Like Napa 50 Years Ago

Like Napa 50 Years Ago

“Life is so pampered in this part of the world,” writes Correspondent Siri Lise Doub, “that you can feel like a guest in your own home.

“Can all this beauty, service, and quality of life be affordable, too? Surprisingly, yes. Your gardener’s salary? US$100 a month. Grandchildren coming to visit? A full-time nanny costs US$400 a month; a full-time maid, the same. A round of golf is US$4; a cup of coffee is 95 cents. A good table wine is US$2–a really good one, US$5.

“For the active retiree, who isn’t ready to sit back and rock on his front porch, there really is no better place than the Mendoza province of Argentina. Sports enthusiasts enjoy skiing, hiking, climbing, bird-watching, white-water rafting, kayaking, even kite-surfing. And golfers rejoice: Argentina has more golf courses than the rest of Latin America combined.

“Nature enthusiasts have their share of activities, as well, thanks to the vibrant natural bird life, inactive volcanoes, rivers and lakes, and reserves of guanacos and vicunas (relatives of the llama). And, after a day on the rocks or waters here, you can tango the night away at one of the many entertainment venues…or simply relax at the spas of Pismanta, which offer everything from hydro-massages and mud-therapy treatments to a vaporarium.

“Then again, in this part of the world, kicking back in a rocking chair on your front porch isn’t a bad option here, either. With breathtaking views of the Western Hemisphere’s highest point–the 6,959-meter high Cerro Aconcagua (the “roof of Americas”)–and the rolling vineyards that have made this region popular among wine aficionados across the world, Mendoza’s beauty attracts as many visitors as its sports activities.

“Wine, relaxation, and sports provide the recipe for a great vacation. But what about day-to-day living?

“Mendoza has a near-perfect climate. Its laid-back atmosphere, safe cities, strong infrastructure, unspoiled culture, affordability, and reliable and friendly people are drawing the attention of expats from around the world. And, with skiing in winter, sailing and trekking in summer, this region is as enticing as such premier vacation destinations as Switzerland and northern Italy….yet the cost of living is literally a fraction what it is in those

“A drive west from Buenos Aires into the Cuyo province takes you across the desert park of San Luis and into the Mendoza region. You feel the rolling hillsides almost before they appear…then you see the vineyards and the lush hillsides that are putting Argentina on the world’s wine map, all back-dropped by the formidable Andean mountain

“Visitors to the Mendoza province are often captivated by San Rafael’s charms. Tom Phelan, an American now living in Mendoza province, came for three weeks and stayed three months–before he decided to stay for good. I’ve heard again and again of other travelers who’ve had the same experience. They came to visit, then couldn’t bear to leave. Today, it’s estimated that 400 American families live in the area.

“San Rafael’s situation is unique–right where the Ríos Diamante and Atuel emerge from the Andean foothills. The lushness of the town, in stark contrast to the neighboring desert landscape, explains the prosperity of its sprawling vineyards. Sanrafaelinos embrace their rivers: Atuel is the perfect starter river for rafters, while the Diamante offers some of the most exciting rafting in the country.

“It’s been said that San Rafael (with about 170,000 residents) is to Mendoza as Sonoma is to Napa, California–smaller and quieter but with great wine. Tom equates it to the Norman Rockwell California of 50 years ago. Still, it’s probably the most modern of Mendoza’s towns.

“You’ll immediately notice the relaxed atmosphere. It feels like a forgotten European town. Acequias, or streetside canals, line the clean, broad sidewalks where cafés buzz with the conversation of people tomar un cafe (taking a coffee). The central square is alive with couples walking hand-in-hand and kids on bikes, their girlfriends riding on the handlebars, and the benches are crowded with people chatting in the shade of the sycamore trees. San Martin’s heroic Andes crossing is eternalized by a bronze statue here, and the classical San Rafael cathedral looms from the square’s northeastern corner. There’s not a fast-food restaurant in sight.

“The afternoon siesta, which lasts from lunch to about 4 p.m., quiets town traffic and creates a calmness along the streets in the afternoon sun. The town comes alive again at dusk.

“San Rafael is flat and laid out in a grid, so it’s very walkable and easy to figure out. Move here, and you’ll never have to get in your car again. Better still, bring your bike and leave your car behind. (Argentina has one of the highest traffic accident rates in the world.)

“Bicipartes is a good bike rental spot. The most popular ride leaves from the shop and runs parallel to Avenida Hipolito Yirigoyen. The wide bike lane here goes straight through the heart of San Rafael’s wine country, taking you past a multitude of wineries…”

Kathleen Peddicord

Editor’s Note: A full Mendoza Retirement Report is available here.

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