Shared between Chile and Argentina, southern Patagonia is chiefly a land of vast, desolate steppes. High precipitation and cold air combine to create huge glaciers that spill into numerous fjords. The scenically dramatic Torres del Paine National Park lies a four- hour drive from the airport at Punta Arenas.
Located on the eastern border of the park, the new Tierra Patagonia Hotel & Spa recalls an “old fossil, a prehistoric animal beached on the lakeshore, like those drawn by Charles Darwin,” according to its architect, Cazu Zegers. Inside, the utterly remarkable building is dominated by a grand sweep of immense floor-to-ceiling windows. Once I could drag my gaze from the extraordinary view across Lago Sarmiento to the breathtaking granite monoliths of the Cordillera del Paine, I became more and more impressed.
Constructed almost entirely from native lenga wood, the great room seamlessly unites a sitting area with a bar and a dining space. The interplay of a wood ceiling, walls constructed from boards of differing lengths, and wood floorboards laid at an angle gives the design a remarkable feeling of energy and flow. The 40 guest rooms (including three duplex suites) display the same aesthetic and are appointed with simple but handsome furniture that imparts a Shaker-like elegance to their interiors. Well-lit baths come with separate showers and soaking tubs.
The Uma Spa features an indoor swimming pool with jets and cascades, an outdoor Jacuzzi, a sauna and a steam bath. In the property’s dining area, seating options include larger tables to sustain the camaraderie of group excursions. During our stay, it seemed that the kitchen was still getting up to speed, but many dishes were excellent, and we particularly enjoyed succulent, firm-fleshed reineta fish served with shrimp on a bed of lentils. The service was prompt and friendly.
Double Room, $1,950 per person for a three-night minimum stay; rates include all meals, daily excursions, house drinks and wines, and the use of the spa facilities (massages and treatments extra). Suite, $2,600. Ruta 9 at Ruta y156, Torres del Paine. Tel. (800) 829-5325 or (56) 2-361-7000.
Just west of Santiago lies a rich agricultural region known as the Central Valley, a delightful area of fields, orchards and vineyards blessed by a benign climate. This is the heart of Chile’s burgeoning wine industry.
Among the names you will find on Chilean wine labels are the Aconcagua, Maipo, Cachapoal and Colchagua valleys. Lapostolle is set in the Colchagua Valley and is the realized dream of Alexandra Marnier Lapostolle, a scion of the family that created the French liqueur Grand Marnier. Today, Lapostolle produces a range of wines, preeminent among which is Clos Apalta, a red blend of Carmenère, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. In 2008, Wine Spectator named the 2005 Clos Apalta its wine of the year.
The Lapostolle Residence is set above the winery and comprises a Main House, plus four sumptuous casitas. The latter have wood floors, accents of leather and colored silk, and woodburning fires. The baths are clad in stone tile and are equipped with soaking tubs and separate showers. The Main House is a study in contemporary elegance, with a spacious living room/library that leads out to a lovely terrace where meals are taken, weather permitting. The food is superb, and we savored dishes such as grilled shrimp with barley risotto, and filet of beef in a red-wine reduction. Different Lapostolle wines are served with each course, and we especially admired the Casa Sauvignon Blanc and the Cuvée Alexandre Pinot Noir. Activities include horseback riding and tours of neighboring wineries.
The Lapostolle Residence is a place of gracious hospitality. It should feature on the itinerary of anyone with an interest in wine, and, given its relative proximity to Santiago’s airport, it provides a perfect end to a Chilean journey.
Casita, $500 per person, per night; rates include all meals, a private tour and tasting at Clos Apalta Winery, and visits to otheR wineries nearby. KM 4, Camino Apalta, Colchagua Valley, Santa Cruz. Tel. (56) 72-953-360.
For anyone who shares my preference for intimate hotels, the 10-suite Algodon Mansion in Buenos Aires’ chic and leafy Recoleta neighborhood — the equivalent of Manhattan’s Upper East Side — is a fine base from which to explore the sprawling Argentine capital.
Housed within a 1912 French classical-style limestone mansion, it was developed by Scott Mathis, chairman and CEO of DPEC Partners, a New York-based real estate investment group, and opened two years ago to rave reviews in the mainstream travel press. (Mathis has also invested in a sister property on a 2,500-acre wine estate in Mendoza.) On our arrival, the bellhop greeted us by name and was thoroughly warm and welcoming. Our suite proved to be large, quiet and bright, with a beautifully polished ebony-stained oak floor and a velvet armchair that was perfect for reading. The huge bath, faced with French limestone and Italian Calacatta marble, provided an enormous walk-in shower and a soaking tub, L’Occitane toiletries and piles of fluffy white towels.
The Algodon’s Chez Nous restaurant, with burgundy silk-clad walls, a gold-leaf ceiling and a woodburning fireplace, is a relaxed and stylish place for dinner. Chef Antonio Soriano’s stated ambition is to reinvent traditional and regional dishes with French-inspired culinary techniques. (Most of the fruit and vegetables, as well as the olive oil, come from Algodon Wine Estates.) We settled for grilled lamb chops with Andean potatoes, and black bass with black-olive gnocchi, both of which were excellent. Amenities at the hotel include a small spa (with steam, sauna and massage rooms), plus a rooftop plunge pool, Jacuzzi and sun terrace. The latter is a great place to relax after a day of sightseeing and perhaps before hitting the tiles to tango!
Recoleta Suite, $480. 1647 Montevideo, Buenos Aires. Tel. (54) 11-3530-7777.
Playa Vik José Ignacio is the work of Uruguayan architect Carlos Ott, who also designed the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati and the Opéra Bastille in Paris. The property opened last year and comprises four suites and six pavilions (with two or three bedrooms). A spectacular lap pool is cantilevered over an expanse of lawn, and museum-quality modern art is displayed in the sculpture pavilion, a striking structure containing two pieces by Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid, among works of other world-class artists. Overall, the place has an upscale bohemian personality.
The seafront complex is surrounded by a wall that encloses limestone, concrete, titanium and glass structures in a landscaped garden. The pavilions are ideal for families, while the four suites are better suited to couples. Our rhomboid-shaped room, “Fuerteventura,” proved to be the ultimate in sea-shack chic, with teak floors, white walls and striking photographs. A very comfortable bed was made up in Frette sheets, and a dressing room came with built-in teak shelves and wardrobes. Despite the bold contemporary design, the room also managed to be very comfortable, almost cozy, with a moss- green velvet sofa; a copper-clad, granite-topped coffee table; and an area rug made from thick strips of soft brown leather. The large and dramatic bath was clad in sheets of aluminum riveted together like an old airplane. A rainfall shower and a large Boffi bath by Philippe Starck flanked the double vanities.
We were a little disappointed with the food and beverage options. Fortunately, there are numerous good restaurants in José Ignacio, and most guests dine out for both lunch and dinner. Amenities at the resort include a small spa, a workout room with a sauna, and a sunken barbecue pit. If you require 24-hour room service and a serviced beach, then Playa Vik is not for you. If, on the other hand, you are content with an easygoing seaside existence and appreciate contemporary art and design, this remarkable property just might become one of your favorite hotels.
Suite (two people), $1,600; Casa (four people), $1,700. Calles Los Cisnes y Los Horneros, Jose Ignacio. Tel. (598) 94-605-212.