A region of magical scenery, the Calchaquí Valleys, in northwestern Argentina, feature 17th-century colonial villages, as well as dramatic desert and mountain landscapes. The most well known of these is Quebrada de las Flechas, the “Canyon of Arrows,” named for its jutting sandstone formations.
Along the famous touristic Ruta 40, Andean culture merges with Spanish criollo influences, impacting both culture and cuisine. The town of Cafayate, the epicenter of high-altitude viticulture located in the province of Salta, is a favorite destination of tourists for local crafts (pottery, textiles and silver) and unique gastronomy.
Where to Dine
For the last decade, La Rosa, the restaurant at the Patios de Cafayate wine hotel, has been the most sophisticated dining venue in town, where Chef Martín Garramón features Catalan and other European cuisines alongside regional dishes such as llama carpaccio. At the Grace Cafayate, located on the Estancia de Cafayate property, lamb, llama and goat meat are the specialties. One block away from the main square, regional cuisine is the focus at the recently opened Pacha, helmed by Tomás Casado, who apprenticed under multi–Michelin-starred Basque chef Martín Berasategui. At Bad Brothers Wine Experience, Cafayate’s first wine bar, sample 53 small-producer wines by the glass.
Where to Stay
Located next to Bodega El Esteco, the Patios de Cafayate wine hotel offers spacious suites with colonial-era furnishings, a pool and wine spa. Set in a majestic mountain-ringed landscape, the Grace Hotel presents a modern, luxurious alternative, with 12 suites and 20 private villas or bungalows overlooking the vineyards and golf course.
The Calchaquí Valleys are an outdoor-lover’s dream. The Quebrada de las Conchas (“Shells’ Ravine”) is a UNESCO World Heritage site famed for its red rocks, and it’s ideal for hiking. Numerous companies specialize in horseback tours and all-terrain vehicle rides through desert dunes.
Located in an old wine cellar, the Museo de la Vid y el Vino is a low-cost activity that features a bilingual interactive tour on the character and history of high-altitude wines.
Roots of Andean culture merge with Spanish criollo influences, impacting both culture and cuisine.
When to Go
Argentina’s winter during July and August and spring, September through December, offer the most comfortable touring temperatures (summer rains can affect some mountain roads). The wine harvest takes place during February and March.
Where to Taste
Cafayate’s layout enables tourists to visit several wineries in a single day. Bodega San Pedro de Yacochuya, where the Etchart family and Michel Rolland produce Malbec, is one of the most prominent. Piatelli is the most modern winery, and features a restaurant with a panoramic observation deck that overlooks the town. The iconic Bodega El Esteco in Cafayate, features a historical façade and completely restored facilities; try the Chañar Punco wine. In the middle of the city center, El Porvenir de Cafayate, a boutique winery where Paul Hobbs consults, produces fantastic Tannat and Torrontés. Finca Las Nubes is located in one of the prettiest corners of the local village, and it presents stunning sunset views over the vineyards. Finca Quara is another historic winery with both a beautiful wine cellar and a setting.
Although Cafayate is located approximately 5,750 feet above sea level, Salta’s Bodega Colomé boasts the highest vineyard on the planet at 10,206 feet. The altitude leads to intense and concentrated wines. While Malbecs are most popular, many winemakers believe Tannat and Cabernet Sauvignon blends represent the future of the region. Argentina’s iconic white grape is the floral and aromatic Torrontés, the result of crossing Muscat of Alexandria (introduced by the Spanish in the 19th century) with native grapes.
Local in the Know
Arnaldo Etchart, together with his brothers, Pablo and Marcos, runs the family winery, Bodega San Pedro de Yacochuya. Born in Salta, Etchart believes that the best ways to enjoy the Calchaquí Valleys are by motorcycle or more traditional means. “Once a year, we go up to 3,000 meters above sea level riding horses or mules, just like our family used to do 100 years ago. Yacochuya views are breathtaking. The sun over the mountains constantly changes the landscape colors, as if they were painted by an artist.”