A Weekend in Valle de Guadalupe
Just a short hour and a half drive from the San Diego border, Mexico's Valle de Guadalupe is a an up-and-coming food and wine destination worthy of global recognition. Often referred to as the Napa Valley of Mexico, Mexico's Valle de Guadalupe has all the charm and leisure of its Alta California counterpart, without the crowds and the cost. The low-key, thoroughly Mexico vibe invites you to relax, sip on some truly excellent wines, and enjoy an idyllic wine region.
For those venturing from California, I found the easiest / fastest way was to walk across the border from San Diego at the PedWest border crossing in San Ysidro, hopping in a taxi to a nearby rental car spot (don't pay more than $5, really should be $3-$4), and renting a car for the drive south in Tijuana. If you opt to drive across the border, expect to wait several hours at the border crossing (keep in mind, that if you rent a car in San Diego, many rental agencies don't allow you to drive into Mexico). Do make sure regardless of how you get in that you have Mexican car insurance, as US car insurance and credit card insurance is not accepted. I rented a car with SIXT in Tijuana and was able to purchase the necessary insurance through them.
Once you're across the border with a car, the drive to Valle de Guadalupe is simple, following highway 1 to Ensenada and cutting inland from there.
** If you need to gas up leaving or returning to Tijuana, I highly recommend gassing up at a Rendichicas location, an all female gas station where the service is easy, clean, & friendly. **
Where to Stay
Hotel Partana / A newcomer to the scene, Hotel Partana opened late summer 2018 and boasts 6 rooms spread between 3 industrial chic structures. The buildings blend black metal with wood elements and are surrounded by vineyards, providing a tranquil escape. Conveniently, the adjacent property is home to Finca Altozano Restaurant, Animalon restaurant, Lupe, and das Cortez coffee shop, making food options within a short 2 min walk.
Bruma / Designed by local architect, Alejandro D'Acosta, Bruma's cluster of buildings all blend with the natural landscape and are advertised as eco-luxury. The hotel has a mixture of hotel rooms and villas with private pools and is now home to Fauna restaurant (see below).
Encuentro Guadalupe / Composed of individual eco-casitas scattered over the hillside, Encuentro Guadalupe offers panoramic views of the surrounding valle. The main building is home to the winery, restaurant, and common spaces.
Almost 70% of the wine produced in Mexico is made in Baja California, with the majority done in Valle de Guadalupe. There are over 100 wineries along the Ruta del Vino, with more springing up with each passing year. Here are some recommended wineries to visit:
Clos de Tres Cantos / Another Alejandro D'Acosta design, Clos de Tres Cantos is built from 90% reclaimed materials and is built to resemble old monasteries from the region (hence the name). From concrete walls, to swiveling wooden doors, to a wall of wine bottles, the winery is an architectural dream. There is a selection of tastings and cheese/charcuterie board options to be enjoyed inside or outside overlooking the panoramic views. It seems that when I was visiting they were about to open two hotel rooms as well, which would perhaps be a fun place to stay in the future.
Lechuza / Lechuza has gained notoriety over the years for being served at Thomas Keller restaurants, notably the French Laundry and his recently opened Mexican restaurant, La Calenda. Lechuza is a family owned and operated winery with tastings offered indoors or outdoors. Reservations necessary.
Vena Cava / Built from salvaged boats, Vena Cava winery has been dubbed the "hippest" winery in Mexico and is a complete Valle de Guadalupe wine experience. Tastings are available daily, but reservations are recommended.
Photo from venacavawine.com
Other wineries that come recommended by friends (sadly, I just didn't have enough days to hit them all) are Finca La Carrodilla, Monte Xanic (try the Gran Ricardo blend), and La Lomita.
Like most premiere wine growing regions worldwide, food goes hand in hand with quality wines. Laid-back fine dining and campestre style open air cooking are most prominent in the Valle, with local chefs working primarily with seasonal and local ingredients. I found each food destination we visited to have an unpretentious and authentically Mexican vibe.
La Cocina de Dona Estela / Hands down my most memorable meal in the Valle was breakfast at this local favorite. The drive to Dona Estela's is a bit harrowing, as the dirt road is rocky, full of ups and downs, and giant puddles, but it is 1000% worth the effort. Order whatever you want, but don't miss the borrego tatemado, slow cooked lamb with its juice on the side, served with fresh tortillas, cilantro, onions, and lime to make little tacos. We were seated immediately at 8:30am on a Sunday morning, but the restaurant was completely full with a waitlist when we left, so plan accordingly.
Malva / Another favorite somewhat hidden gem experience, Malva's easy going, slightly punk approach to restaurant design and food was a most welcome change from other restaurants nearby. Diners can opt for a 3, 6 or 9 course tasting menu (3/6 course menus you get to pick dishes, while 9 course is selected by the Chef). My friend and I both chose 3-courses and felt that the portions were super generous, with each dish thoughtful and tasty. The Chef and wait staff were also super friendly, comping us a delicious malva lava cake dessert and walking us to our car with umbrellas.
Fauna / Undeniably the most posh dining option in the Valle, Fauna is considered the new premier tasting menu in the area and was recommended to us by multiple locals. Located on the lux Bruma hotel property, Fauna offers both a tasting menu and a la carte options, all served in an earthy space with communal tables. Reservations necessary.
Deckman's en El Mogor / Chef Drew Deckman's restaurant is a sustainable dining establishment where all food is sourced from the Mogor Estate where the restaurant sits and is prepared in an outdoor, open air kitchen. Reservations recommended.
Finca Altozano / Chef Javier Plascencia's open air restaurant dedicated to over the fire grilled foods was our first dining stop in the Valle, and was a welcome introduction to casual dining in the area.
Laja / The oldest fine dining restaurant in the Valle, Laja by Chef Jair Tellez is consistently ranked on Latin America's 50 Best List and has been lauded as the French Laundry of Baja. The restaurant, housed in a stone barn-like building is an homage to the region and its products. Open for lunch and dinner with tasting menu options only. Reservations recommended.
What to Pack
Since I visited in February, the weather was a bit cooler, particularly in the evenings so layers and scarves are recommended as are booties. Summer months can be quite hot so pack light, breathable pieces in linens or cotton. Sunglasses, a hat, and a light sweater are useful year-round.
Take a friend or two and enjoy a delightful weekend in Valle de Guadalupe!