Mexico’s diverse beaches are what the country is best known for, but a burgeoning culinary and architectural paradise in the desert is becoming the new destination hotspot for queer travelers — and you can drive there from San Diego.
The Valle de Guadalupe, in the northern part of the Baja California peninsula, is a desertscape long populated by creatives of all types: winemakers, painters, farmers, cheesemakers, chefs, sustainability-minded hoteliers. Same-sex marriage was legalized in Baja in 2021, so the cultural openness that has always characterized the area is now fully above ground and government-sanctioned. Its aesthetic is very much indoor-outdoor, year-round. Set aside at least three days to do the Valle justice, more if you can. You’ll need a car, but everything is within an easy 30-minute drive from wherever you decide to base yourself.
A terrific low-profile hotel is Clos de Tres Cantos, designed by architect Alejandro D’Acosta and built from 90 percent locally reclaimed materials, including stone from nearby La Misión, which evokes a rustic character. A water catchment system diverts gray water for use in the vineyard. Don’t miss tasting the estate Tempranillo, a grape that grows particularly well in higher temperatures. Rooms are all wonderfully minimalist and spacious. (clos-de-tres-cantos.negocio.site)
The entrance to the Adobe Guadalupe Inn
Traditional Hacienda With a Persian Flair
Dutch transplant Tru Miller is a most gracious host at Adobe Guadalupe, part horse ranch, part winery, and part guest hacienda. With just six adult-only rooms, everyone gets personalized service, including a full breakfast each morning and a private wine tasting. Though the architectural style evokes some elements of Spanish colonial style, the main design influence here is actually Persian; architect Neil Haghighat was inspired by the lodging style often found in the Iranian desert. Adobe Guadalupe is also the largest breeder of Azteca horses in the world, and you can book a guided ride. Don’t miss the onsite slow food truck’s tapas-style lunches. (adobeguadalupe.com)
A more glam resort-like option is Bruma, an eco-luxury spot with one of the top five restaurants in the Valle, Fauna (see below). Designed by Legorreta & Sepúlveda and built from sustainable wood and other organic elements, the villa accommodations with private plunge pools are spaced out across the 200-acre property for maximum privacy. The wellness concierge can arrange yoga, hikes, bike rides, and meditation sessions. Check out the ultra-contemporary tasting room for pleasingly low-alcohol, minimal-intervention wines. (bruma.mx)
Brumo cofounder David Castro Hussong
Where to Drink
As a newer wine region, the Valle de Guadalupe has an experimental spirit. As such, quality is wide-ranging. In addition to the wineries at Adobe Guadalupe and Bruma mentioned above, here are five of the best tasting rooms that also excel in the experience department:
■ Vena Cava: Built from recycled fishing boats, this playful winery makes some of the best bubbly in the region. (venacavawine.com)
■ Bodegas de Santo Tomás: One of the most elaborate tasting rooms in the Valle, Santo Tomás offers beautiful estate-grown Italian varietals. (santo-tomas.com)
The tasting room at Bodegas de Santo Tomás
■ Casa Piedra: A bit hidden in an unassuming stone house, Casa de Piedra is known for both its sparkling wine and its Cabernet Sauvignon-Tempranillo blend. (vinoscasadepiedra.com)
■ Finca La Carrodilla: A certified-organic winery with bees, cows, sheep, chickens, and a vegetable farm (kid-friendly). The Chenin Blanc is special. (fincalacarrodilla.mx)
■ Hacienda La Lomita: An organic winery that produces age-worthy Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache. (lomita.mx)
A vineyard in Valle de Guadalupe
Where to Eat
Deciding where to make dinner reservations is challenging because of the abundance of terrific options. Here are five top choices across a range of styles:
■ Finca Altozano: One of the earliest restaurants in the Valle to catch on with visitors, culinary star Javier Plascencia’s entirely outdoor spot has a huge menu largely cooked over an open fire and featuring meats, vegetables, and cheeses all from the property. (fincaltozano.com)
■ Animalón: Plascencia’s newest dining concept, led by chef Oscar Torres, who serves inventive menus with locally sourced ingredients under a 200-year-old oak tree. (animalonbaja.com)
■ Fauna: David Castro Hussong and Maribel Aldaco Silva (both of whom trained with Michelin-starred chefs) offer fine dining at its most casual. The menu changes daily and, aside from any food allergies or aversions, you should just go with the chef’s daily “feast,” a multi-course prix-fixe menu of some of the most creative cooking in the world. (faunarestaurante.mx)
■ La Cocina de Doña Esthela: Hands-down, the best old-school Mexican cooking in the Valle. Doña Esthela’s classic breakfasts with handmade flour tortillas will get you through a day of heavy wine-tasting.
A breakfast taco at La Concina de Doña Ethela
■ Malva: Though diners come from all over to have chef Roberto Alcocer’s borrego tatemado (lamb roast), he’s also expert with local seafood, both raw and cooked. You’ll find oysters, sea urchin, octopus, and yellowfin tuna in creative preparations that include Asian ingredients.
This piece originally ran in Out Traveler print magazine. The Spring 2022 issue is now available on newsstands.