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Patagonian lakes wine tour

Patagonia's flagrant beauty and untamed wilderness put it at the top of the bucket list for any wanderlust traveller, and the region’s wines are hidden gems of South America, says Amanda Barnes....

Patagonia is a diverse land shared between Chile and Argentina, on the southern tip of the continent. At the far south, ice fields, glaciers and rugged mountains offer the final stepping stone to Antarctica. Beyond the fjords and floating islands you reach the northern gateway to Patagonia: the lake region.

Here lie the southernmost wine regions in Chile and Argentina, and the road trip between them is unforgettable. If you have time, start in Concepción visiting the artisanal wineries and century-old vines of Itata and Bío Bío. Their wines are some of the most distinct on the continent.

Then spend a few days exploring between Pucón and Puerto Varas. Snowcapped volcanos are reflected by glassy lakes, and lush forests, waterfalls and rivers span 320km, offering breathtaking treks, skiing (June-September), water sports (October-April), hot springs and some of the world’s best fly fishing.

Wind down in the evening by the lakeside and tuck into freshly caught salmon paired with the local volcanic wines, before staying in a traditional cabin with an outdoor tina (wooden hot tub); or splash out on a giant luxury treehouse in the Huilo Huilo Nature Reserve.

If you have less than a week, fly into Puerto Varas and start your journey there, at the foot of Osorno Volcano where German settlers have left an architectural, culinary and brewing legacy. Patagonia has attracted people from all corners of the globe for centuries: from explorers like Darwin to humble farmers and craftsmen. Many of the wine producers here are first- or second-generation immigrants.

One winery worth the visit is Coteaux de Trumao. French brothers Christian and Olivier make top Pinot Noir and you can stay on the farm in summer.

From there traverse into Puyehue National Park and climb into the foothills of the Andes towards Argentina. The Cardenal Antonio Samoré Pass (open year-round, weather permitting) leads you to Villa la Angostura and Bariloche. Although renowned for its excellent skiing, the beautiful treks are best explored between spring and autumn.

From Bariloche, head north via the Seven Lakes. The glacial waters are picture perfect, so be prepared to pull over frequently and make detours into the national parks on the 230km journey. Spend the evening in San Martín de los Andes to appreciate traditional Patagonian spit-roast lamb.

Head east on Highway 237 into the endless horizon of the Argentinian pampa. The tracks of solitary gauchos and the sound of cattle bells in the distance accentuate the overwhelming sense of remoteness along this 400km stretch. Keen palaeontologists should visit the museums and excavation sites of Villa El Chocón, where the world’s largest dinosaur fossils were found.

Your final destination: the modern bodegas in Neuquén and boutique wineries of Rio Negro, where a good stop for a winery lunch is Schroeder.

Insider’s tip

Numerous roads in Patagonia are still unpaved. A compact car will manage, but you might prefer a 4×4. Make sure you have the right permission papers from the car-hire company to cross the border, and fill up on petrol whenever you can. If you want Patagonia to yourself, avoid January when all the locals head there for summer.

Amanda Barnes is a freelance wine and travel writer based in South America. This guide first appeared in the February 2017 issue of Decanter.

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