SANTIAGO: THE PERFECT 10
Around and beyond the vibrant Chilean capital
1 LEST THEY FORGET
Opened in 2010 to celebrate Chile’s bicentennial, the striking, light-filled Museum of Memory and Human Rights is both shrine and aide-memoire, using documents, objects and storytelling to honour the country’s dead and disappeared under dictator Augusto Pinochet. A vast wall of grainy photographs and life-sized cutouts dominate the soaring spaces and give a sense of the scale of the regime’s crimes. The comprehensive audio tour follows a chronological narrative beginning with the 1973 coup, using everything from underground newspapers and handicrafts made by political detainees, to objects of torture and the harrowing accounts of survivors. On the top floor, the tour ends with an uplifting montage of the tactically brilliant NO advertising campaign that ran interference during the 1988 plebiscite and saw the eventual ousting of the Generalissimo. More: museodelamemoria.cl.
2 SIP AND SUP
Locals eat late in Santiago but many of the best restaurants are au fait with the sleeping habits of visiting tourists and happily take bookings for 7.30pm. In the popular Bellavista food precinct, New York-born Alberto Bitran runs Barrica 94, a restaurant and wine bar where diners get the chance to pair Chile’s finest drops with good food. The smart space is lined with walls of bottles and the service is fast, friendly and efficient NYC style. Try the cockles with a Pandolfi Price Los Patricios chardonnay. Or short ribs on a wheat berry risotto with a Casa Bauza syrah-cabernet sauvignon blend. Finish with the pear empanada and a glass of Pajarete Armidita moscatel. More: barrica94.cl.
3 SWEET AND SOUR
If you develop a taste for pisco sour, the national drink,d and I defy you to resist, be sure to check out the new and very cool Chipe Libre bar and restaurant in the stylish Lastaria district. In a soaring building, where the mood is best described as revolutionary chic, you’ll find a noisy young crowd downing pisco sours from tin beakers in a room crisscrossed by monumental timber beams, the walls lined with vintage pisco posters. Come here for a spicy Peruvian-style black snapper ceviche, or Patagonian king crab with palm heart; order up a pisco flight or a pisco-based cocktail such as a Woodstock, marrying the wine-based spirit with grapefruit, lime, thyme and purple corn syrup. More: facebook.com/ chipelibrerepublicaindependientedelpisco.
4 SING WITH YOUR SUPPER
Silabario is a charming restaurant in the Italian quarter serving regional dishes in a stylish dining room and courtyard overseen by the smart young owner and her enthusiastic team. As an unexpected bonus during dinner a handsome guitarist and fetching songstress wander in to belt out three or four sultry Latin numbers before moving on to the next restaurant. And the pisco sours are among the best I sample in the city, using a barrel-aged pisco and sugar syrup spiced with ginger, cloves, cinnamon and citrus zest. More: cocinalocal.cl.
5 A DIVERSE DISTRICT
This popular food, wine and shopping precinct of Bellavista veers wildly from smart restaurants patronised by ladies who lunch to edgy, grungy streets dotted with grumpy pavement vendors. You’ll find plenty of wine bars, and stores selling souvenir standbys such as lapis lazuli and alpaca. You’ll also find poet Pablo Neruda’s city pad (see Ode to Pablo) but, like much else in Santiago, it is daubed with graffiti, and the handsomely restored 1920s Aubrey Hotel, which has an Aussie owner and was one of the city’s first boutique hotels. Drop by the quaint Galindo, dating from 1968, for a pisco sour and plate of shrimp empanada. This busy bar and diner specialises in hearty Chilean staples and feels properly bohemian; I can well imagine Neruda tucked away at a corner table penning an ode. More: theaubrey.com; galindo.cl.
