The Andean cordillera, including some of the world’s tallest mountains, loom a short distance west of Mendoza, and its snow-tipped peaks are visible from the city centre almost all year round, beyond the picturesque vineyards and fruit orchards. Even if you’ve come to the region for the wine, you’ll want to head up into the hills before long: the scenery is fabulous, and skiing, trekking and highland walks are all possible, or you can simply enjoy the views on an organized excursion.
The so-called Alta Montaña Route – the RN-7 – is also the international highway to Santiago de Chile, via the upmarket Chilean ski resort of Portillo, and one of the major border crossings between the two countries, blocked by snow only on rare occasions in July and August. If you’re in a hurry to get to or from Santiago, try to travel by day, to see the stunning scenery in the area. However, if you’ve more time to explore, possible stop-offs along the RN-7 include the pretty village of Potrerillos and Vallecitos, a tiny ski resort that caters for a younger crowd than exclusive Las Leñas. As the road climbs further up into the mountains it passes another village, Uspallata, and then a variety of colourful rock formations – look for the pinnacle-like Los Penitentes. Closer to the border, Puente del Inca is a popular place to pause, both for its sulphurous thermal spring and its location – near the trailhead, base camp and muleteer-post for those brave enough to contemplate the ascent of mighty Aconcagua, the continent’s tallest peak, just to the north. The last settlement before you travel through a tunnel under the Andes and into Chile is Las Cuevas, from where an old mountain pass can be ascended, weather permitting, to see the Cristo Redentor, a huge statue of Christ, erected as a sign of peace between the old rivals, and for the fantastic mountain views.