Well versed on the coast of Chile


The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Luxury - SALLY FELD­MAN

GAZ­ING out from a bal­cony at the Pala­cio As­toreca, it would be hard not to be moved to po­etry, in the spirit of Chilean po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist and No­bel lau­re­ate Pablo Neruda.

Around and be­low, the city of Val­paraiso ca­reens into the Pa­cific Ocean, its hurly-burly hill­sides a chaos of mu­ral-splashed build­ings, fu­nic­u­lars and cob­bled stair­ways painted in rain­bow colours.

The orig­i­nal 1920s man­sion was mod­elled in the Vic­to­rian style by its first owner to counter his English wife’s po­ten­tial home­sick­ness. To­day, there’s noth­ing about this 23-room ho­tel that could cause such mal­adies; its re­fur­bish­ment would be as fit­ting in chic coun­try-house lodg­ings in the Home Coun­ties as it is here, in the shabby-chic dis­trict of Cerro Ale­gre.

Pala­cio As­toreca opened in Oc­to­ber 2012, af­ter an ex­tended $US5 mil­lion ren­o­va­tion. The re­sult, within its gaudy tomato-and­white ex­te­rior, is gor­geous. While the in­te­rior re­tains the grandeur of the orig­i­nal house — gleam­ing par­quet floors, or­nately scrolled ceil­ings — the fix­tures are bang on trend.

Re­stored an­tique and mid-20th cen­tury fur­ni­ture, funky print wall­pa­pers and bespoke pieces, in­clud­ing an­gu­lar ‘ ‘ winged’’ bed frames, add up to stylish, bright and com­fort­able ac­com­mo­da­tion.

The pi­ano bar lounge, com­plete with Stein­way, ex­em­pli­fies this re­laxed flair. Here, guests gather for a pre-din­ner pisco sour with an oc­ca­sional mu­si­cal in­ter­lude, be it by prior ar­range­ment (jazz, usu­ally) or thanks to the ef­fects of the afore­men­tioned drinks.

The claw­foot baths-with-a-view in some suites are per­fect for eas­ing a day’s hill­climb­ing, but the serene, slate-lined spa — with its ham­mam steam bath, in­door pool and ver­ti­cal gar­den com­plete with hot tub — will do a far more thor­ough job.

Once duly re­stored, move on to din­ner at the ho­tel’s Restau­rant Ale­gre, on the ter­race, with its widescreen Val­paraiso views, or in the ban­quette-lined din­ing room be­low.

Span­ish head chef Ser­gio Bar­roso is a ‘‘vet­eran’’ (he’s not yet 30) of Fer­ran Adria’s El Bulli and Denis Martin’s epony­mous restau­rant in Switzer­land, among oth­ers.

He’s a pas­sion­ate ad­vo­cate of lo­cal pro­duce and is al­ready re­ceiv­ing ac­co­lades for his in­ter­pre­ta­tions of tra­di­tional Chilean dishes, such as the ubiq­ui­tous pas­tel de choclo, which is usu­ally a hearty shep­herd’s pie af­fair topped with pureed corn and of­ten fin­ished with a sprin­kling of sugar. It is served here with style in a tiny clay bowl.

But seafood is the star, and Bar­roso’s fish of the day (salmon, on my visit), sea­soned with ground and roasted smoked chilli, is served with a ‘‘risotto’’ of finely diced braised squid and tiny squid-ink ravi­oli.

It’s set to be a sig­na­ture dish and, paired with a Casablanca Val­ley Casas del Bosque chardon­nay, might bring out the poet in even the most pro­saic of souls. Sally Feld­man was a guest of ProChile and Qan­tas.

The Es­sen­tial Neruda: Se­lected Po­ems. Across the road is the Babur­izza Palace Fine Arts Mu­seum. Nearby is Cafe Vinilo, a funky wine bar­cafe-restau­rant. Mer­cado Moderno, un­der hip bou­tique hos­tel MM450, sells con­tem­po­rary fash­ion, jewellery and quirky objets. Fur­ther afield is La Se­bas­tiana Mu­seum, Neruda’s ec­cen­tric Val­paraiso eyrie. More: fun­da­cionneruda.org. Restau­rant Ale­gre is closed Sun­day, Mon­day and Tues­day nights.

Val­paraiso’s won­der­fully gaudy tomato-and-white Pala­cio As­toreca ho­tel

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