Guadalupe Valley: Where to Eat, Drink, and Stay
Baja California's Guadalupe Valley isn't exactly a secret, but it's still the most underrated wine region in the world. We've been down about a dozen times now, visiting around 20 of the more than 100 wineries in the area -- and everything keeps getting better. The combination of unparalleled food, wine, ambience, architecture, and views play perfectly off of each other in a frontier like setting peppered with luxury.
To get the best possible results from your trip to "The Valle", come down on a week day; You'll pretty much have the whole valley to yourselves. If you're a weekend warrior like us, there's still plenty of reason to hoof it down here for an afternoon or an overnight jaunt. We've done all of the above combinations, and on this particular trip opted to stay Saturday night at the remarkable Hotel Boutique Valle de Guadalupe
The food truck Troika at Vena Cava Winery serves some of the best fare we've had anywhere in the world. Period. Here we're indulging in the Pulpo tostadas and the Léchon tacos -- Baby Octopus with avocado and salsa fresco on fried corn tortillas, and suckling pig tacos. The Léchon in particular is easily worth the drive down. It's jackpot territory, a triumphant celebration of life dripping with flavor and melting in your mouth. We tacked on an order of the piping hot and garlic laden truffle fries, and of course two heavy pours of our favorite Merlot made on site. The winery is unique for housing their collection of wines inside two massive overturned fishing boats that were brought in from the nearby coastal city of Ensenada -- it's been covered by NPR and LA Times among others, but Troika doesn't carry the wait times and price gouging that some of the other hyped up spots in the Valle do.
La Almazara perfectly typifies the spirit of Guadalupe Valley. This excellent winery has an extremely understated facade when approaching the tasting room and restaurant. You drive down a dirt road through miles of olive trees before arriving at a small parking lot next to a stable full of horses. We weren't even sure if they were open. We followed our noses to the tasting room, which opens to an outside seating area featuring fire pits and sweeping vistas of the surrounding vineyard. Our table was fixed upon an oak cask, and the cabernets arrived in short order. We highly recommend taking the time to visit La Almazara, and definitely pick up a bottle of fresh pressed olive oil for the road.
Hotel Boutique Valle de Guadalupe is one of the relatively affordable luxury digs in the Valle. Overnight accommodation in the Valle is not particularly cheap, running between $150 and $700 a night. There are a few cheaper options on Airbnb, but you're rolling the dice and betting on the pictures telling the whole story of the room. We had a friend who booked an Airstream trailer for $50 a night, and came to find that the pictures posted online absolutely didn't reflect the reality of the accommodation. Hotel Boutique runs around $200 a night for weekends, but you can be sure that you're getting a good deal. The grounds are immaculately landscaped and maintained, wooden bridges over a meandering stream lead to cushioned nooks for eating and drinking, and the curved architecture of the central room block calls to mind the famed Quinta Real in Zacatecas. There's also a swimming pool and jacuzzi that sit beside the vineyard here, and free bikes that we in fact rode to another nearby vineyard for a sunset tasting.
La Cocina de Doña Esthela is another milestone in the Valle. It's wildly popular, so make sure to get there before 10 am if you're going on a weekend. The draw here is the Borrego Tatemado, a fire roasted lamb dish that will buckle your knees with it's commanding flavor. Sampling the Cafe de Ola is essential; for the uninitiated, it's coffee infused with cinnamon and orange peel.
The Guadalupe Valley is hands down our favorite wine region in the world. Having been to Tuscany, Napa, Marlborough Region of New Zealand, and Temecula, we have a fairly substantial basis from which to draw comparisons -- and the Valle wins every time. The Baja culture here is so magnificently unique; it's simultaneously rustic and cutting edge. It's innovation flanked by tradition, and the people and place imbue their food and wine with a magical character distinct to this dusty road riddled oasis on the Baja peninsula. We spent about $500 for the two day trip down here -- The value we got out of our experience was far and away in excess of this little splurge.