Discover the modern city of Santiago and its market places and green spaces, before heading to the Colchagua valley to indulge your tastebuds at the local vineyards...
During the last decade, Santiago de Chile has come of age. Long bypassed by travellers bound for the supposedly “sexier” Buenos Aires or Rio, the Chilean capital is now recognised as one of South America’s most modern, most forward-looking and most underrated cities. The Centro Cultural Palacio de la Moneda is striking for its cool architecture and location alone – beneath the plaza in front of the presidential palace – and the rotating art exhibitions are often top-class. The rest of downtown has an old-world feel, with the quirky cafés con piernas (coffee shops staffed by long-legged waitresses), old bars and hotels, churches and craft shops, and the little Santa Lucia hill. You can climb this in all of 15 minutes to see the city spread out below, and the Andes beyond.
Bellavista is the place to dine, especially at dusk when you can eat alfresco, and is also the site of the late poet and politician Pablo Neruda’s house, La Chascona, now a museum. It sits at the foot of the Cerro Cristobal hill that takes you into Santiago’s greatest asset: a huge green space above the city, with tremendous views and a botanical garden.
Two easy trips from Santiago will take you in different directions. One is west to Valparaíso, Chile’s second city, a slightly boho hillside sprawl right on the Pacific Ocean. To get there you pass through the Casablanca valley, which you might already know from those honey-scented Chilean chardonnays. The big producers are there, including Concha y Toro and Santa Rita, but visits to smaller wineries such as Casas del Bosque and Morandé tend to be more intimate. The Santiago-Casablanca-Valparaíso road cuts through some dramatic valleys and mountains; each of these serves as a border between microclimates and topographies, and as well as vineyards, great plantations of avocado, peach, fig and tobacco line the road.
The other direction you really must take is north-east, to the Aconcagua valley. As the name suggests, this route will eventually take you to the foot of the highest mountain in the Americas. It’s also the main trans-Andean route to Argentina, should you be anxious to try those malbecs and do a two-country tour. But before that, stop off at Errazuriz, 100km out of Santiago, and visit the vineyard where Don Maximiano pioneered high-mountain viticulture back in 1870. He planted the finest French clones and the winery now produces sublime whites and reds at 700 metres, including some fine examples of the famous Chilean flagship wine Carmenére.
A tour of the Colchagua valley’s vineyards. Chilean red wines have the highest levels of flavonols of any wine in the world.
Sample itinerary Explore the capital, tour the country staying in luxurious hotels and relax at an exclusive winery. Cox & Kings has an 11-night ‘Chile in Luxury’ private tour from £5,395 or speak to an expert on 0845 619 6094 for alternative tailor-made itineraries.
Love travel quizzes, events and competitions? Then sign up today for free so you don’t miss out!