6 ODE TO PABLO
Chile’s Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda had three houses,h including the one in Bellavista, but why not take a quick jaunt to shabby but utterly beguiling Valparaiso 90 minutes away, a “clown”, a “madman”, a “crazy port” of a town, penned Neruda, where his beloved La Sebastiana perches high above the ocean amid a jumble of pastel-coloured houses spilling down the hillside. A diverting audio tour has you climbing narrow staircases into eccentrically appointed rooms with drop-dead views through rattling windows. The large living room is arrayed with an armada of curiosities including a carousel horse and a Belgian chest where the poet-diplomat stored his whisky. The big dining table was central to many a salon where the dish de jour was generally Neruda’s favourite conga chowder (so beloved he penned an ode to the “thick and succulent” eel). His leather “cloud” chair sits at the window and tucked into one corner is a mad pink bar where the poet dispensed wine and whisky, either in disguise or sporting a painted-on moustache. An onsite gift shop stocks English-language volumes of his poetry. More: fundacionneruda.org.
7 THE OTHER CASABLANCA
Casablanca Valley, 75km from Santiago on the coastal plain between the city and Valparaiso, produces some of the country’s finest cool climate wines. In 2008, eighth-generation vigneron Pablo Morande established Bodegas Re, a fine cellar door and restaurant housed in a contemporary adobe building where production methods date back to time immemorial. Wine is made in traditional clay pots or enormous concrete urns, and there are cellars devoted to balsamic vinegars and fruit and floral liqueurs (cherry, apricot, peach, walnut and rose). Wine labels riff on the notion of reimagined or reinvented (thus a Re-noir sparkling) and concentrate on unusual blends. The stylish cellar door and retail outlet recreates an old-fashioned general store and is the new outpost of the Casablanca Social Club, destroyed in an earthquake in 1985. Drop in for a glass of wine or pick up some handicrafts of excellent quality; the rugs and throws are particularly beautiful. More: bodegasre.cl.
8 FIND YOUR INNER COWBOY
Cristian Waidele of Andes Riders spends half the year in Patagonia leading remote horseback treks; otherwise you’ll find him in the Andes foothills on the outskirts of Santiago with his herd of gentle but nimble-footed ponies leading shorter rides, some by the light of the full moon. Marshalled by the impressively moustachioed head huaso (cowboy) Don Jose, our plucky ponies head resolutely up the mountain, crossing streams, trotting along narrow hillside paths through stands of prickly espino (hawthorn) trees and enormous cactuses. Accompanying dogs scatter wild horses and cattle willynilly as we keep our eyes peeled for a faint wisp of smoke higher up the mountain. It’s a sign that Don Jose’s son Don Carlos has lunch under way — sensational steaks washed down with a local cab merlot and the chance to give our gringo bottoms a rest on soft hay bales while admiring the sprawling city far, far below. More: andesriders.com.
9 UP, UP AND AWAY
Santiago nestles in a dramatic natural amphitheatre, ringed by mountains, meaning lucky powderhounds can be on the slopes in less than two hours. Three thousand metres, 67km and 57 switchbacks later and you hit condor territory at Valle Nevado, a popular ski resort with three hotels linked to 2833ha of navigable terrain catering to all levels of expertise. The drive is great fun, climbing above the tree and cactus line to the pristine snowy crags of the Andes (the resort’s top elevation is a dizzying 5430m). Valle Nevado is popular with well-heeled Brazilian visitors, who tend to skip the minibus and dial up an Uber chopper instead, as well as Olympic ski teams training during the northern summer. More: vallenevado.com.
10 CENTRE OF ATTENTION
Novotel Santiago Vitacura offers good-value packages in a great locale. Vitacura is one of the city’s smartest suburbs with great restaurants (including Borago, Chile’s answer to Noma) and fine shopping on Alonso de Cordova, Santiago’s Rodeo Drive. Hotel staff are super-friendly and helpful and facilities include a downstairs fitness centre, day spa, heated pool, free Wi-Fi, interconnecting guestrooms for families and ski hire and shuttle service if you want to hit those slopes. Three-night packages from $US450 ($622) with breakfasts and 4.30pm checkout. More: novotel.com.
Clockwise from main: the lively Bellavista neighbourhood; Casablanca Valley; Valle Nevado ski resort; poet Pablo Neruda’s home in Valparaiso; the Museum of Memory and Human Rights; below, Neruda