Mendoza, Argentina

On your next visit to Argentina, leave the tango behind, for a change, and take a dive into the real culture, history and splendor of nature in Mendoza, which is only a 2-hour flight from Buenos Aires.

Mendoza, the capital of Mendoza Province, is located in an area of vast diversification, from vineyards in the wine country (similar to California’s Napa and Sonoma regions) to the majestic range of the tallest peak in the Western Hemisphere, Mount Aconcagua.

This realm teems with activities: winter sports, hot springs, rafting, trekking, horseback riding, mountain biking, winery boutiques, craft markets, food markets and shopping for elegant attire.

The city is sophisticated, with streets lined with full-grown plane trees and sycamores as far as the eye can see. They were bare during our winter visits, in August ’05 and again Aug. 10-15, 2007, but still provided a walk-through-the-park environment. Spring, summer and fall there present a resplendent spectacle for the visitor, we were told.

The Park Hyatt Mendoza (Chile 1124, Mendoza 5500, Argentina; phone +54 261 441 1234, fax +54 261 441 1235, mendoza.park.hyatt.com) is in the center of town, conveniently located across the street from Independence Plaza.

A splendid restored Spanish Colonial building, this hotel has a new addition providing state-of-the-art guest rooms. We paid the room rate for seniors, $217, including breakfast. The excellence of the staff equals that of any of the finest hotels in the world. The latest in gaming is also offered at the Regency Casino Mendoza, a European-style casino located in the hotel.

Independence Plaza, with its squares, pleasant fountains and artisan stands, provides many hours of quiet relaxation.

Walking straight through the plaza takes you to four consecutive blocks of pedestrian shopping. Discover scrumptious boutiques with exquisite fashions, exclusive artisans’ wares and primo leather goods, especially shoes, purses and excellent-quality ski apparel and sports equipment. Extraordinary, delicate handmade smocking on children’s dresses will convince you to think of a recipient for these wonderful items.

Just a short taxi ride away is Mendoza Plaza, renowned as one of the most beautiful and largest malls in the country, with shopping galore, gastronomy and 10 cinemas.

On the far-east side of the hotel and downtown area lies the enormous central park of San Martin. It would take more than a day to negotiate some of the park, as it is 350 hectares and includes the Universidad Nacional de Cuyo, the World Cup Stadium, a 1,000-meter-long lake, the zoo, museums and a gigantic outdoor theater that seats 22,500.

The west corner of the Hyatt hotel sits on Sarmiento Street. Walking west on Sarmiento, we discovered restaurants in abundance.

At Estancia La Florencia (698 Sarmiento, near Peru Street; phone [0261] 429-1564, 429 3088 or 429 9117), we had homemade asparagus and sweet pea cream soups; grilled salmon with scrumptious shrimp salsa; a delectable sautéed shrimp in a divine sauce of cheese and garlic butter; warm bread; an unusual, heavenly apple-and-ice-cream dessert, and wine. The cost was 117 pesos ($37) for both of us.

Across the street, Parrilla Facundo (phone [0261] 420 2866) offered another savory repast of soups, trout, wine, beer and ice cream. This cost us 73 pesos ($23.50).

The service at both of these establishments was as excellent as the food, which explained their popularity with the locals, as they were full shortly after we arrived, with people waiting.

There are also numerous Italian food restaurants to choose from in this neighborhood.

This was our second 5-day trip to this gracious, hospitable colonial town, and we shall definitely return.

A.J. GOODHEAD

La Jolla, CA