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Friends Visit Ensenada for the Weekend: What to do?!

Friends Visit Ensenada for the Weekend: What to do?!

Finally, friends and family are coming to Baja California. True, there’s still that pesky cross-back into the United States at the end of an idyllic weekend, but at least other worries seem to have evaporated as quickly as a margarita on a hot day. In our excitement to welcome pals who have chosen to visit Ensenada for the weekend, we painstakingly put together a plan of attack, and attack we did! Check it out.

Welcome to Ensenada!

Welcome to Ensenada!

Friday afternoon and evening:  They arrived at San Diego international airport at around noon. We decided to give them a full loop tour of our northwestern part of Baja – entering the state through Tecate (‘gateway to Mexico’s Wine Country’), which offers a more scenic drive, and returning them to the U.S. on Monday, through Tijuana.

We drove east on Interstate 8 and eventually cut down to state route 94 that travels through Dulzura and some beautiful hill scenery, crossing the border into Tecate (a very fast process). Tecate, founded in 1892, is one of the pueblos magicos (magical towns) of Mexico thanks to its history, culture and charm, much of which is found on the main zocalo. This is a great spot to sit at a sidewalk café, beer in hand (guess which one), watching ice-cream vendors, shoe-shine people and domino players, before scouting out the town.

Visiting Ensenada for the weekend can mean a trip to beautiful Tecate.

Weekend visits to Ensenada can also involve side-trips to beautiful Tecate.

Continuing on Highway 3, Tecate-Ensenada, we headed south on the snaky but scenic road that brought us to the famous wine region, Valle de Guadalupe, where 90% of the nation’s wines are produced. It took us about 75 minutes to make this part of the trek.

Coming from this direction, Encuentro Guadalupe (and its hotel Endemico) is one of the first stops, on the right hand side of the road. With a panoramic vista of the valley, this is an ideal stopping spot for a copa de vino. 

Coming from Tecate, Encuentro is a great place to get a view of the wine valley.

Coming from Tecate, Encuentro is a great place to get a view of the wine valley.

A bit further on at kilometer 85.5 is Mogor Badan winery and Deckman’s El Mogor. There are many really good choices these days for eating in the Ensenada area, but we knew that Deckman’s, with its al fresco kitchen and dining, is unique and consistently good. It impressed our friends hugely and set the tone for a weekend to remember.

We headed home on Highway 3 west to Highway 1 towards Tijuana. Our goal was to stun our buddies with the dramatic rocky Ensenada coastline at sunset. It worked. They were also curious about the strange rings floating far below in the Pacific Ocean which are actually holding pens for tuna that are caught further out and brought to protected coves until they are harvested. But that was explained later as we sat on our back porch in the oceanfront community of Bajamar, listening to the distant sound of sea lions barking, and sipping a local wine.

Bajamar golf course is dramatic, on a peninsula jutting into the Pacific Ocean.

Bajamar golf course enjoys a dramatic setting overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Saturday morning: First, an early morning walk around Bajamar’s 27-hole golf course. One never knows what one will see in the a.m., with everything from bobcats to mountain lions to skunks traversing the open fairways. The stroll to the ocean bluffs allowed us to show off the recent archeological dig that has uncovered remnants of a prehistoric fishing camp. There have been several such digs on the huge peninsula that comprises Bajamar, one of which unearthed skeletal remains of indigenous people and an ancient whale skeleton.

Over-extending my plans, as usual, I had promised my friend Jo Ann Knox Martino that we would come out for a quick late morning trip to her brand new winery, Vintago, located against the hills of the Valle de Guadalupe near Baron Balche winery. We got there just as she unloaded a number of cases of her newest vintage, a Chardonnay. We didn’t get to taste that one, but a glass of Zinfandel-Nebbiolo was good consolation – and everyone forgave me for cramming so much into so little time!

Shopping for Day of the Dead art?  Ensenada's Lopez Mateos Blvd. is the place.

Shopping for Day of the Dead art? Ensenada’s Lopez Mateos Blvd. is the place.

Saturday afternoon: No trip to Ensenada is complete without a jaunt into town to walk along Lopez Mateos. This is the main shopping district and the diversity of goodies to be acquired in the little shops and tiendas lining the street is amazing: silver, purses, cotton clothing, Day of the Dead mementos, Talavera-style ceramic-ware, leather jackets and belts, and much more. Favorite stores include Bazaar Casa Ramirez, Los Castillos, Mario’s, Mexican Arts and Fausto Polanco. Of course, there are always detours…and Hussong’s Cantina is a must-do.

