Itching to get away for the weekend, but not quite sure where to go? Less than two hours away from San Diego lies the Valle de Guadalupe, a region in Mexico that has so much to offer. It boasts 60+ wineries, award winning restaurants and outstanding weather, which serves as the perfect getaway foodies and explorers alike. And last weekend Brady and I had the weekend trip of a lifetime.
Quick tips if planning a trip to the Valle de Guadalupe
- Bring your passport. Unless you don’t want to return to the U.S., that is….
- Purchase Mexican Auto Insurance for the whole amount of time you are there as it is law in Mexico. I purchased insurance from AAA and for three days the cost ranged from $50-$72, depending on the coverage you prefer. Add medical for two for only $15.00 more.
- Bring change. The toll roads take both Pesos and Dollars, so make sure you have it handy for your road trip! A one-way trip to Valle de Guadalupe on the 1D will cost $8.
- Go the speed limit. As long as you are following the traffic laws, you won’t be pulled over!
- You can bring back one bottle of wine per person. Californians are limited to bringing back only one bottle of wine per person to curb competition of California wineries, so buy wisely.
- Bring bottled water. We bought a pack, which we used for drinking and to brush our teeth.
- It gets cold! Just because Mexico can get hot, hot, hot, the temperature drops dramatically in the evenings. Since most of their restaurants are outdoor you should bring warm clothes and focus on enjoying your meals instead of keeping warm!
- Keep your phone on airplane mode. Avoid roaming charges at all costs by purchasing a international package from your service provider. Hotel Boutique and many wineries have Wifi you can use while on airplane mode.
Once you pass the “Last American exit” sign you’re committed. There is no going back, no turning around. Crossing the border can be an unnerving task but the route to Valle de Guadalupe is very simple. As we crossed through a series of gates, bumps, and Federales, Brady and I looked at one another, high fived and said, “We are now international travelers!” We quickly merged onto the toll road 1D which followed the border fence for a few miles.
Once the road took a gentle turn left, we were right at the edge of the coast, look out into the the bright blue ocean. The 1D hugs the coastline for most of the drive down, providing absolute gorgeous views of the ocean bluffs and the Coronado Islands from a perspective you can’t help but appreciate. We passed Rosarito and Puerto Nuevo; places that I frequented with my family when I was little, and the farther south we drove, the bluer the ocean appeared. After about an hour and a half we reached a tollbooth that entered the city of Ensenada. This was our cue to turn onto the 3, a road that traveled East to the “Ruta del Vino” and straight to Hotel Boutique, our stay for the trip.
To reach Hotel Boutique you’ll travel down the bumpiest dirt road you could ever experience. I loved it. It was a reminder that we were truly off the beaten path, and added a little more personality and excitement to our international adventure. At the time the road felt very foreign, but after the next two days we would come to know it very well, including the several wineries and restaurants alongside it.
We pulled into the parking lot of Hotel Boutique and were instantly charmed. It has it all – a vineyard, gorgeous mountain views, an outdoor restaurant, horses, dogs, and other farm animals! The ranch feel that Hotel Boutique expels is extremely unique. We checked in and met Carlos, a very personable concierge who gave us a tour of the grounds and directed us to our room. The hotel itself has 24 rooms, making it the largest hotel in the Valle. Our room had a homey feel with an equestrian theme. We dropped our bags and headed up to Fuego for a celebratory Margarita (when in Mexico, right?) where we met Karen, the lead bartender. She gave us great tips about the best vineyards and restaurants around town, which was a great indication of the excellent hospitality we’d encounter over the next few days.
We had 8:00pm dinner reservations at El Jardin, and since neither of us had eaten since lunch we were ready to go. Located on the Adobe Guadalupe property, El Jardin is owned by South African Chef Ryan Steyn and boasts a #5 ranking out of the 188 restaurants in the area according to Trip Advisor. We enjoyed some amazing flavors, which you can read about in my full review here. The presentation of the food as well as the kindness of the staff was phenomenal. To be sitting under the stars feeling the crisp Mexican air, at a South African’s restaurant, eating food prepared by a head chef from France was quite a thrill. El Jardin is the perfect example of the melting pot of people and flavors the Valle de Guadalupe has to offer.
The next day, Brady and I were up literally before the crack of dawn and decided to take some shots of the sunrise around the Hotel Boutique grounds. While exploring, the owner’s adorable dogs playfully lead the way. We visited the horses (one fawn was 3 days old), walked through the vineyard and snapped some landscape photos. Being up with the sun gave us the chance to capture the true beauty and tranquility of the grounds of Hotel Boutique. I can honestly say it was one of my favorite moments there.
Despite having ten winery options less than a 5 minute drive from the hotel, we drove a little less than a mile to experience a private wine tasting at Lechuza winery. The ex-pat owners were extremely welcoming and we tasted some wonderful vino while listening to the history of their family owned vineyard. When you’re there definitely ask for their Amantes wine. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo and Grenache wines, it’s unquestionably unique and one of the best we tasted. More to come on this vineyard in an upcoming review!
Next we headed back down that long dirt road to Finca Altozano, a restaurant run by the famous Javier Plascencia, owner of Romesco’s in Bonita and soon-to-be Bracero in Little Italy. While the outdoor patio restaurant was casual and relaxed the flavors were anything but. We shared some uniquely flavorful dishes, took a tour of the grounds and tried mezcal for the first time. Stay tuned for the full restaurant review! But if you do find yourself in the area you must stop in, it’s my number one recommendation.
On the way back to our hotel, we stopped at three other wineries and a cemetery. We had a great time sipping wine, meeting people and having a laid back day. I think ‘laid back” and “relaxed” is a perfect way to describe the region, which makes it such a perfect vacation spot. Should you make the journey you will also notice that they take pet friendly to a whole other level. Their pets roamed the restaurants and vineyards freely, giving you a deeper appreciation for man’s best friend and the stress free attitudes abundant there.
That Saturday evening was a big night for Fuego, who hosted a 9 course wine pairing dinner for their First Anniversary celebration. Luckily for us, Fuego is connected to the hotel and about 10 feet from our room. We enjoyed delicious tastes from famous Mexican chefs from across the country and, of course, wine (and mezcal). We made a lot of friends that night and once again we were treated like family. The hospitality of the hotel owners and staff is something that I won’t soon forget.
I was genuinely sad to leave the Hotel Boutique and Valle de Guadalupe which was so full of beauty, culture and generosity. The two hotel staff members that I miss the most were Ender and Winter, the owners dogs that followed us with a deep curiosity everywhere we went. (Anyone who has stayed at Hotel Boutique will know exactly what I mean!) If you are looking to take a trip to get away from San Diego to a tranquil place full of culture, vineyards and gourmet restaurants, then you must explore the Valle de Guadalupe in Baja Mexico. It’s a short drive to a truly unique location. If you’re like us you’ll gain a deeper appreciation for Mexican culture and be grateful to have the opportunity to experience a new land. Salud!