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About Pola Henderson

Pola Henderson grew up in Krakow, Poland, lived in North Africa, and has called Chicago home since 2002. Her writing and photography on Jetting Around: City Travel Blog. showcases urban destinations and their culture. She loves city lights, views from above, coffee shops, and good reads. Pola can be found on Twitter, Facebook and Google + .

Discovering the Baja Wine Country in Mexico: Three Wineries and Some Travel Tips

Discovering the Baja Wine Country in Mexico by Pola Henderson, founder and editor  Jetting Around.

The oldest winery on Baja’s Wine Route dates back to the late 19th century. Nowadays, the growing region has scores of producers. Here’s a look at the wine country and three of its wineries. 

The Baja wine country has scores of wine producers.

The Baja Wine Country in the northwest corner of Mexico is comprised of three valleys: Guadalupe, Calafia and San Antonio de las Minas. This coastal, largely rural region has a long tradition of wine making – the oldest winery opened in 1888 – and keeps growing, slowly gaining international recognition. There are currently scores of wine producers, ranging from small, family-owned shops to large-scale operations.

Visiting the area reminded me of wine tasting in Sonoma, California, thanks to the landscape and presence of boutique wineries. The main difference (and concern) was the number of bottles I could take home and the overall availability of the wines outside Baja.

Generally, travelers entering the US can bring one liter of alcohol per person duty-free, which translates to one 750 ml bottle of wine. Also, many of the wines are hard to find elsewhere. While they have been distributed in Mexico and even Europe, it hasn’t been the case with the US and Canada until recently, due to trade policies. Even now, they are not easily found.

In spite of the fact that you are likely to taste more wine that you could bring with you, Ruta del Vino (Wine Route) is well-worth a visit. The mountainous setting is serene, the atmosphere is laid-back and welcoming, and the wines are excellent.

I had mostly reds (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, blends) and many were served with cheese and/or bread with olive oil. There were no crowds, I didn’t feel rushed, and the winemakers were easy to talk to – in English and Spanish. In addition to wineries, the valley has quality restaurants and lodging, museums, art galleries, and natural sites.

WINERIES

I stopped at these three wineries in the town of San Antonio de las Minas. They differed in size and atmosphere, but all provided a quality experience.

Vitivinícola Tres Valles

The artisan winery was founded in 1999 and draws inspiration from the region’s history. The names of their wines (four types of red and one white) come from the language of the Kiliwa, an indigenous people of northern Baja California (e.g. kuwal means red and kojaa wine). Labels have images of spiders and snakes from the area, and outside the tasting room are statues of the same, made of wine barrels and metal parts.

Our wine tasting was preceded by a tour of the wine cellar, which you enter through a narrow stone staircase. The tasting room is cozy and features bottles hanging from the ceiling.

Barrels of Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon at Tres Valles winery

Wine names come from the language of the indigenous Kiliwa people

View of the valley from the tasting room. The sculpture is a nod to the region’s natural history.

Viña de Liceaga

Established in 1983, this larger winery has a spacious tasting room, an outdoor patio, and a forest of shade trees. You enter the property through white-washed stone gate and proceed to the main entrance through a gravel driveway.

Liceaga specializes in red wine, mainly Merlot- and Cabernet-heavy blends, as well as a line of grappa (a type of brandy) named Aqua de Vid. The winery also hosts events, such as cheese festivals and dinner events with live music.

Liceaga has a spacious tasting room and restaurant

You can enjoy wine and views of the property from the shaded patio

La Casa Vieja

The winery is located in an adobe ranch home from the 1800′s, hence the name (meaning “the old house” in Spanish). Casa Vieja has been producing wine since 2006 and features a wine bar, restaurant, and shaded patio. There’s also a gift shop selling jewelry, textiles and natural body care products. Art events throughout the year showcase local talent.

It is easy to relax in the snug tasting room, which is painted orange and has simple light wood furniture. You may be greeted by a parrot  and asked by the owner to pin your hometown on a map hanging in the corner. White and red wine is served with excellent cheese, olives, bread and olive oil, and other grilled foods are available in the restaurants.

The tasting room is inside an adobe home from the 1800′s

Wine is served with cheese, olives, bread and olive oil

GETTING THERE 

  • The area is only about 70 miles from the US border near San Diego and there are guided tours available.
  • You could combine your visit with a stay in Ensenada, a port town about a half hour’s drive from the valley. It is easily accessible by bus from Tijuana/US border, and renting a taxi in Ensenada to the wine country costs around 450 pesos ($35), round trip.

Have you been to Baja California or elsewhere in Mexico? Maybe it’s time to take a visit to Ensenada!

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula, supported by a full-service tour operator staffed by Baja locals (our “Baja Travel Savants”). We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotels and vacation rentals, as well as guides, maps and articles about events, sports and activities. We provide bilingual customer support, information and sales seven days a week, 365 days a year.  For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 

 

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A Visit to Ensenada: Recommendations for Exploring or Just a Weekend Trip

A Visit to Ensenada by Pola Henderson, founder and editor  Jetting Around.

What are the things to do in the coastal town in Mexico, located about 70 miles south of San Diego and the US border?

Ensenada (Spanish for “cove” or “inlet”) is the third largest city in Baja California and an important commercial and tourism seaport on the Pacific side of Mexico. The first European to reach it by sea was Portuguese explorer Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo in 1542, the same one who also arrived at present-day Point Loma Peninsula in San Diego, California.

