In the Foothills of the Andes a FamilyRun Estancia With a Long Legacy
Anita Vollenweider

In the Foothills of the Andes, a Family-Run Estancia With a Long Legacy

Gaucho culture enters a new era at Estancia Los Chulengos in Mendoza, Argentina. 

As we set out from the Estancia Los Chulengos stables atop our horses, the valleys before us appear verdant and lush at the height of summer, while the snow capped peaks of the Andes tower in the distance. Pisco, my sturdy yet unfazed horse, trods along slowly, crossing fields and streams, navigating the occasionally rocky terrain, and taking detours to where the grass looks particularly tasty. He can sense I lack both the skill and desire to steer him back on course. As he munches, I turn my gaze upward and marvel at the horsemanship and courage it would take to venture off these gently sloping foothills and traverse the distant peaks, where the freezing cold and high altitude only add to the difficult terrain. In one of the greatest feats in the Argentine and Chilean wars of independence, revolutionary hero José de San Martín and his men, The Army of the Andes, did just that. The historic Crossing of the Andes in 1817 resulted in Chile’s liberation from Spanish rulers, and cemented General San Martín’s heroic legacy. 

Los Chulengos is where San Martín’s journey began. “The soldiers needed help from all of the families in the area; resources like food, clothes, horses, wheat, wine, mules, and cows for making the trek,” says Manuela Palma, who owns Los Chulengos along with her parents and siblings, Ana, Ines, and Tomás. “And it was here on our ranch that they came together to gather supplies and prepare before leaving on their journey.” The estancia, which now welcomes visitors from across the globe, has been in the family for over 250 years. 

At Los Chulengos, a working cattle ranch, guests can ride horses at the foot of the Andes. 

Christine Chitnis

Artisan touches fill the refreshed interiors, with antique wooden furniture sourced by Ines Palma. 

Christine Chitnis

In the foothills of the Cerro del Plata, about an hour and a half by car from Mendoza, Los Chulengos remains a working cattle ranch. It was a happy accident that led the family into the hospitality space. “In 1999, when a friend from France came to visit, we greeted him with asado [a traditional Argentine barbecue] and horseback riding,” says Ana. He was so taken with the experience that he encouraged the Palmas to open the ranch for tourism, and even put up the capital to help them make structural improvements to the property. This was years before Mendoza had the tourism draw it does today

“In 1999 Mendoza didn’t exist as a tourist destination,” says Manuela. “The region's wineries were strictly production focused.” Nowadays, wineries offer boutique lodging (SB Winemakers House), exceptional dining experiences (Bodega Lagarde), luxury spa treatments (Entre Cielos), and even private helicopter rides to scope out the mountainous views (also SB). Here at Los Chulengos, the original structures of the property are still intact—the house where guests now stay once served as a shelter for the livestock tender who cared for the cattle, young sheep, and horses—though the interiors have been refurbished, with an eye for artisan touches like colorful woven textiles, cowhide and sheepskin rugs, a collection of wide-brimmed hats for guests to use, and carved antique wooden furniture sourced by Ines. The history runs deep in these parts. “We’re very proud of being Mendozans, and we appreciate the high quality of life we have here,” says Ana. “We have this amazing culture and history of the gauchos here in the mountains.” 

Gauchos, the cowboys of the pampas, have long been celebrated figures known for their horsemanship, skilled cattle work, bravery, and swagger. Many patriotically fought alongside General San Martín and their skills made them natural cavalrymen. It was a culture built on machismo. Yet here, at Los Chulengos, the Palma sisters are equals alongside the men—a rarity when it comes to rural ranches. “Our parents taught us to do everything,” says Manuela, “including all of the traditionally male skills; making the asado, chopping wood, saddling the horses, driving 4x4’s up in the mountains, and herding cattle.” 

At asados on the estancia, garden-fresh vegetables are served with sparkling wines. 

Christine Chitnis

Ana Palma, one of the owners of Los Chulengos, on horseback

Christine Chitnis

Soon after arriving, Tomás introduces us to the horses, a docile but hearty bunch bred for their gentleness and ability to navigate rough mountainous terrain. We saddle up and set off. As a nervous rider, I’m instantly put at ease by Manuela’s patient guidance and innate handling of her own horse, Pajarito. As we ride through the grassy valley and along the hillside, she tells us stories of growing up on the ranch, where they all started riding before they could walk—an explanation for their rugged athleticism and seemingly boundless energy. These days, the four siblings all have kids of their own, and they’ve carried on the family tradition of putting them to work around the ranch. “We’re continuing the family business in a way that is compatible with our family life,” says Manuela. “This is a family ranch not a hotel, so we attend to every level of detail, from the flowers on the table to the homemade meals.” 

The asado we share is the kind of meal you only find in the kitchen of someone's home; tender meat cooked over an open fire, homemade breads and crisp garden-fresh vegetables, topped off with glasses of rich Malbec and effervescent sparkling wines. We sit atop sheepskin covered benches and pass family-style dishes, reaching across the long, rustic wooden table to fill our plates. There’s a deep satisfaction in the simplicity of the meal, not to mention the combination of wine and a refreshing mountain breeze—the outdoor dining area overlooks the distant herd of grazing cattle and a babbling mountain stream, which flows from the peaks of the Andes. 

The intimate setting feels like the ranch of a family friend, and that is exactly what the Palma’s are hoping to achieve. “We don't do this for a living, we do this for pleasure,” says Manuela.