Travel: My Santiago
It’s a city buzzing with energy, offering stunning vistas, easy access to winter sports, and a huge diversity of cuisine to enjoy with Chile’s variety of wines. Alistair Cooper MW takes us on a tour
Alistair Cooper MW’s top sights and venues
EACH AND EVERY time I fly into Santiago, my stomach flutters with excitement as I gaze upon the beauty of the majestic snowcapped Andes. My stomach also starts to rumble in anticipation of the delicious culinary treats that will soon be heading its way. Santiago is fast becoming a foodie hotspot, with a diverse and tantalising array of restaurants and bars.
When I first moved to Santiago in 2003, to say I was underwhelmed with the local food scene would be an understatement. Back then, the hottest event of the year (red carpet and all) was the opening of Chile’s first Starbucks. It was right next to hooters. The city’s restaurant scene was dated, samey and uninspiring. Chile is blessed with an abundance of fresh produce: sublime fruit and vegetables, seafood and world-class beef. But it seemed that there was little innovation or creativity in the kitchen. Joyously, the past decade has seen increased immigration, bringing a wave of creative young chefs and truly revolutionising the city’s food offerings.
The beautiful bohemian area of Lastarria is a must. Start your morning with a visit to the Gabriela Mistral cultural centre, before wandering through the streets to enjoy the flea markets, cafés and bookshops. Lastarria is a delight and a hive of activity – make sure you pop into Santiago Wine Club to peruse its eclectic selection of wine and cheeses. Don’t miss a stroll up the Santa Lucía hill, with its colonial architecture and majestic fountains. While touristy, the bustling, buzzing Mercado Central is always worth a visit for its fish market and plethora of seafood eateries, which are a stone’s throw from Lastarria. King crab, pastel de jaiba (blue crab pie) and locos (Chilean abalone) are must-try local delicacies.
Santiago can suffer from air pollution and smog, but on a clear day the views of the Andes are mind-blowingly beautiful. To enjoy these to their fullest, head into Bellavista on Pío Nono street, and take the funicular up San Cristóbal hill. When you head back, pop into Patio Bellavista, where restaurants, bars, art and boutique shops converge – don’t miss the Peruvian sandwiches at La Gloria. The streets around Pío Nono are crammed full of bars, restaurants and salsa clubs; bar-hopping is a must. Try a late-night sopaipilla (deep-fried, pumpkin-infused bread, served with pebre –a chilli, coriander, garlic and onion sauce) from one of the street food stands.
Santiago now has several superb wine bars that are a must-visit. Bocanáriz (see opposite) is top of the list, but don’t miss La vinocracia in Nuñoa or La Misión and La vinoteca in the upscale neighbourhood of vitacura. While you may find a few international wines, the focus (rightly so) is firmly on Chilean wines. All of these venues serve a great selection by the glass, with both tapas dishes and large plates.
The joy of Santiago is also its environs – in winter it’s just an hour’s drive for world-class skiing in valle Nevado, or Farellones. Towards the coast you can visit Casablanca valley and its wineries and enjoy superb food at wineries such as Casas del Bosque or Matetic. The British Airways direct flight from heathrow (since 2016) has made travel from London so much more convenient.
Above: the stunning Santiago skyline