Baja California is a favorite spot of San Diegans looking for a new beach to explore, or cheap eats to indulge in. The coastal town of Rosarito is a short 20 mile drive from the city and from the moment I moved to San Diego I kept hearing of friends spending the weekend partying and drinking at this spot without blowing their budgets. Being more of a cowgirl than clubber at heart another aspect of Mexico appealed to me, the wide open rural "ranchos" of the more inland regions of our southern neighbor. I dream of Mexico less in the way of spring break resorts, and more of the way of sun drenched desert towns, where horses and cattle outnumber people. My boyfriend had mentioned a wine route along vineyards and ranch homes just 2 hours time from our home. Valle de Guadalupe. It rang a bell, I recalled stories of Catholic settlements taking place here, and acres of grapes growing divinely up from the arid soil. We grabbed our passports, he was dreaming of sweet red wines and I of Azteca Sporthorses.
There are a few things to consider when visiting Mexico if you are driving. The first is border wait times, we were lucky and left early morning to avoid these. Secondly US car insurance is not valid in a foreign country. You can check border crossing times and insurance rates online. We crossed at Tijuana on our way to Guadalupe and Tecate on our way back. The drive was breathtaking. We drove along the coast with unobstructed views of the ocean from the highway cliffs. Colorful beach homes peppered by surrounding shanty homes with multimillion dollar views, Mexico was unlike anything you would find along our I-5 to LA.
Once inland the Valle de Guadalupe was rows upon rows of dormant grape vines rolling down sloped hill country, large estates planted at the center of each. Many of the roads are unpaved, and street dogs run alongside your car as you grip the steering wheel and bump along feeling like you finally entered the real wild west. We booked a stay at Hotel Boutique mainly because they were outfitted with horses, gorgeous grounds, and close proximity to wineries. Our first day there we dined at Finca Altozano, where they have goats and views aplenty and the al fresca menu includes fish so recently scooped from the sea the head clearly stares back; salads so tender they use new springs of lettuce from the garden right off the patio. I highly recommend this spot, they have 6 USD glasses of fine local wine and your experience begins with complementary fresh rustic bread and an array of homemade salsa dips. Warning, these are far spicier than the usual domestic fare. During our meal we met a family that realized were weren't from the area and kindly recommended the Las Nubes winery. Las Nubes means 'clouds' in Spanish and it was appropriately named, the views from high upon the hill were breathtaking and really felt as if you were high among the Nimbus and Cumbulus. They had several red wines, the Syrah 2015 which most pleased my partner, and he purchased a bottle to bring home. Tourists from the US must keep in mind only 2 bottles per person are allowed under stated laws to cross customs.
On our 2nd and final day in the valley we booked a high tea at the Adobe Guadalupe bed and breakfast and a trail ride at our resort. I would recommend switching those two. Enjoy your ride on the superior grounds at Adobe and have a meal at Fuego on the grounds at Hotel Boutique. A few tips that we will take advantage of upon our next visit: We are going to visit early summer where the grapes will be in stunning green bloom and will stay at an AirBnB in the neighboring town of Ensenada, only a few minutes away from the vineyards but with ocean views and even cheaper rates. If Napa is your glass of choice, Valle de Guadalupe may just be the diamond in the rough you've been missing! Salud!