Vail Daily travel: A trail of two vines
Vail Daily Travel Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
I began guiding hiking trips to Europe back in the summer of 1993. My first ever European experience was riding the rails from Zurich to Wengen, Switzerland. I was like a kid in a candy store as I hung out the window of the train, gazing at the spectacular scenery of the glacier-formed Lauterbrunnen Valley and the famous Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau peaks.
Who would have guessed that some 17 years later I would still be guiding people to some of the most spectacular places in the world?
By winter I am the product manager of the Beaver Creek Nordic Sports Center and by summer the director of the Beaver Creek Hiking Center. The combination is second to none. I began the hiking program 10 years ago when Tony O’Rourke, the executive director of the Beaver Creek Resort Company, approached me; his vision was to create a summer experience similar to that of the winter.
Let the story begin. This past autumn was an amazing time for travel. In late September I found myself with a small group of travelers in the Tuscan hillside some 26 miles outside of Florence. Our base for the week was a charming 17th century estate recently converted to an eco tourism-working farm called Fattoria Lavacchio (www.fattorialavacchio.com). This family-run business, which specializes in organic wines and olive oil, is Italy at its best; the villa, authentic Italian food and friendly staff always make it a stay to remember. This past trip we happened to be there during the grape harvest. The vines were dripping with dark red Sangiovese grapes. The weather was perfect for those in the fields. The trip included a full day exploring Florence, a VIP tour of the Uffizzi and, of course, the famous David at the Acadamia Museum. The hike days included Cinque Terre, as well as local hikes in the rolling Tuscan hillside. Did I mention the food and wine? Of course, that is a given – when in Italy do as the Italians do and indulge!
My story takes an interesting twist. Some eight days later I found myself not only in another country, but also in another hemisphere on yet another adventure. This time I was in Argentina for the start of my second trip of the fall, or should I say spring. This particular trip I call the Argentine Sampler, as it includes two days exploring charming and sophisticated Buenos Aires, four days of hiking the glaciers, lakes and peaks of Patagonia (El Calafate and El Chalten), as well as three days in the wine region of Mendoza.
From autumn in Tuscany to springtime in Argentina, one does have to marvel at modern-day travel possibilities. Our first stop was Buenos Aries, which is considered the Paris of Latin America, and for good reason. The architecture, culture and charm make it a must see stop. This city of 15 million people has it all, from the birthplace of the seductive tango dance in San Telmo, to the Italian-inspired village of La Boca, with pastel-colored buildings. One can even see where the popular Evita was laid to rest in the famous Recoleta Cemetery.
After three days in the city it was time for a new destination. The next stop was Mendoza, which lies at the foothills of the Andes Mountain Range and is the gateway to the 22,841-foot Aconcagua, South America’s tallest peak. The region is also known for its world renowned Malbec wines. From the Sangiovese/Chianti saturated vines of Tuscany, to the springtime buds of the Malbec vines in Mendoza, two countries and two amazing wine regions. The Cavas Wine Lodge (www.cavaswinelodge.com) was our base for three nights. Wine tours, hiking, massages and fine dining are all part of the Mendoza experience.
Our third and final destination took us to the Southern Patagonia region of Argentina. We arrived in the town of El Calafate, some three hours by plane or 18 hours by bus from Buenos Aires. El Calafate is the stepping off point for the famous Perito Merino and Upsala glaciers. By boat and by foot we explored this amazing glacier where forest meets ice. Words cannot describe the beauty of these ice massifs, from the turquoise blue water to the floating icebergs. One of the highlights during our hike on the glacier was stopping mid hike for an alfajor (cookie) and a low ball of whiskey that had been mellowed by the clear glacier ice, a definite first for me.
The icing on the cake was our journey to El Chalten, located some three hours north west of El Calafate. El Chalten is the youngest town in Argentina – it was established in 1985 – and is considered to be the hiking Mecca of South America. It’s where adventurer Yves Chouinard found his inspiration for the Patagonia brand of clothing. The two famous peaks of Cerro Torre and Monte Fitz Roy provide captivating views. While these peaks are rarely climbed, they are often photographed. The hiking in this region is second to none, and it’s a must-see and do while in Argentina.
Nate Goldberg splits his time between the Beaver Creek Nordic Center and Beaver Creek Hiking Center. He’s lived in the Vail Valley for 20 years and has guided international trips for 15 years. E-mail comments about this story to email@example.com.