Cafayate (or, cah-fah-zha-tay as the locals pronounce it) used to be a backpacker’s dream but now it’s serious business for serious wine makers and romantics escaping the humdrum existence of city life. You can even spoil a walk by playing on one of the country’s best golf courses – preferably with a glass of crisp Torrontes in your hand (it may even help you swing more freely).
It’s a valley of spectacular mountainous ridges and a landscape that is forever surprising the eye. The changing light of the day gives off colours from hot pink and salmon, to intense ochre, sulphur yellows and avocado green. A photographer’s dream. I wonder what Ansel Adams would have made of this. He would have no doubt been in heaven. Higher up in the Puna you could forgive yourself for thinking you were in an Alice in Wonderland fantasy world of Tiramisu and Italian ice cream. At nighttime, with no artificial light to intrude, the brilliant southern sky is awash with dazzling stars. Better experienced with a glass of local wine, of course.
From Cafayate itself you can see stretched in the distance the faint outline of Nevado de Cachi and the gateway to some of the highest peaks of South America. Close by is Colome Bodega and home to the highest grown vineyards in the world at 3300 meters.
This is a place not for European settlers but rather an indigenous community shaped by the terroir they have shared for generations. The same goes for the wine which has been shaped by this remote and achingly beautiful corner of Argentina.
Argentina, five times the size of France, a land of tango, Maradona, Evita, the Gaucho, isolated Welsh-speaking villages in Patagonia and wines of a truly international standard. But not from where you would immediately think. Yes not Mendoza but Cafayate.
To get to Cafayate you fly in to Salta (nicknamed Salta La Linda, meaning beautiful Salta) – a classically preserved Spanish colonial city with whitewashed buildings and colonnades. It was founded in 1582 by the Spanish conquistador Hernando de Lerma, who intended the settlement to be an outpost between Lima, Peru and Buenos Aires.