Estancia El Puesto, Argentina
A family-owned and operated horseback hike into the Andes mountains
Even in the rain there's an unplaceable charm to Estancia El Puesto. The home at the heart of the estate, an old goat farm, feels lived in—because it is. Owner Raul Labat has been entertaining guests there for years. Family members frequent the rooms, offering treats including dishes made with local produce. Labat himself shares stories and shows off their years worth of guest books. Around two hours from the city of Mendoza, Argentina (and its airport), Estancia El Puesto is the launchpad for adventure. It is the starting point for horse excursions into the Andes. And it is a warm, thoughtful place to ruminate on what's to come, who has passed through before and what the Andes mean in the context of it all.
The primary reason for visiting Estancia El Puesto is the excursions Labat commences from the estate. And there are options aplenty. We chose to go for a day-ride into the Precordillera—the base mountains that give way to the Andes. Depending on the season and one's desires, this can be extended into a weekend trip or something longer—including a six-day immersion. The horse riding expeditions feature unprecedented vistas and various landscapes. Labat doesn't just offer up a horse, but he (or someone from the estate) functions as an active guide. For first time horseback riders (or other novices), Labat is very hands-on. This is helpful when rising up trails with drops on one side. For those who want to forego the horses, there are also on foot treks and also 4x4 experiences.
As for the house, it features five en suite bedrooms; ample space for larger parties. More charming however is the living room with a giant picture window facing the mountains. There's a kitchen inside, and dining rooms both inside and out. There's also a front porch for resting or conversation, where one can set their hat and shawl down after a day trip. This is a rustic homestead and authenticity carries the most importance.
Hospitality also matters a great deal and much of it hails directly from Labat himself. The meals are cooked by his family. Much, if not all, of the food is locally sourced. The menu is traditional. And the wines all hail from the region. Conversation is always within reach, but quiet is offered for those looking to reflect. Labat's team of gauchos are quick to offer a hand when it comes to training on the animals or taking them out for a ride.
But again, the region itself stands as the primary draw. Estancia El Puesto is located in the Los Arboles district of the Uco Valley. This is western Argentina (closer to Santiago, Chile than Buenos Aires—though separated by the mountains), and it's best known (aside from the Andes) for its wines. Even in the summer months, the temperature does not rise much higher than 77 degrees Fahrenheit. And the difference between day and night can be extraordinary. But it is the lush landscapes, the glaciers and the immensity of the mountains that define one's aesthetic takeaway.
Images by David Graver