Last post I shared my adventures in Cabo San Lucas. This post is all about Ensenada Mexico. Backstory – I was on a series of 4 and 5 day cruises out of San Pedro California, the port for Los Angeles. The first and third cruise were 5 day round trip going to Cabo San Lucas Mexica, and the second and fourth were 4 day trips going to San Diego and Ensenada. Typically, I never get off the ship in Ensenada, but this trip, I had to use up a bunch of onboard credits.
On my first visit to Ensenada, I booked a tour that involved wine and cheese. This tour came recommended as a replacement for one that had been booked in another port, but cancelled. (More about that when I write about San Diego!).
The description given by the cruise line is as follows (https://www.princess.com/cruise-search/details?voyageCode=R134 )
“ WHAT YOU VISIT – Baja-Med Cuisine Experience
Your guided tour through the Guadalupe Valley area includes indulging on delicious locally made cheeses, wonderful wine tastings hosted by friendly wine connoisseurs, and lunch at an award-winning Baja-Med restaurant.
Stops on this tour were hand-selected by Bill Esparza, a James Beard award-winner and leading expert on Latin American cuisine.
Each winery will offer wine at a special ‘cava’ price.
WHAT YOU SEE ALONG THE WAY
As you make your way through Ensenada to Valle de Guadalupe, you’ll find beautiful scenery among majestic mountains and sierras where vineyards blossom during spring and hold their harvest in the fall.
The description did not do the excursion justice! We left the port on a small tour bus, with only a few adventurous individuals and drove through the city and along the coast line, before turning off into the mountains and into the Valle de Guadalupe. As you came over the mountain pass and looked out to the valley, you could see how fertile the area was, full of vineyards and other farming.
Our first stop in the Guadalupe Valley was in the town of Villa de Juarez, at a cheese shop. Sadly, this was our only view, as it turned out to be closed for an emergency.
We were supposed to have made purchases here, snacks for the day, and maybe something to take home. Olives and cheese were the feature we were promised. The tour guides were horrified to find out it was closed, and loaded us all back on the bus to the 2nd stop.
This stop was our second, and it was lovely! “Bodegas de Santo Tomas has a rich, fascinating history. As the very first winery in Baja California, Santo Tomas was originally founded in 1888 by native Italian Francisco Adonegui and Spaniard Miguel Olmart. ” (https://www.bajaunitedwines.com/santo-tomas/ )
The views around this winery on a hilltop were astounding, and totally unexpected on my first real “off ship” adventure in Ensenada. Enjoy the photos. This first one made me laugh…when you read the label on the glass!
The views just got better and better, and there were so many places to sit and take them all in.
Just after 11 am, we were tasting wine, enjoying the lovely 80 degree temperature, and I was pleased I had packed a little sunscreen!
This jewel of a winery was something to really sit back and enjoy! I’m sure I don’t remember what I tasted, but the companionship of the others on the tour was great, and it was all delicious. There were SO many wonderful places to enjoy the view.
Our next stop took us to Casa Magoni Valle De Guadalupe for another round of wine tasting. Our first pour was at the tasting bar, and I paid better attention to what we were being served. The young server was quite knowledgeable. https://casamagoni.com/en/
This is a small, family run winery that has been in business since the late 1990’s. They certainly have an appealing product and lovely presentation.
We carried our wine glasses with us to the seating area, under this wonderful oak tree. It was a lovely place, in nature, to sit in the shade and enjoy the offerings.
Our small little group filled a table, and enjoyed the dappled sunlight as the wine was served.
Our second pour was equally nice, and I made a point to capture a photo of the wine label. Maybe I will find it at home someday.
Because we missed our cheese shop stop, our wonderful tour guides made arrangements at this vineyard for something lovely to nibble while we enjoyed our wine. Just take a look at the delights we were able to enjoy with our wine. (Note….this was all before lunchtime!!)
It was just what we needed and everyone felt refreshed with a bit of bread and cheese and olives
Our next our of Magoni wine was a Sangiovese Cabernet wine. It was spectacular!
Just look at that color. The flavor was lovely.
Our final stop on this tour was for a wine pairing with lunch at Finca Altozano http://fincaltozano.com/
OH MY GOSH….what an amazing experience !!! The “Med/Mex” blend of food was beyond description, along with the setting and views. Go look at the link and then come back! If you are ever in BAJA California….make a reservation and go spend the afternoon, eating lunch, drinking wine, and enjoying the views. This was the best time ever!!!
My photo’s don’t do the food and the flavors justice. Take a look and let me know if your mouth is watering, and take a look at the faces of my table companions. Everything from grilled octopus cooked in soy sauce, citrus, ginger cilantro and roasted peanuts to a lovely “panzanela” salads and garden risotto, and roasted lamb. The menu at the link below shows the wonderful food options and descriptions. It might might give you an idea of the abundance of local flavors. Those gardens in the photos account for the freshness of the food. My friends at the table were stabbing the last bites of octopus and Portobello mushrooms, to not leave a bite behind. Honestly, if you asked, I would tell you I don’t eat lamb. This was the loveliest lamb I never ordered and so delicious. – https://stitchinggrandma.files.wordpress.com/2021/11/86ddb-eng-27ago21.pdf
The views of the gardens were stunning and the variety of seating for dining was amazing. (So were the tortillas, and bread, made by hand right on site.)
How do you top this kind of adventure…..well….you have to return to Ensenada. And, I will NEVER “not get off the ship” when I do. Years past I would only get off and shop right in the stores in the port, but they all closed due to COVID and have not been reopened.
When I returned the following week, I really had a hard choice to make….food/wine or action/adventure!!
I chose the “action / adventure”…but got surprised by a little wine at the end! I signed up for an excursion that was an ATV ride in/around the wine country of the Guadalupe Valley near Ensenada. Sadly, the tour cancelled because NOT enough adventurous people signed up. When I went to the tour desk, my favorite tour employee explained I was the “only” brave soul on the ship! Imagine that! He made a recommendation to me to try the “Baja Off Road Buggy Adventure” and I took his advice.
When we boarded the bus, there were just 7 of us on that adventure. On our way, the tour guide showed us the official “downtown” area of Ensenada, complete with red sidewalks! This was to help the “tourists” find their way around town I guess. We road the small bus again up to the Guadalupe Valley and beyond to a small village, called Santa Rosa, off of dirt roads. Once we turned off the main roads, it was a bumpy ride into the village.
We were given bandanas to wear over our nose and mouth, goggles and helmets, and directions on how to operate the dune buggy. Because I was taking this adventure on my own, I was the sole occupant in the buggy, doing the driving. I took my place as “last in line” because I wasn’t sure quite how fast I wanted to drive. There were lots of warnings about possible roll overs, so I erred on the side of caution. We were instructed to “follow the buggy ahead” and slow down if we can’t see thru the dust. As Baja is rather dry, there was a LOT of dust. There was an ATV following our group, and I am sure I spoiled his “fast ride” because I did “slow down” in the dust so I could see where the road was going and where the rocks and ruts in the dirt trail were!
We did a little hill climbing as the blue line on the map shows. At the 1/2 way stop we had a chance to look back at the hills and trail we had just ridden while we stretched our legs and drank a little water. The shade was appreciated! We had great laughs, looking at each other and how covered in dust we all were!!! My charcoal grey sweater was going to need a good wash!
We had to slow down as a group a couple of times to allow for the roaming cattle in one of the villages we went through. Most of our ride was in an area that was unpopulated.
We were so dusty at the end of the ride that the guide got out the electric leaf blower, and had us all line up to get blown off! Just brought home a little of the Baja with me. After the ride, and the “clean up” we did a little “wine tasting” to wash the dust off! (Of course, we drank a ton of water before that….). There was a little “snack window” where we could purchase food, and I chose a bag of chips to go with my dust and wine! They looked and tasted like Lay’s Potato chips, but had a different name. I didn’t mind at all.
The guides poured the wine and encouraged us to enjoy as much as we like, as he had no other groups coming that day.
This couple offering the tour / wine tasting are brother and sister, and they were such a delight. So, we all enjoyed the wines, each of us had a favorite. I liked the Chardonnay the best, and even the “non-wine” people said they were very nice.
When we went back to the ship the first thing I did was put those dusty clothes in a plastic packing bag for laundry at home! Even my shoes were coated in brown dust. The tour guide had said, you don’t look like Gringo’s any more!! We all had that nice “brown” look of the locals, but it was just dust!
My sister took a small shuttle bus trip from the port into downtown for shopping, and there were only a few people on the bus for the short trip. If you are physically able, walking to the downtown for shopping is about a 15-20 minute walk. She was fortunate and had a guide take her to all the places she asked to see, including a restaurant for a delicious lunch. She could not have walked the distance so the bus ride was a great option. She said the food was great and all the shops were happy to have her browse.
I know that when I go to Ensenada next time that I will be “off the ship” for some adventure and food, and I would encourage anyone traveling there to take a look at the Guadalupe Valley wineries, restaurants and other activities. Heck, next time I might just go downtown to eat fish tacos!
Where ever you go, what ever you do, choose to have an adventure!! More in another post about my fun at our San Diego port of call!