San­ti­ago’s ge­og­ra­phy pre­serves the city’s cos­mopoli­tan feel and pos­i­tive per­son­al­ity

San­ti­ago’s ge­og­ra­phy has shaped its char­ac­ter, pre­serv­ing a cos­mopoli­tan feel and a pos­i­tive per­son­al­ity

Business Traveler (USA) - - CONTENTS - WORDS RALF WAL­TERS

"Buena Ondo,” which trans­lates as “Good Vibes,” is a phrase that cap­tures the essence of Latin Amer­i­can cul­tures. And for Chile, a nar­row stretched-out arm of land sand­wiched be­tween the Pa­cific coast and the Andes Moun­tains from its north­ern bor­der with Peru to the south­ern­most tip of South Amer­ica at Cape Horn, the good vibes take on their own dis­tinc­tive fla­vor. In­deed, I felt good vibes and tasted the dis­tinc­tive fla­vors as soon as I boarded the LATAM Air­line flight from JFK to San­ti­ago.

The buena ondo feel con­tin­ued as din­ner was served early in the flight. LATAM had just in­tro­duced their new Econ­omy cabin menu for its long-haul in­ter­na­tional flights and I was ea­ger to sam­ple. There were three choices avail­able: I opted for gnoc­chi with parme­san sauce, sautéed mush­rooms and pesto with a glass of Gan­dolini Las 3 Maria Vine­yards, Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon 2012, to com­ple­ment – it was “Muy de­li­cioso!”

Af­ter dessert, I be­gan to re­flect on just how just far south San­ti­ago is from New York City. Ad­just­ing my east-to-west, North Star ori­en­ta­tion, I pon­dered the idea that my flight would be al­most as long as the num­ber of hours it took me to fly JFK to Cairo a few years ear­lier. At a notch above 5,100 miles, the dis­tance to San­ti­ago is just shy of my jour­ney to the Land of the Pharaohs. Con­tem­plat­ing this as the plane went dark, I fell asleep.

When the sun rose, everyone was awak­ened for break­fast. We would be land­ing in San­ti­ago in six more hours, far be­low the equa­tor and 693 miles south of the Tropic of Capri­corn. Rais­ing the shade, I was im­pressed by the beauty of the snow-capped Andes Moun­tains. Co­modoro Ar­turo Merino Benítez In­ter­na­tional Air­port, aka San­ti­ago In­ter­na­tional Air­port (SCL), awaited.

As we ap­proached “Greater San­ti­ago” I saw a sprawl­ing mod­ern me­trop­o­lis. With a pop­u­la­tion of 6.5 mil­lion, it blan­kets 37 mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties. The city it­self, nes­tled in the coun­try's cen­tral val­ley, sits at an el­e­va­tion of 1,700 feet. With the Andes still loom­ing to the east, the air­port’s run­ways came into view. Of­fi­cially named San­ti­ago de Chile, the fed­eral cap­i­tal of the Re­pub­lic of Chile looked wel­com­ing.

My driver met me at the air­port and took me to the Ho­tel Cum­bres Vi­tacura, a 5-star, 16-story oa­sis in the north­east part of the city. The pleas­ant 30-minute drive on a ma­jor high­way through the heart of town was a ter­rific in­tro­duc­tion to this mod­ern cap­i­tal as late model cars of all global brands buzzed around us. Con­struc­tion cranes could be seen dot­ting the sky­line.

My first im­pres­sion – San­ti­ago is a very pros­per­ous place. The driver was gra­cious in try­ing to un­der­stand what I can only de­scribe as my pid­gin Span­ish. We agreed that she would prac­tice her English and I, my Es­pañol. We passed the ho­tel three times due to con­struc­tion on a new un­der­ground traf­fic cir­cle that will even­tu­ally tie to­gether three ma­jor high­ways; I was dizzy as we en­tered and ex­ited the worm hole.

Af­ter an ad­di­tional 20 min­utes, the driver and I fi­nally fig­ured out which exit was Avenida Pres­i­dente Kennedy, the ho­tel’s ad­dress. Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy still has a spe­cial place in the hearts of Chileans.

