Blown Away by Finca Altozana

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To celebrate our 24th Wedding Anniversary, my wife Emily and I and our longtime friends Trace and Teri took a trip to Javier Plascencia’s Finca Altozano in the Valle de Guadalupe on Mexico’s Highway 3 in northern Baja California. It was a wonderful day and meal, and we were all blown away by the sumptuous meal and spectacular and sublime beauty of the  restaurant and the setting among vineyards.

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The view of the vineyards of the Valle de Guadalupe from Finca Altozano. I would never have predicted that from the ashes of what was the Baja California tourism industry after about 2007, that a world-class wine and food scene would have emerged in the chapparal landscape of northern Baja California and in what were declining urban environments of  Tijuana and Ensenada. I am awed by the creativity, originality and entrepreneurial spirit of the purveyors and dreamers behind this wonderful scene. It is also a strong argument against Mexico’s past model of mega-tourism and demonstrates the vitality of a sustainable tourism model that celebrates Mexico’s diverse and unique landscapes, cultures and natural environment.

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Trace and Teri have been traveling with us to Baja for over 20 years including an epic journeys to Bahia Magdalena, Bahia de los Angeles, and Laguna San Ignacio. Teri and I have been friends for 42 years (we grew up together down the street from each other).

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It is truly a bucolic setting. It was hot yesterday–in the 90s–but the restaurant was an oasis.

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Emily and I met in Lima, Peru, in August 1985, were married in Madison, Wisconsin, on September 2, 1989, and life has been an adventure ever since. Baja is so special to us since we lived in Laguna San Ignacio, Bahia Magdalena and Todos Santos for a total of 2 1/2 years and travel throughout the Peninsula extensively. We are so lucky to live on the Border so we can sample the best of Baja fairly easily.

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Grilled red peppers and rose wine.

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The outdoor grill.

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They do a roast pig on occasion–so here’s the pig that will be roasted. Don’t get too attached!

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Grilled and stuffed squash.

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The open-air kitchen.

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Beef tongue and lamb tacos were tasty.

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Here’s grilled octopus in an Asian style sauce. I have a special place in my palate for pulpo because when Emily and I lived in Laguna San Ignacio in 1993-94 we spent many afternoons hunting it down on low-tide excusions with Maria Luisa “La Yaqui” Camacho de Aguilar and her son Octaviano along with our Australian shepherd Chip and their black lab Black. Pulpo or octopus is one of Javier Plascencia’s signature dishes, and for me, along with freshly harvested bay scallops or almeja catarina.  are my favorite seafood dishes.

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Finca Altozano is all about the little things and food. All these touches like the wine bottles make it such a unique restaurant.

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Emily in the garden.

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An Argentine style roasting spit and BBQ.

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Everything is done in great taste. The aesthetics of what I would call the Baja rustic and especially Valle de Guadalupe design style are really nice.

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After a two-hour meal. I’m happy–I swear! Ilook forward to  many more adventures in Baja and returning to Finca Altozano and the Valle de Guadalupe with Emily.

The Best Places to Explore in Baja in 2013

Daniel gets a fun one--the light was perfect in the afternoon for photos.

San Miguel in Ensenada.

For years many Southern California surfers and ocean lovers have lived for Baja. Upon crossing the border they experienced endless empty beaches, great fishing, friendly people and perfect waves.

Then when things got a little rough in Mexico a few years ago, due to the drug war, many Baja California lovers bid adios to their old friend.

But an interesting thing happened during the years that American tourists abandoned Lower California. Rather than sit idly by waiting for tourists to show up, the peninsula’s new generation of entrepreneurs reinvented Baja. They developed a new cuisine, built beautiful new eco-resorts and boutique hotels, and produced fine wines.

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The peninsula got a lot safer as well. Highways have been improved. The increased presence of the police and the military has made travel safer.

Over the holidays my sons and I spent a few mornings and afternoons south of the the border carrying out surgical surf strikes during the recent magical run of winter swells. We scored big and never had a single problem. Lots of smiles, great food, and cool, clean, empty waves.

So here are a few of the hottest spots to sample in our sun-kissed neighbor to the south.

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Northern Baja Cuisine and Wine County: Start off with a late lunch at Javier Plascencia’s gastronomic palace in Tijuana, Mision 19. Then head south and stop for a quick sunset surf before you check into one of the boutique hotels in the Valle de Guadalupe such as the Grupo Habita eco-bungalows or Adobe Guadalupe. For dinner check out the amazingly tasty Corazon de Tierra. The next day, after sampling waves at San Miguel or 3M’s, catch a late breakfast or  lunch at either Boules or Muelle 3. After a second surf session check out the wine, cocktails and dinner at the award winning Manzanilla.

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Whale Watching in San Ignacio Lagoon: The world’s best whale-watching awaits you in this stark and pristine desert lagoon fringed by mangroves, bobcats and coyotes. Filled with more than 200 gray whales during the height of the whale season in February and early March, this is the best place in the world to encounter a friendly whale.

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Whales, Islands and Missions in Loreto and Magdalena Bay: Catch a short flight to the beautiful mission town of Loreto to catch up with old Baja. Tour the amazing azure islands of Loreto Bay National Park, be inspired by the grandeur of Mision San Javier, and take a day trip to Magdalena Bay’s Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateos for a day of whale watching and wandering the dunes of the barrier islands.

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East Cape: Fill up on organic goodies and beautiful arts and crafts at the San Jose del Cabo Organic Market and then head out east and discover miles of empty white-sand beaches. Explore the coral reef and schools of fish at Cabo Pulmo National Park, one of North America’s best dive spots. If you’re lucky you’ll catch an early season south swell, but during the winter the East Cape is tranquility and heaven. Be sure to catch the sunset over cocktails and dinner at the iconic Crossroads Country Club at Vinorama, where a boutique hotel will open soon.

Whale shark.  Photo courtesy of Ralph Lee Hopkins.

Whale shark on the East Cape. Photo courtesy of Ralph Lee Hopkins.

Todos Santos: Officially the hottest, hippest, and coolest little resort town in Baja. Todos Santos is an old school Baja town remade as a trendy little village with great hotels, excellent food and a laid back vibe. My wife Emily and I spent one of the best years of our life living in Todos Santos back in the mid 1990s, so I love to visit and hang out with friends, surf pristine warm-water waves and eat tasty, healthy food.

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So what are you waiting for? Baja is better than ever. Explore it now while the going is good!

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