Well versed on the coast of Chile
ROOM AT THE INN
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