A GREAT ESCAPE
Nothing whisks away the seasonal chills quite like some winter sun. So on the advice of a friend who has lived and traveled in Mexico since her childhood we recently made a trip to discover the renowned Guadalupe Wine Valley and surrounding areas of the Baja region. When it comes to wine tasting, I am by no means an expert, far from it, however we had been told that the cuisine there is world-class and the area unassumingly beautiful so naturally we were keen to explore.
For our stay in northern Mexico, we booked a boutique retreat in the mountains at Cuatro Cuatros vineyard, true to our passion for finding quieter places that fuse luxury and landscape. Our journey there included a stop in the small town of Rosarito on the promise that we would find the best tacos in Baja. Judging by the line that backed its way out of the restaurant and onto the bustling street, we were in the right place!
We arrived at our accommodation as the late afternoon light drenched the surrounding vineyards and olive groves and with just enough time to climb the hillside to watch the sun set over Baja's beautiful pacific coast.
Nestled in the mountains, Cuatro Cuatros is a cocoon of comfort offering a quietly luxurious ‘camping’ experience. Stylish cabanas with well appointed bathrooms offer everything you need. Breakfasts are leisurely and can be taken on private verandas and dinners accompanied by exciting artisanal wines, roll into the night. Food is homemade, local and flavorful and the staff at Cuatro Cuatros are extremely friendly, striving to provide exceptional service and comfort at every opportunity. With horse riding, hiking trails and a brand new tasting room there is something for everyone. Cuatro Cuatros proved to be the ideal place to relax and to soak up the laid back pace of local life while enjoying the vaguely alternative vibe that defines the entire Baja region.
The nearby Guadalupe Valle has been shaping itself in recent years as the next wine region. On first impression it seems quite remarkable that such apparently parched landscapes can produce such excellent wine with the limited natural resources available. As we traveled between three different boutique wineries the next day we were told by our local guide that the Valle’s arid microclimate was in fact ideal for wine cultivation. Summers are hot and dry; winters are wet and cool and during the warmer months, the breeze from the nearby Pacific Ocean help moderate temperatures. The Valle is not a place where large corporations have nested largely due to the restrictions on water. Rather it is where small ambitious families live and thrive off the land producing exceptional food and wines to meet the demand of locals and international visitors alike.
The abundance of boutique vineyards in this area is just part of Baja’s charm. The surrounding region is an experience in culture, language, tradition and for food aficionados an unexpected delight with restaurants presided over by talented chefs using stellar ingredients. Amongst the rugged landscape a vibrant architectural scene is also creating a buzz with stunning, contemporary designs being completed at a pace.
The subtle influences that come with cultural and economic change have created an interesting fusion of the old and the new in the Valle. Bumpy local roads interconnect with brand new highways populated by cars, pick-up trucks and shepherds on horseback. Modest dwellings and tin roofed grocery stores sit alongside cutting edge modern homes made from local materials. The state of the art wineries, themselves with pristine wine cellars, are a stark contrast to the jumble of roadside vendors selling olive oils, agave syrups and local wines.
Baja’s success story is largely due to it’s gracious and talented people who have successfully carved out a niche tourist scene while holding on to what makes the region unique. As the area continues to grow in popularity due to the proximity to the United States border and with the increased recognition for the mastery and creativity of the wine and food producers, local people and the forces of nature remain the guardians of this region. As a tourist destination Baja still has that feeling of being slightly under the radar with an absence of polish and abundance of local charm.
For another great write up on the Valle de Guadalupe and for further recommendations for eating and drinking see Vogue Magazine, linked below: