Baja Surprise: Discover Surprisingly Good Wine & Golf Just South of the Border
Located an easy 50 minutes south of San Diego, near the vibrant coastal town of Ensenada, Mexico, Bajamar is a resort community with a stately, colonial-style Hacienda hotel and 27 holes of ocean view golf. Perched on the bluff, with serpentine green fairways traversing jagged cliffs and epic views of the Pacific, Bajamar has rightly earned its moniker as the “Pebble Beach of Mexico” for its unsurpassed beauty and great golf.
Three distinct sets of nines welcome golfers to experience lagoons, scenic views and oceanfront holes where golfers can play to the pleasing soundtrack of crashing waves. Perry Clifford designed the original 18 holes that opened in 1976, while Robert Von Hagge created nine more called Oceano in 1996.
Oceano easily imprints itself into one’s golf psyche as its jaw-dropping 5th hole, a challenging par-3, calls for a tee shot over the crashing surf. And golfers beware, the sight of a breaching whale just may cause you to flub that wedge shot.
As an added bonus, Bajamar extends a FAST PASS to all guests and golfers that makes the return border crossing a breeze and generally under 30 minutes. Be sure to ask for a complimentary FAST PASS at the front desk so you can avoid those long traffic lines in Tijuana.
But perhaps a surprise to many people is that extending your stay in Baja Norte can open your eyes to the magic of Baja’s wine country — Guadalupe Valley — where blow-your-golf-socks-off good wines are being produced.
Just south of Bajamar, with a quick turn off the toll road onto La Ruta del Vino (Highway 3), a pastoral paradise unfolds. Dotted with farmlands and more than 50 recognized vineyards, Guadalupe Valley is also home to progressive cuisine spotlighting the local bounty and strikingly unique boutique hotels. Empty dusty roads lead to charming haciendas and welcoming wineries; one quickly discovers that friendly faces and a carefree easy pace characterize this bucolic region.
Thirty-year veteran and tour de force winemaker Hugo D’Acosta has led the charge in the Mexican wine revolution. After studying in France and working in Napa Valley, D’Acosta returned to Mexico, intent on cultivating grapes in Guadalupe Valley. D’Acosta knew the area’s Mediterranean coastal climate (warm sunny days and cool nights) made it a compelling winemaking region.
Visit his stone farmhouse, Casa di Piedra (vinoscasadepiedra.com), to taste his bold reds and estate wines. Another respected vineyard is Monte Xanic (montexanic.com.mx), which produces sophisticated cabernet sauvignon, merlot, Malbec, petit verdot, sauvignon blanc and Semillon. A pretty lake setting adds to the tasting experience. Paralelo Winery (paralelo.com.mx) showcases the architecture of Alejandro D’Acosta and his fantastic use of recycled materials. This eco-winery is home to wonderful reds such as the dynamic blend called Ensamble Arenal. Other notable vineyards include Vinos de Garza , Chateau Camou, Bibayoff, Domecq and Baron Balché to name but a few.
For an intimate stay, check into Villa de Valle (Villadevalle.com), a six-bedroom Tuscan estate overlooking the valley and mountains. British couple Phil and Eileen Gregory own the stunning property that boasts a lake, yoga studio, inviting pool, lavender gardens and an incredible restaurant, Corazon di Tierra, set over the organic gardens that produces much of the cuisine you’ll eat. The Gregory’s winery, Vena Cava, is another striking set — where overturned recycled fishing boats jut from the hillside and serve as the roofs, housing their delicious wine.
The architecturally celebrated and environmentally conscious Encuentro (encuentroguadalupe.com) has 20 eco-pods planted on stilts, high on a hill with soul-stirring views of the valley. Kivas dot the pods’ decks for starry fireside nights. The expansive property has an infinity pool dripping off the hillside, an open-air dining patio for farm-fresh cuisine by Chef Flor Franco, and great wine tasting. Natural trails invite guests to exploring the terrain and orchards.
For a memorable leisurely lunch between vineyard stops, head directly to Laja, deemed the French Laundry of the Valley. The enchanted white cottage is surrounded by bountiful gardens affording the chefs to make magic in the kitchen. Former Four Seasons chef Jair Tellez and respected enologist Andrés Blanco partnered to create this favorite culinary stopover in the valley that celebrates local food and wine.
A tad further down the road sits Finca Altozano, Chef Javier Plascencia’s seasonal, open-air restaurant that showcases his imaginative cuisine. The rustic eatery overlooks the family’s vineyards, a dreamy spot to savor the cuisine of Tijuana’s culinary prince who also helms Mision 19.
A trip to Baja Norte for golf and wine tasting is as exciting and exotic as any overseas travel you can do, and yet it’s a quick drive from most of Southern California. Both the golf and the Guadalupe Valley wineries are uncrowded and filled with pleasant surprises.