Speaking of must-do’s – we needed lunch. Our favorite on-the-dock spot in Ensenada is Muelle Tres restaurant. To me, going to this little eatery is like being in Marseilles, France. It is unpretentious, bright and clean.  The view out over the harbor is like an ever-changing diorama of little kids and grandparents, burly fishermen with bass and lingcod thrown over their shoulders, squawking seagulls, and colorful fishing boats. Over mussels and French fries, and giant bowls of house ceviche, we plotted our next move.

When visiting Ensenada, check out classical guitarist (here accompanied by fiddler Alex DePue).

When visiting Ensenada, check out classical guitarist Miguel de Hoyos (here accompanied by fiddler Alex DePue).

Saturday evening: Heading north back up the coast, at kilometer 58 we stopped at La Mision Hotel. On many Friday and Saturday nights, this is the place to hear some of the best music in all of Baja. The draw is not the hotel but Miguel de Hoyos, whose legendary classical guitar renditions of everything from rock to flamenco routinely bring patrons to their feet. After a few margaritas there, we drove the 10 minutes back south to our house; our friends were firmly ensnared in Baja’s web of magic and anticipating another day of their adventure.

Sunday morning: A favorite past-time is ‘the art walk’. We call it this, but it is really a leisurely amble up the coast towards Rosarito, pausing at galleries and curio stores on the way. Sometimes, we stop at Puerto Nuevo for early lunch – after all, it is the famous lobster village. But this day, we just went on to Popotla, a neighborhood and also a boulevard that runs from Calafia all the way up to Rosarito.

Popotla Blvd. is the 'art walk' and here at Polo Valencia's gallery is the place to find fine art.

Popotla Blvd. is the ‘art walk’ and here at Polo Valencia’s gallery is the place to find fine art.

An interior designer’s dream, Popotla Boulevard is lined with shops and even small factories creating everything to bring beauty to a home. There are several granite/travertine/marble outlets where slabs of materials and gorgeous bathroom and kitchen pieces are on display. Fine art galleries abound, including Galeria Klein and the Polo Valencia gallery. (Next door to Polo’s is the workshop of a man who makes spectacular mirrors and crucifixes). Iron work can be seen everywhere – even some sculptures that rise high into the air – and pieces can be commissioned. There are numerous woodworking shops, including that of David Martinez and the famous Casa de Carretera. And of course, ceramics. A favorite outlet for plates, glassware, candles and other items is Alex Curios.

In Rosarito, at Baja Gallery, work by artist Esau Andrade can be discovered.

In Rosarito, at Baja Gallery, work by artist Esau Andrade can be discovered.

At the Rosarito Beach Hotel, there are a number of small stores selling mementos and art, including the Baja Gallery run by Benito Aguilar. It is an eclectic collection, including everything from pieces by Robert Pace Kidd, an artist with a Western flair, to fantastical works by Esau Andrade.

Sunday afternoon and evening:  Tooling back south on Popotla Blvd. with goodies in hand, we opted for a stop at Ollie’s Pizza, kilometer 40.5. Ollie is actually a Belgian waterdog who greets customers upon their arrival. His owner, Richard Cargill, is the bloke who has cleverly created gourmet wood-fired pizzas and tasty little caprese and radish salads that attract a steady clientele even in off months. So does the “chocolate pizza,” so save room!

Ollie's Pizza, named after its host (a Belgian waterdog) offers gourmet fare.

Ollie’s Pizza is named after its host, a Belgian waterdog.

We made it to Splash! just in time to see the sun dip below the horizon (no ‘green flash’ that night, but we have seen it there before) and have an end-of-the-day Cadillac margarita (the only way to go). Splash! has become the expats ‘go-to’ spot, with evening music and unbeatable views—sort of the iconic Baja taco restaurant, where everyone knows your name.

Packed with food and drink,  we chilled out at home and planned our morning escape.

Monday morning:  Yes, crossing back into the US can be a challenge for those who visit Ensenada or anywhere in Baja Norte. For those of us with SENTRI cards (approved by the Department of Homeland Security), it’s usually quick and easy.  Travelers who have a radio frequency identification or RFID- enabled travel document can use the Ready Lane to expedite the inspection process while crossing the border. But, there is also the old-fashioned way. Sitting in line, passport in hand, and waiting. We usually recommend that our friends plan on crossing the border at around 9:30-10 a.m., but there are no guarantees. Any time of the day or night can be problematic.

Waiting in line at the border offers lots of opps for shopping!

Waiting in line at the border offers lots of opps for shopping!

