegos specialises in barbecuing meats, which are indeed delicious, but those veges and empanadas are just to die for.
The Vines is somewhere you could quite easily stay forever. It is located in the Uco
Valley at the base of the majestic Andes Mountains, and is one of the most spectacular places on Earth. It offers laid-back luxury and the friendly staff will help you co-ordinate all your adventures. It also makes some delicious wine. More than 25 different grape varieties are grown on the property. Make sure you ask about the blending experiment that will determine what kind of wine you are.
When indulging in great wine and the vast array of delicious culinary offerings, you may need a little lie down. The Vines features many different spa treatments, yoga classes and golf, plus you can do a shortened version of the four-day horse riding experience at sunset or sunrise through the Andes.
Last but not least make sure you visit some of the other many bodegas (wineries) around the area. Mendoza is in the heart of the wine region, so where better to immerse yourself than here? I personally liked the Recuerdo Malbec from the Vines, the Piatelli 2007 Grand Reserve Malbec from the Lujan de Cuyo. The BenMarco Expresivo also makes some divine wine and the master blenders are women.
Need to know
• Mendoza, in the Mendoza Province in western Argentina on the eastern side of the Andes, produces Malbec and is famous for charcoal-grilled meats, wine, empanadas and dulce de leche (milk jam).
• Air New Zealand flies direct from Auckland to Buenos Aires, Argentina, three times a week. Flights take around 12 hours.
• Mendoza has a small airport, El Plumerillo, with connections to Santiago de Chilea and Buenos Aires.
• By bus: Mendoza's bus station is about 2km from the town centre and has daily routes to several destinations.