It’s not often that you visit a city to spend more time out of it than in.
I’d imagine that a tourist visiting London wouldn’t feel the urge to head to Tunbridge Wells, nor would a New York City virgin be particularly inclined to take a train out to the suburbs of Connecticut.
However, it’s also not very often that the surroundings have far more to offer than the city itself.
The centre of Mendoza certainly isn’t boring, it was just slightly outdone by the local wine vineyards, towering mountains, and stunning landscapes that make cinemas and sports bars pale into insignificance.
But the city was, in fact, the perfect basecamp for all the activities the greater province has to offer.
Everything in the city feels closely knit together – it’s littered with lively and sociable plazas, wide paved pedestrian streets and quaint restaurants, while the nightlife is busy without being overwhelming.
But it’s rare to find somewhere located so close to the mountains that is so large and healthily populated. Just a couple hours out of town are mountain settlements with nothing more than a pair of shops, a few houses, and a village goat.
Nothing exemplifies this more than a day trip to Potrerillos – a tiny town with the most beautiful lake being watched over by green mountains that are dwarfed by a backdrop of the Andes.
This is very much the draw of Mendoza. It juxtaposes everyday civilization with the intrigue of nature in a way that few places can. Whereas Rio possessed mountains in isolation, here it feels as if Mendoza very much belongs to the mountains.
Indeed, there aren’t many places in the world that allow you to take a day trip to the edge of the Argentine-Chilean border and look up at the snow scattered over the Andes from a sweltering vantage point of more than 30°C.
Not only that, but Mendoza is a hiker’s paradise. When you’re spending the dregs of your free time drinking the dregs from a pint glass, it feels all the more rewarding when you climb to the top of Mendoza’s equivalent of Arthur’s Seat.
Cerro Arco is more than a family hike though, and after nearly two hours of steep climbing you’re treated to panoramic views of Mendoza’s stunning landscape, and as you turn around to leave you can’t help feeling overawed by the dominoes of mountains queueing further and further into the distance.
Being active aside, it’s impossible to go to Mendoza without sampling some of its wine vineyards. When you think of Mendoza you think of Malbec, but this was just one of a number of great wines on offer, with Merlots, Chardonnays, and Sauvignons seemingly on tap.
The vineyards give you an opportunity to pretend to do something classy in a t-shirt you’ve been wearing for three days straight, and the best way to access them was by renting bikes and cycling from one winery to another.
With cars zipping past on busy roads as your inebriation levels steadily rise, it’s probably not the safest idea, but when you’re high on grapes safety seems to slip further down the list of priorities.
Indeed, Mendoza is a place for thrill seekers and risk takers. There’s so much to do that it’s impossible to leave without feeling slightly accomplished and, most importantly, the scenery allowed me to finally understand what John Keats had been harping on about in his nature poetry.
Next stop, across the border to Santiago, Chile. Until then.