Situated on the coastline of Bahía de Todos Santos (All Saints’ Bay), surrounded by small mountain ranges, and with a mild weather all year long, Ensenada is a relaxing destination for travelers with diverse interests. There is surfing and scuba diving, lots of dining and nightlife options, and the nearby Baja California Wine Country.

Here are five highlights from my visit to Ensenada. I recommend these as a starting point for exploring the area, or if you just visit for a weekend.

A visit to Ensenada must include Avenida Adolfo López Mateos – the main street downtown Ensenada

1. Downtown and waterfront

Avenida Adolfo López Mateos – the main drag downtown Ensenada – is lined with restaurants, cafes, bars and shops. It’s a lovely place to take an afternoon walk or enjoy al fresco dining.

Since it’s near the cruise ship dock, you will likely run into visitors who are in town for only a few hours and many businesses in the area seem to cater to them. However, you can spot locals, too – especially in some of the more hip restaurants along the avenue – and find a quiet spot if you try one of the side streets.

Another good place for a stroll and catching sunsets over the Pacific is the waterfront. Near the fish market (see #3 below), I stumbled upon a boating dock with great views of the bay.

Boats docked along the waterfront

2. Outside downtown

One afternoon, I headed several blocks north to Parque Revolución. The mid-sized park was filled with families – children playing, adults participating in an outdoor dancing event – and vendors selling sugar-dipped churros. The park was pretty and offered views of nearby hills but that’s not why I went there. The little excursion was my chance to see what everyday life looks like in Ensenada.

I walked through an outdoor market and past stores selling groceries, clothes, electronics, and even tires. The streets were less manicured than downtown and there were hundreds of people everywhere, navigating narrow sidewalks. I bought hot pancake-like treats from a food stand, ate them while trying to not run into anybody, and for a few minutes I felt not merely an observer, but part of the neighborhood’s rhythm. Everything was louder, faster, and wonderfully chaotic.

3. Food

Even though Ensenada is not an ideal place for vegetarians like me, the city’s dining scene is worth a mention.

Given the proximity to the ocean, the local cuisine is largely based on seafood – the freshest kind you can find. There are several food stands downtown selling ceviche, tostadas, clams, shrimp cocktails, and other specialties.

My husband’s picks are:

Mariscos La Guerrerense at the corner of Alvarado and Avenida Adolfo López Mateos, and especially their sea urchin tostadas served with home-made salsas.
Mercado de Mariscos (Ensenada Fish Market) at Avenida Miramar and Boulevard Costero.

Food preparation at Mariscos La Guerrerense

I didn’t go hungry in Ensenada, though. Many restaurants served cheese enchiladas and entomatadas ( a typical dish made with a fried corn tortilla and soaked in a sauce of tomatoes, garlic, onion, oregano, chile serrano and salt).  I had very good vegetarian tacos at a corner taqueria, after I asked the owner if she could make me some. I also ate a delicious meal of steamed rice and flavored vegetables at… a seafood restaurant.

People took great care of me, even if at first they may have been surprised. Chances are that if you travel with a group of people with different dietary needs, you will find something for everybody.

4. Coffee and drinks

At La Casa Antigua Café (Calle Obregón 110), I found a retro vibe, excellent coffee, and… a barista singing and playing the guitar. This charming place off the main strip is located inside a little old house with a porch and is decorated with vintage coffee grinders and photographs. Pastries, sandwiches, and bagels are also available.

La Casa Antigua Café serves coffee and snacks in a little old house

The family-owned Hussong’s Cantina (Ruiz 113) was founded in 1892 and is the oldest cantina in the Californias (i.e. California in the US and Baja California, Mexico). It’s believed to be the place where margarita was invented in 1941.

White walls covered with lots of photos, green paneling, and dark wood furniture create a classic and cozy space. Hussong’s attracts all sorts of patrons: men and women, young and old, groups of friends, couples on a date. If you go, you might catch a band playing norteño music.

On a Friday night at Hussong’s Cantina

5. Baja’s Wine Country

The Baja Wine Route (Ruta del Vino) includes over 50 wineries in the Valle de Guadalupe to the northeast of Ensenada. The growing region has a variety of producers – big and small, independent and commercial – and the oldest winery dates back to 1888.

My experience in the wine country was very much like visiting Sonoma, with the exception of the number of bottles I could bring back to the US duty-free. Generally it is one liter per person, which translated to one 750 ml bottle of wine. Because of that, I did more tasting that buying – and the wine was very good.

There were some whites, but mostly reds (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, and blends), and the places I visited served them with cheese and/or bread with olive oil. Almost everyone at the tastings spoke both Spanish and English.

Bajas Wine Route covers three valleys: Guadalupe, Calafia and San Antonio de las Minas

Wine is served with bread, cheese and olives at Casa Vieja winery

The route to Ensenada can be an experience in itself. The town is easily accessible from Tijuana on the US border via ABC buses – the ride is about 1 hr 45 min long and takes you along the Pacific coastline. To catch the scenic views, ask for seats on the right side of the bus when you buy your tickets.

The Pacific Coast between Tijuana and Ensenada, as seen from a bus

Have you been to Baja California or elsewhere in Mexico? Maybe it’s time to take a visit to Ensenada!

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula, supported by a full-service tour operator staffed by Baja locals (our “Baja Travel Savants”). We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotels and vacation rentals, as well as guides, maps and articles about events, sports and activities. We provide bilingual customer support, information and sales seven days a week, 365 days a year.  For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 

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