By Wendy Lemlin
The first time I visited Baja’s lovely Valle de Guadalupe was in the fall of 2004, about 6 months after I moved to San Diego from Florida. I discovered it somewhat by accident, having driven down the coast with a visiting friend. In the spirit of adventure, heading back from Ensenada we decided to take the turnoff for Route 3, recommended as a scenic drive that would eventually lead back to the border crossing at Tecate. At that time, I knew nothing about the handful of wineries already established in the valley, but I remember that the two of us, both Baja newbies, were blown away by the beauty and tranquility of our surroundings as we drove, and the happy feeling that we were actually in another country with a pastoral ambience very different from the frenetic Gringo/Mexican border hybridism of Tijuana, Rosarito and Ensenada.
About two years later, while working on an article about the Baja coastal areas, I deliberately made a detour to the Valle and began in earnest my love affair with her mountain-lined vistas, and the growing food and wine culture that was soon to permeate the landscape. I think that there were around 10 registered wineries at that time. Now that number is approximately 150, most of which have popped up in the last 3 years or so.
All of which begs the question: what’s new in the Valle de Guadalupe? Of course, the answer is: plenty. There are more wineries, more restaurants—some of which are now staying open year-round—and thankfully, more lodging options. In the last couple of months, after not having been there in a year, I’ve made several trips to the Valle, checking out places I hadn’t been before—some new, and some just new to me, and revisiting several favorites to see how they’ve progressed.
Here’s what’s new in lodging. Subsequent articles will highlight wining and dining.
Where to spend the night in the Valle de Guadalupe has always been a conundrum, after lazy days of wine tasting, and lunches or dinners over which we linger for a minimum of three hours. Luckily, there are more beds than ever, although almost all lodgings are small B&Bs with just 3-6 rooms and fill up fast. The following have enchanted me lately. (BTW, English is spoken at all of these listed).
This intimate B&B is tucked away down a long dirt road off the east side of Rte. 3, at about km 88.6 (Look for the easy-to-miss turn-off sign next to a cell tower). The four peaceful, rustically contemporary casitas are well appointed, airy and spacious, with very comfortable beds. An abundance of brick and wood in the décor gives the rooms a pleasantly organic feel, and the bathrooms make good use of decorative stone and concrete with a satisfying degree of industrial chic. Each casita, 3 of which sleep up to 4 people and one which sleeps up to 6, has a private wooden deck with a table and chairs—perfect for gazing out over the valley, while enjoying a glass of one of the local wines for which this area has become so famous. And no, that wine isn’t doing weird things to your eyes—those really are ostriches in the corral of a neighboring ranch.
Breakfast is included and is served in the al fresco dining area. Be prepared to eat well! A tempting array of pan dulce (traditional sweet bread pastries) and a platter of fresh fruits will greet you when you sit down, and soon your hosts will be filling your cup with rich coffee, your glass with fresh squeezed juice, and heaping your bowl and plate with cereal, yogurt, and some type of ginormous egg dish—maybe an omelet, or huevos rancheros. Dinners are available by advance arrangement. Rooms range from about $125 to $200 per night depending on
season—extremely reasonable by current Valle standards. Contact info :
phone (from U.S.) : 011 52 664-257-2410.
With 21 rooms, family-run Hotel Boutique is the largest lodging option in the Valle,but even so is almost always completely booked. The property began its life as a secluded weekend hacienda for the Lyle family from Tijuana, who still maintain a private residence there and added the hotel in recent years. Beautifully landscaped grounds, a large pool and Jacuzzi, organic garden which supplies produce for Fuego, the hotel’s excellent restaurant and bar, a wine “cave” for tastings, vineyards, and a stable whose denizens includes horses, goats, sheep, a pot-bellied pig, peacocks and various other barnyard fowl, all add to Hotel Boutiques amenities. Bikes are available for guests who want to brave the surrounding bumpy dirt roads along the Valle’s vineyards, and horseback riding, with or without wine tastings, is
offered as well. Rates for the brightly colored rooms range from $170 to $240, depending on size. Hotel Boutique is located in the El Porvenir area, down a zigzag of dirt roads outside of the town of Francisco Zarco.
Camino de los Ranchos #1, Parcela #7.
phone (from U.S.): 011 52 646 155 2164
As if it weren’t enough that Chef Javier Plascencia is one of the most respected rockstar chefs and restaurateurs in Baja (Misión 19, Finca Altozano, Erizo Baja Fish House, etc) and San Diego (Bracero), he has expanded his repertoire to include this “divine” B&B
recently opened in San Antonio de las Minas, at the southern end of the Valle. The formerly rustic family home has been snazzily reconcepted and remodeled to include 3 gracious guestrooms and baths, a large great room with welcoming fireplace and bar, and a full kitchen, all with a comfortably contemporary ambience. Colorful artwork enlivens the décor and each of the bedrooms features a photographic mural of Valle vineyards, further tying the house to
its surroundings. The outdoor amenities include a pool and Jacuzzi, shaded porticos, and a full grilling station. Eight additional villas are planned for 2016. Nightly rates are $215 weekdays, $235 weekends, and include a full breakfast. The entire house is available for $750 (no breakfast)
Rte. 3 km 93.5 San Antonio de las Minas
phone (from U.S.): 011 52 646-156-8045
In 2000, the first vines were harvested at Adobe Guadalupe and soon after, owners Don and Tru Miller began making the six guestrooms of their grand hacienda
available for overnight guests. When I began exploring the Valle back in 2006, Adobe Guadalupe was the perfect introduction for my immersion into all that there is to love about the area. Located outside the town of Francisco Zarco, Adobe Guadalupe was one of the first B&Bs in the Valle, and in the last year, the guestrooms have been updated to a cheery freshness. The 3,360 peso per night room rate (about $210 at current exchange) includes full breakfast in the cozy kitchen and wine tasting for two in the “cava”. In addition to their widely acclaimed wines named for archangels, Adobe Guadalupe is known for its herd of Azteca horses, offering horseback riding and equestrian events at the well kept stables. Other amenities include a pool and Jacuzzi, seasonal al fresco restaurant, a casual food truck, and four course dinners in the formal dining room, where Tru’s weimaraners might be found dozing by the fireplace.
Parcela A-1, Col. Rusa de Guadalupe
phone (from U.S.) : 011 52 646 155 2094
- Currently, the dollar is very strong against the peso, and you might save money paying in pesos, rather than dollars. I’ve found the best exchange rate to be in San Ysidro, at the casas de cambio close to the pedestrian border crossing. (The exchange rate given in the Valle is generally not as high as in Tijuana or San Ysidro), so think about making a quick stop there on your way south. If you are planning to pay with credit card, and if your credit card company doesn’t charge a foreign exchange fee, ask to be charged in pesos. When your credit card company converts it, you’ll get the best rate of the day they receive it.
- Your US car insurance won’t cover you in Mexico, so be sure to get Mexico insurance. Don’t skip this—if you get in an accident, even if you aren’t at fault, if you don’t have insurance you will go to jail—a sure way to ruin your getaway! I’ve found the best rates to be available online through www.BajaBound.com.
- Try going during the week, rather than a weekend, when most lodging is booked weeks, or even months, in advance. Later in the week is better, as not all wineries or restaurants are open early in the week. Also, Sundays are the worst time to cross the border back to the U.S., as lines are long and slow moving.