From the excitement of Santiago to the wonders of the South American wilderness, a trip to Chile is like getting lost in multiple worlds
Jacob stapp cigainero | Contributing Writer
Brazil may have the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, but the geographically svelte Chile — its slender profile snakes down most of the western coast of South America — easily takes the gold for outdoor adventure. Chile is both sporty by nature and stylish by design, where boutique hotels sit side-by-side an outdoor paradise, luring luxury seekers and active adventurers alike.
Chile packs almost every terrain imaginable into its trim borders, from valleys, mountains to volcanoes to desert, plus a top-to-bottom stretch of Pacific coast, rivers, lakes and untouched forests. Santiago, the nation’s capital and main international entry-point, welcomes travelers eager to experience Chile’s greatest asset: nature. But before going au naturel, the city itself is worth a day or two, especially to visit the regional vineyards. (Look for a profile of what to do in Chile’s countryside soon.)
Santiago’s Bellavista neighborhood is the city’s bohemian claim to hip and trendy. The lively barrio is packed with restaurants, bars and nightlife, and explodes with some of the city’s most colorful street art. The Aubrey, a 1920s Mission-style mansion recently turned 15-room boutique hotel, is a haven of art deco sophistication in the midst of high-energy revelry. Once the home of a Chilean railroad magnate and congressman who hosted infamous weekly lunches for Santiago’s political and social elite in the 1940s and ‘50s, The Aubrey opened its new life as a hotel in 2010 after a $3 million renovation.
Upon arrival, guests are greeted with Chile’s national drink, the pisco sour (when lounging by the rooftop pool, go for the cucumber sour), in to Aubrey’s slick and nostalgic piano bar, where contemporary Chesterfield seating and tall suede wingback chairs lend an air of updated Gatsby charm. You might catch the laid back Aussie owner making the rounds in flip-flops and shorts.
The hotel features the recently opened indoor/outdoor restaurant forthrightly named The Dining Room, which hosts guests on a cobblestone terrace flanked by misty cascades. A word to the wise: the metropolis of 6.25 million shuts down on Sunday, but The Aubrey’s restaurant opens to serve the elusive brunch.
“Restobar” is the word around town, and Bellavista has the hungry and thirsty covered seemingly on every street. Vietnam Discovery is one of the latest restobars that Santiago’s well-heeled frequent for French-Vietnamese fusion and handcrafted cocktails. The bamboo-heavy terrace centered around a Buddha statue is anything but Zen with a live DJ spinning thumping house music. Locals looking for national beers head to low-key hotspot Galindo for hearty Chilean favorites, like a thick eel fillet battered and fried, or pastel de choclo, a savory corn pie filled with beef or chicken, olives, onions and hard boiled eggs.
Just around the corner from The Aubrey, literati pay homage to famed poet and politician Pablo Neruda at his quirky multi-part home, and Cerro San Cristoból in the Metropolitan Park offers panoramic views of the city against the backdrop of the Andes Mountains.
Widely known as a lesbian bar, divey and relaxed Punto G on Bombero Nuñez, owned by a local theater actress, welcomes all and could be host to chance run-ins with local TV stars. If you’re looking for a cave in the South American city, Cero is well-stocked with bears, and for your all-night dancing needs, Bunker keeps the lights low and the music up.
To catch a breath of fresh air outside of Santiago, head to the Central Valley’s local vineyards to sample regional wines. The fertile San Antonio Valley’s proximity to the Pacific coast gives it a cooler Mediterranean clime that produces some of South America’s best wine. The region’s rolling hills of farmland and sweeping vistas of wine-on-the-vine offer a scenic cycling route. Santiago Adventures offers bike-and-wine tours from the city to nearby vineyards like Matetic, where knowledgeable sommeliers give an informative bird’s-eye view of organic winemaking and the unique biodynamic philosophy.
After guided tastings of oaky Chardonnay and spicy Syrah (a relative newcomer to the region’s typical Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenére), a quick pedal over to Matetic’s restaurant La Casona is a much deserved refueling in an airy gazebo where the main event includes artful presentations of classics like reineta ceviche, and of course, more wine.
(Tip: you might be able to snag one of the winery’s out-of-commission $1,000 French oak wine barrels for about $10. Shipping, however, will cost you much more than that. The better investment would be shipping a case or three of your favorite bottle back home.)
Part 2 will run later this month in Dallas Voice.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 8, 2013.