What do you get when you combine a ton of biking, a liberal amount of wine, a feast of food, and a smidgen of pottery making? Perhaps the best (and most physically exhausting) day of my trip to Argentina.
The Uco Valley is one of Argentina’s foremost wine regions, and during our day cycling through a slice of it, we got a sense of its abundance and hospitality. The group we toured with, Caminos de Altamira, bills itself as “tourism without makeup” – its tours are designed to connect travelers with locals who don’t make their living through the tourism industry, but who are nonetheless willing to share glimpses of their daily lives and teach visitors about their culinary and craft endeavors.
Led by our funny and knowledgeable guide Natalia, we biked from home to home, trying a variety of food and drinks along the way (and burning off our calories as we went!).
We began at Los Maitenes, where we learned about bread baking from Susana, who warmly welcomed us into her home. She helped us shape pieces of dough into little works of bread art, and then we popped them into her outdoor oven before heading inside to eat. Susana served us our bread, piping hot, which we paired with a variety of her homemade jams, my absolute favorite being the to-die-for quince.
As we sat around the table, Susana eagerly shared her story with us, telling us all about her family (even dashing off to a closet and bringing out the little red tutu one of her granddaughters dances in) and about the origins of the Caminos group. She hauled out her scrapbooks chronicling all the press the group has received and showed us her enormous guestbook with eleven years of entries from guests visiting from around the world. It was really cool!
After ingesting a lot of bread and jam, we hopped on our bikes and headed to the next stop, Appon Vineyard. This wasn’t no Napa Valley, fancy-schmancy vineyard; this was a rustic, down-to-earth one. At Appon, they don’t sell their wine to stores, but rather to their neighbors, and there wasn’t a bit of sleek, sophisticated machinery to be found. The owner at Appon prepared a cheese and wine tasting for us, and as we ate and drank, he told us lots of stories about his family heritage. There was even talk of a great great grandfather who had had an affair with a Hungarian queen!
Our third stop was El Melocóton, a fruit orchard. As with everyone else, these proprietors (a husband and wife team) were just lovely. As he walked us through the orchard, the husband spoke about how had begun his career as an army man but then had switched to farming, his true passion. Inside, we snacked on crackers with homemade apricot jam and honey (he’s also a beekeeper). Everywhere we went on this day, it seemed folks were handing out homemade jams – and, in fact, our guide said it was pretty common for everyone to make their own jams.
We continued on to our fourth stop, Bar Los Abuelos, for lunch. As we parked our bikes, I swooned over the little courtyard, which was so cute – think flower pots, bright colors, and bicycles. We made our way inside and were promptly served a feast: salad, empanadas, a beef dish, chicken, and potatoes, plus apples with cinnamon for dessert. It was all delicious.
Bar Los Abuelos is, of course, family-owned, and the sons served us while there father was at work – as a radio DJ. During lunch, to our delight, we received a little shout-out on the radio, as he welcomed, “Jenny from Los Angeles, Laura from Nueva York, Diane from Nueva Zealand, and Matt from Australia” to town. It was such a fun moment!
The final stop on our tour de Uco Valley was a ceramics shop. The whole workshop is outdoors, and there are piles of clay and pots everywhere – a fascinating jumble of things. We watched the owner work her magic on a pot, and then she gave us clay to create whatever we liked. We had a lot of fun, but of course none of us could come close to the skill of the ceramicist or her daughter, a little six-year-old who sat down at the table and promptly put us all to shame with her creations.
After dropping off our bikes, we piled into vans and headed deeper into the countryside, where we were to spend the night with a local family. We had a relaxing late afternoon lounging in the backyard, sipping tea and enjoying the views of the Andes. After resting for a bit, we all reconvened for dinner: a simple (but tasty) pasta, plus fresh peaches for dessert.
I’m pretty confident that biking through the Uco Valley will go down as one of my most memorable travel days. What I liked best was how genuine the experience felt; everyone was so generous in opening up their homes and sharing their stories with us. I couldn’t ask for more than that.