The sign greet­ing me at tow­er­ing Ho­tel Cum­bres Vi­tacura said it all: “El Vi­aje Es Largo Y El Des­canso Tam­bien” (“The Trip is Long and the Rest Also”). Amen! I was ex­hausted. Af­ter un­pack­ing, I headed for “The Glass,” the ho­tel’s restau­rant on the top floor. It serves up a great view of the city to the south. I or­dered a de­li­cious grilled salmon salad and glass of Sau­vi­gnon Blanc from Vina Matetic Cor­ralillo, a lo­cal vine­yard in nearby Valle de San An­to­nio.

After­wards, feel­ing the need of a re­lax­ing walk af­ter a long flight and hefty lunch, I de­cided to explore the sur­round­ing neigh­bor­hood. What I found was lush, palm-tree-lined streets with beau­ti­ful apart­ments with full-length ter­races. The Vi­tacura bar­rio is one of the most ex­pen­sive and fashionable ar­eas of San­ti­ago.

The Sights from the Heights

With its pop­u­la­tion of nearly 18 mil­lion, Chile has a strong man­u­fac­tur­ing base, mak­ing it less vul­ner­a­ble to the fluc­tu­a­tions of agri­cul­ture and min­ing, un­like other South Amer­i­can economies. As a re­sult, Chile is one of the more ur­ban­ized so­ci­eties with a grow­ing mid­dle class and sta­ble democ­racy.

Late in the af­ter­noon, I was treated to a guided tour of Cerro (Hill) Cris­to­bal and Sky Costan­era. It was near rush hour and traf­fic was build­ing. Nev­er­the­less, it was an ex­cit­ing op­por­tu­nity to jump into the hus­tle of San­ti­ago and peo­ple watch. Many were be­gin­ning to queue up at the bus stops while oth­ers de­scended into the sub­way. The sys­tem has five lines that criss­cross the city from 6 in the morn­ing to 11 at night, and is a great way for vis­i­tors to see many of the city’s land­marks.

The 984-foot Cerro San Cristóbal is vis­i­ble for miles around, and for my first day in San­ti­ago I had an in­cred­i­ble panoramic view which helped me ori­ent my­self in re­la­tion to the Andes Moun­tains and the Chilean Coastal Range (Cordillera de la Costa). The moun­tain range runs north and south par­al­lel to the Pa­cific coast. Our hosts told us the sun­sets up here are glo­ri­ous – but we had no time to wait so had to press on.

Yet there was an im­pres­sive al­ter­na­tive: Sky Cost­nera. This is the high­est ob­ser­va­tory in all of South Amer­ica at nearly 2,000 feet. The el­e­va­tor ride took two min­utes; strangely, it was so smooth I couldn’t feel it mov­ing. When the doors opened at the 62nd floor the stun­ning view over­whelmed.

En­closed in glass, the ob­ser­va­tory of­fered a 360-de­gree view of the en­tire re­gion. For the ad­ven­tur­ous, an es­ca­la­tor leads to an outdoor deck. As the sun be­gan to set be­hind the coastal range, the sky be­came a fiery orange sur­rounded by smoky clouds. Open 365 days a year from 10:00 AM to 10:00 PM (last ride go­ing up is at 9:00 PM) it’s an at­trac­tion not to be missed. Be sure to call ahead for ticket prices and group reser­va­tions. The best time to view is af­ter it rains. (San­ti­ago, like most cities si­t­u­ated in a val­ley, suf­fers from pe­ri­odic smog.)

The cli­mate in San­ti­ago can be de­scribed as Mediter­ranean – hot, dry sum­mers and mild win­ters. But take note: The sea­sons are op­po­site from the north­ern hemi­sphere, so De­cem­ber there equals July in New York. For­tu­nately, I was vis­it­ing in early Novem­ber, one of

San­ti­ago it­self, nes­tled in the coun­try's cen­tral val­ley, sits at an el­e­va­tion of 1,700 feet

the best times of the year along with March to May. (If you want to ski the Andes, then sched­ule a visit in June to early Septem­ber).

Coastal Breezes

I had de­cided much ear­lier that the best way to see the sights in San­ti­ago and en­vi­rons was to sched­ule a day trip. Turis Tour, founded in 1913, of­fers a va­ri­ety of ex­cit­ing trips. I chose to visit a nearby vine­yard with wine tast­ing and then on to the coast to ex­pe­ri­ence Vina del Mar and Vala­paraiso. The cost is ap­prox­i­mately $57.

