The Baja California region, specifically Valle de Guadalupe, is one of the most alluring food and wine destinations in North America at the moment. It’s sophisticated yet genuinely rustic, traditional but wildly hip and innovative has a rustic feel that is completely different from the Napa region, but equally enjoyable, and is still mostly undiscovered by the masses. Oh, and it was rated as one of 2014's wine travel destinations of the year by Wine Magazine!
So if you’re looking for an adventurous weekend with a bountiful selection of must-try limited-release wines and remarkable food from some of Mexico’s most talked about restaurants, head south of the border about 90 minutes.
Jesuit priests were the original winemakers in Valle de Guadalupe back in the 18th century. Tourists, however, didn’t start visiting until 2006, when the road between Ensenada and Tecate was paved.
The flood of visitors stopped in 2008, a time when the economic downturn and a rash of drug violence on the border caused people to stop visiting Mexico. But American visitors started trickling back in 2014, and the cartel wars have essentially ceased, so Americans looking for an adventure have begun coming back.
Where to Stay
A grand hacienda style building houses both the winery and an upscale six bedroom bed-and-breakfast, and is surrounded by sixty acres of thriving vineyards. In the distance, impressively large, rocky, mountains rise toward the sky.
Adobe Guadalupe is also the largest breeder of Azteca Sport horses in the world, and a favorite visitor activity is a delightful horseback ride through the vineyards.
Perched on a hilltop in the heart of the Mexican Wine Country, La Villa del Valle is a small, luxury inn with 6 rooms. This secluded relaxing sanctuary lies in the beautiful Guadalupe Valley with commanding panoramic views of vineyards, olive groves, rows of fragrant lavender and mountains on all sides.
Relax under the shade of the olive trees, walk the labyrinth, explore the fruit orchards and vegetable gardens, visit the vineyard, and enjoy the pool and jacuzzi. You can even play bocce or just sit and soak in the sweeping views from the loggia, verandah or the comfort of your room.
Encuentro Guadalupe sits on over 200 acres of rugged hillsides and verdant vineyards; this is modern luxury meets eco-resort. In fact, it’s called an “anti-resort”, which means no kids or cars are allowed where the guests reside.
Perched in the midst of an ecological preserve, you’ll find 20 freestanding eco-lofts on stilts among mammoth rock formations, and one residential eco-villa. Encuentro Guadalupe has drawn global attention and was named Best Small Hotel on Travel + Leisure’s Design Awards list in 2012.
Where to Eat
Farm-to-table cuisine abounds among restaurants that rival anything you’ll find in Napa, yet at a fraction of the cost. An influx of talented chefs are fueling the Valle de Guadalupe’s status as a critical darling among culinary tourists from Mexico City to New York.
Laja, the restaurant food bloggers have dubbed Mexico’s French Laundry, offers just-picked vegetables, homemade bread and local olive oil, meat and seafood that are creatively and expertly cooked.
There may be no more unique dinner destination in all of the Valle de Guadalupe than Deckman's at El Mogor. Drew Deckman, a Michelin star chef, cooks entirely with firewood (no gas) in traditional Baja style and the food is phenomenal. The “restaurant” consists of wooden tables under some pine trees and bulb lights are strung through the branches. Truly a magical experience.
Finca Altozana, like Deckman’s has a kitchen and dining area that are kept almost entirely outdoors, under a thin metal roof. There’s no lack of seating, but reservations are hard to come by as this might be one of the most popular restaurants in the Valle at the moment.
Wineries to Visit
Ask your hotel to recommend wineries holding special events and to check whether reservations are required; wineries often lack specific addresses and can be hard to find. Here is a list of wineries that I think you will enjoy:
Enjoy your trip and don’t forget that you’re only allowed to bring back 1 liter per person into California!