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

Decanter - - CONTENT - Alis­tair Cooper MW spent years work­ing for winer­ies in Chile and Ar­gentina. He is a reg­u­lar De­can­ter con­trib­u­tor and wine judge, and the res­i­dent wine ex­pert for BBC Ra­dio Ox­ford

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

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