We decided to go with tradition, waiting in the main line, and doing a little in-car shopping from the vendors who hawk their goods to people waiting in ‘la linea’ — everything from coffee drinks, to piñatas, Virgins of Guadalupe and even bobble-heads.  True, it was a 90 minute wait…but then we just spent more than 48 hours having a blast.

That’s what we did when friends visited Ensenada for the weekend…boring, huh?

 

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Romance, Wine and Azteca Horses: A Visit to Adobe Guadalupe in Mexico’s Wine Country

A Visit to Adobe Guadalupe in Mexico’s Wine Country:  Romance, Wine and Azteca Horses

by Carla White

Adobe Guadalupe in Mexico's wine country

It was Valentine’s Day, 2005, when my husband and I first met Don and Tru Miller.  Even though we live only 30 minutes from their working winery and bed and breakfast inn near Ensenada, in Mexico’s wine country, we had heard so much about Adobe Guadalupe that we decided to spend a romantic night there.  Happily, we found that all of the superlatives that had been applied to Adobe Guadalupe were true.  We returned home the next day with several of Don’s excellent wines in hand, and wondered how long Baja’s Valle de Guadalupe (the wine valley, just a little more than an hour south of the US border) would remain a secret.

Suffice it to say, the secret is out.

Adobe Guadalupe's wines are among the finest produced in Mexico's wine country.

Today, Adobe Guadalupe is recognized as one of the original players in what is seen as the ‘new age’ of Mexican wines.  With approximately 60 acres of vineyards where Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Nebbiolo, Cabernet Franc, Tempranillo, Shiraz and some Viognier are grown, the vinicola (winery) has garnered numerous awards and helped heighten the overall stature of Mexico’s wine industry.  In fact, Adobe Guadalupe and its owners have been instrumental in propelling the Valle de Guadalupe into the international spotlight as a region of high gastronomy, gracious hostelry and as a destination for visitors from throughout the world. Mexico’s wine country is trending, in a very big way.

The Annual Festival de Caballo Arte y Vino is held at Adobe Guadalupe in Mexico's wine country.

Over the years, I’ve visited the winery a number of times.  It plays host to one of my most favorite events in Baja California, the Annual Festival del Caballo, Arte y Vino (the Festival of the Horses, Art & Wine), which in 2013 will be held on Sunday, June 9.  For me, this is family friendly fun and offers an authentic experience in a spectacular environment.  The smell of carne asada, the whinnying of horses, the laughter of children, all framed by vineyards in bloom under vast valley skies is simply irresistible – as is the chance to taste local wines and meet the characters who produce them.

Recently, I had the opportunity to return to Adobe Guadalupe, once again. This time, though, Tru Miller introduced me to her newest love, a gentle-faced fellow called Donaldo.  He is certainly not as charming as Tru’s husband, Don Miller…but he is, after all, a horse.

 

An expert in dressage, Marci Plopper trains all of Adobe Guadalupe's horses, including Donaldo. Photo by Tomas Castelazo

Actually, he is one of number of horses raised under Tru’s auspices at Adobe Guadalupe, which is gaining fame as a premier stable for Azteca horses. Aztecas combine the characteristics of the original breeding horses, the Andalusian and the Quarter horse, and have now evolved into their own breed which has the stamina, elegance and movement required in any discipline of equestrian sport, whether it be dressage, eventing and jumping, or pleasure riding.  Adobe Guadalupe’s mares are bred to pure Spanish Andalusians.  The stables are currently home to 23 Aztecas (including five brood mares), and Tru works directly with potential buyers who are interested in acquiring these much-sought-after equines to refine their own lines.

Working with Tru on this aspect, and sharing her love for the Aztecas and all of the ranch horses, is Marci Plopper.  Marci has extensive background in international dressage (horses at Adobe Guadalupe begin their education with training in this discipline).  She also runs a weekly equine therapy program at Adobe Guadalupe for children afflicted with cerebral palsy. According to her, the children gain confidence and a sense of independence from being around and riding the quiet, patient ranch horses with which Marci matches them.  Each child has a volunteer team working with her or him of up to three people – local people who donate their time and without whom this program would not be possible.

Tru Miller (right) escorts guests Ana María Orta and Eduardo Kalb on a tour of Adobe Guadalupe's property.

Guests staying at Adobe Guadalupe are  offered the chance to tour the Valle de Guadalupe by horse, with rides ranging from one-to-two hours.  As appealing as this sounds, I am not sure that I wouldn’t rather take a tour of Adobe’s beautiful winery and then watch the riders head into the vineyards while sitting in the elegant courtyard sipping Don Miller’s newest blend – Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier – called Jardin Magico.   I also came to learn that Adobe Guadalupe is now extending the delicious offerings of its kitchen and winery not only to its guests but to the public, by reservation only, for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

I maintain that there is nothing like a romantic overnight get-away for Valentine’s Day.  But, barring that, perhaps a lovely dinner and wine in Mexico’s wine country.  And who knows…maybe there is a gentle-faced Azteca horse in my beloved’s future.  If so, I will know where I can find one.