Our first des­ti­na­tion on the way to Vina Del Mar was Vina Matetic in Fundo el Rosario, Casablanca Val­ley. Our tour guide was pro­fi­cient in English, but I enjoyed his im­pec­ca­ble and rhyth­mi­cal Span­ish as he de­scribed in­ter­est­ing facts along the way in both lan­guages.

The set­ting of Matetic Vine­yards with its bou­tique ho­tel is rus­tic and strik­ingly peace­ful. Sprawl­ing over hun­dreds of acres, it cul­ti­vates a va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent grapes. We were treated to a tour of the win­ery in­clud­ing the dimly lit sub­ter­ranean stor­age room where bar­rels upon bar­rels of wine were ag­ing in a cave-like at­mos­phere of 55 de­grees.

Upon re-sur­fac­ing, we headed for the wine tast­ing room where we were greeted by a host and a wall full of framed awards pro­claim­ing the su­pe­rior wines pro­duced by Matetic. We sam­pled sev­eral of their top la­bels, com­ple­mented with nuts and del­i­cate cheeses and crack­ers.

The Matetic Syrah 2011 was my fa­vorite. Our host ex­plained that it was pro­duced from black-and blue-berried fruit, white pep­per, and pan juices min­gled with fine tan­nins to give it a perky acid­ity and long fin­ish. Matetic takes ad­van­tage of the arid cli­mate and gen­tle Pa­cific coastal breezes which tum­ble over the coastal range, giv­ing their grapes a light salty cov­er­ing and sig­na­ture prove­nance.

With no time to waste, we de­parted for Vina Del Mar, pop­u­la­tion 324,000, about an hour’s drive. Known as

Chile has a strong man­u­fac­tur­ing base, mak­ing it less vul­ner­a­ble to the fluc­tu­a­tions of agri­cul­ture and min­ing

the “Gar­den City,” Vina del Mar is pic­turesque with its green sur­round­ings and beau­ti­ful large gar­dens. Rec­og­nized for its fine ar­chi­tec­ture, stun­ning palace and fa­mous Flower Clock, it’s a pop­u­lar va­ca­tion spot for in­ter­na­tional trav­el­ers who en­joy its placid re­sorts, ho­tels, malls and en­ter­tain­ment venues in­clud­ing a casino. We had to stop and put a toe in the Pa­cific be­fore head­ing to Val­paraiso.

By far, the high­light of the day was tour­ing Val­paraiso. Founded in 1536, Val­paraiso is a UNESCO World Her­itage Site and im­por­tant sea­port, known for its steep fu­nic­u­lars and col­or­ful, clifftop homes. In­ter­spersed are wind­ing-stair­case side­walks and streets that are filled with col­or­ful and artis­tic graf­fiti. We stopped to ad­mire the work of artists as we made our way to the sou­venir shops and high-end re­tail stores.

The street art in this vi­brant city of 250,000 re­flects the re­gion’s di­verse pop­u­la­tion and her­itage – a blend of Span­ish and in­dige­nous cul­tures. Restau­rants and cof­fee shops abound. Ev­ery­where we went, we could en­joy the sounds of street mu­si­cians, whether we were sip­ping espresso at a side­walk café or stop­ping at a restau­rant for fresh seafood and a glass of Carmenere, a fruity wine con­sid­ered to be the na­tional fa­vorite.

Be­fore head­ing back to San­ti­ago, we had a won­der­ful lunch at Restau­rant Fauna. With stun­ning views across the har­bor from the outdoor ter­race, we were treated to the mu­sic of an acous­tic gui­tarist who sang, oddly enough, Bea­tle songs. One of the tourists, a Lon­doner, was an in­stant fan. Stick­ing with seafood at its fresh­est, I or­dered baked salmon and a Chardon­nay, fol­lowed by a rich choco­late torte.

I hope to re­turn to Val­paraiso for an ex­tended stay some day; it’s sur­real, like a movie set. Best of all, the peo­ple here, like all the good peo­ple I met in Chile, are friendly and ge­nial. There’s a quiet, dignified so­phis­ti­ca­tion in the air. On the whole, Chile is a must see des­ti­na­tion, one I highly rec­om­mend. “Buena Ondo!”

FROM LEFT:

Valp Fu­nic­u­larangle, Bi­cen­ten­nial Park in wealthy Vi­tacura district, San­ti­ago

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