How to get to Adobe Guadalupe:  From Highway 1 going towards Ensenada (the toll road), shortly past the toll booth, take Highway 3 towards Tecate.  Go approximately eight miles and take the El Tigre road, on your left.  You will take a right turn towards El Porvenir, going another 6.7 miles.  (You will pass La Escuelita, the wine school, and you will go through an intersection.  At the next stop sign, (Unidad Medica Familiar building) turn left and continue a half-mile further.  Adobe Guadalupe is on your right.

How to contact Adobe Guadalupe: You can email info@adobeguadalupe.com; or call (646) 155-2094 or 155-2527.

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

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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Mexico’s Wine Roots

By Carla White

Baja had its own mini-Gold Rush in the latter 1800s…but it didn’t pan out.  Another story for another blog.  However, just like Northern California, where there’s gold in them thar hills, there also seems to be very fertile soil.  Today, instead of panning for gold, entrepreneurs are planting grape stock.  This is Baja’s new ‘Gold Rush’…it’s liquid gold that can be grown sustainably, bottled and sold for anywhere from a few dollars to thousands of dollars.  This precious substance is wine, and it has a long history in Baja.

Santo Tomas wine

Mexican wine-making began in 1524 (making Mexico the oldest wine producer in the Americas), when conqueror Hernan Cortes ordered every Spaniard with a land grant from the crown to plant 1,000 grape vines for every 100 Indians in his employ.  The Spanish discovered that grapevines did well in Mexico; by the 17th century, wine exports from Spain to the New World had almost stopped.  This wasn’t good for Spain, so in 1699, crotchety Charles II of Spain banned wine making in Mexico, with the exception of wine for Church purposes. From then until Mexico’s independence, wines were produced in the country on only a small scale, but that has now changed.

Wine production in Mexico has risen in both quantity and quality, especially since the 1980s.  It has been painstakingly slow, in part because of high taxes and also because Mexico is not traditionally a wine-drinking country, but more oriented to beer, tequila and mezcal.  However, interest in wine and wine regions has grown, most especially in Baja California, which has been winning international awards for its products.  Here, over 90 percent of all Mexico’s wine is produced, mostly in the Valle de Guadalupe — Wine Route – with its more than 50 wineries.

Bodega Santo Tomas

(A great day trip south from Ensenada!)

The Baja wine conversation really begins with Santo Tomas winery.  Although Bodego Santo Tomas was founded by Miguel Ormart and Francisco Andonegui in 1888, the original Misión grape vineyards and 100 olive trees were actually planted in the late 1700’s by missionaries and by Loreto Amador.  General Abelardo Rodriquez purchased the lands in 1932, transforming them into a thriving high-production operation producing more than half-a-million cases of wine annually.  Today, under the directorship of Juan Pablo Núñez and the masterful hands of winemaker Laura Zamora, those very old vines and newer ones are generating a wide variety of grapes, resulting in some of Mexico’s finest vintages.

Santo Tomas produces a scope of internationally award-winning labels, including the reserve line known as El Viento; Tardo; and Misión and Misión 1888, Pixtos-Kanté and sparkling wines.  Although all of the Santo Tomas wines are unique, one that particularly seems to strike a chord with its audience is the premium Duetto, a combination of 60% cabernet sauvignon and 40% tempranillo.

Santo Tomas has an impressive history–one that is conveyed enjoyably at the very cool tours that the winery offers of its Valle de Santo Tomas operation, about 45 minutes south of Ensenada on Highway 1.  Tours range from a basic tour to an expensive and lengthy VIP tour (which includes a great wine-pairing meal).  All involve a trip through the  vineyards on a tractor-pulled taxi, with stops at wine barrels that are located throughout the property that denote a particular type of grape.  At one stop, tasters might sip a merlot; at another, a viognier, and so forth. It is quite sensual to experience the earth, the sun and the wind as you actually taste the wines that they produce.

You can also visit the historic Santo Tomas winery and its renowned La Embotelladora Vieja restaurant at 666 Avenida Miramar in downtown Ensenada. For information about wines or about scheduling tours, call marketing director Iván Cortez at his Ensenada cell number, (646) 151-9333 or email him at icortez@grupopando.com