I return to certain countries with keen anticipation, and Chile is among them. The scenery varies wildly along its length, ranging from merely impressive to absolutely sensational. No matter where you are, neither the snowy peaks of the Andes nor the dramatic Pacific coastline is far away. Just as important for the traveler, Chile nowadays is a remarkably safe, stable and prosperous country, with none of the corruption and economic chaos plaguing some of its neighbors. Chile stands apart from the rest of the continent, separated both geographically and culturally. Much of Chile was never conquered by the Incas or the Spanish, and it retains an independent spirit to this day.
Chile stands apart from the rest of the continent, separated both geographically and culturally.
Past visits have taken me to the extreme north and south of the country, and I highly recommend stays in the otherworldly Atacama Desert and rugged Patagonia as time and energy permit. It took considerable willpower to eschew these regions on this trip, but the beauty of Chile’s wine country and the stupendous scenery of Chiloé Island provided ample compensation. Located 660 miles south of Santiago, Chiloé has a landscape of rolling sheep pastures punctuated by copses of eucalyptus and graceful lines of poplars. Between the island and the mainland — the inhabitants refer to themselves as Chilotes, not Chileans — the coastline fragments into picturesque archipelagos. Where it meets the Pacific Ocean, Chiloé terminates in a series of surf-pounded sea cliffs. The island offers innumerable cultural riches: Many towns have preserved their palafitos, colorful stilt houses built over the water, and 16 elegant wooden churches scattered around the Chiloé archipelago have been designated UNESCO World Heritage sites. Markets contain tempting traditional handicrafts and stalls piled with fresh seafood and produce, including some of the hundreds of varieties of potatoes indigenous to the island.
Although some palafitos have been converted into guest lodgings, and a new hotel looms over the harbor of Castro, the island’s capital, these offer no competition to Tierra Chiloé, tucked away on the Rilán Peninsula. The hotel opened two years ago as Refugia, and its founder, Andrés Bravari Gambino, now works as the general manager. When the owner of Tierra, which has fine resorts in both the Atacama Desert and Patagonia, came for a visit, he was so taken with the place that he offered to buy it from Bravari on the spot. I can understand the impulse. Perched on a hillside overlooking pastureland and the sea, the sculptural main building has a prism-shaped second floor hovering over a glass-enclosed lounge and restaurant. The traditional wood shingles that clad the exterior, however, keep it firmly rooted in Chiloé. Appointed with comfortable seating groups upholstered in warm cream and biscuit tones, the panoramic lounge has unforgettable views sloping down to the bay. Each evening before dinner, we would relax by the fireplace with pisco sours and canapés, watching grazing chestnut horses gleam in the setting sun. An outdoor fireplace surrounded by sofas affords equally fine vistas. Dinners were invariably delicious. I particularly enjoyed the crab claws with mashed cauliflower and avocado cream, lamb chops over pumpkin purée, and gnocchi made with local purple potatoes in a tomato-beet sauce topped with a delicate hake fillet.
Upstairs, a small spa has a treatment room, sauna, steam room and (during our stay) a rather tepid hot tub. Fortunately, each guest room comes with its own jetted tub and no shortage of hot water. All 12 accommodations are more or less identical, with the exception of No. 1, which has an additional side window. Paneled entirely in wood, the comfortable rooms are well-designed, if not particularly large. A king bed and two armchairs face a picture window with mesmerizing views of the Rilán Peninsula and distant Quinchao Island. Local fabrics give the room a sense of place, and each guest receives a pair of hand-knit slippers to keep. Tile baths have dual vanities and shower/tub combinations. There is no air-conditioning, but evenings are quite cool, even at the height of summer.
I recommend a stay of at least three nights to take full advantage of the activities included in the rate. Guests are guaranteed at least one excursion on the property’s elegant wooden yacht, Williche. We met the boat at Tenaún, home to a striking 19th-century wooden church. From there, we cruised to the Chauques Islands, spotting sea lions and Magellanic penguins along the way. Some couples elected to hike or to explore the archipelago by Zodiac, but we chose to kayak, gliding past forests and farms to the harbor of Mechuque, a colorful town of weather-beaten palafitos. From there, we cruised back to Tierra Chiloé, lunching on local salmon. The next day’s hikes proved equally memorable. We first explored a pristine tract of temperate rain forest so fertile that even some fence posts sprouted fresh twigs and leaves. Stands of bamboo and giant ferns jostled for space with towering canelo and mañio macho trees, their trunks entirely sheathed in feathery mosses and epiphytes. After a lunch of empanadas stuffed with fresh razor clams and corvina, we hiked along steep coastal sheep pastures to the Muelle de las Almas. Legend says that here, between cliffs plunging into the Pacific, is where souls of the dead come to meet the local equivalent of Charon, the boatman to the afterlife.
AT A GLANCE
LIKE: The scenic and unspoiled setting; the house-party atmosphere; the delightful staff; the innovative design.
DISLIKE: The smallish rooms; the shower-tub combinations.
GOOD TO KNOW: The resort plans to add eight more rooms in the next year, along with an expanded spa, connected to the main building by an underground tunnel. No television.
Tierra Chiloé 96 Three-night package, $3,380, all inclusive; four-night package, $3,800. San José Playa, Castro, Chiloé. Tel. (56) 2-2207-8861.
Closer to Santiago, the Chilean landscape turns Mediterranean, and the climate supports a world-class wine industry. A new resort opened in the Cachapoal Valley in November, and fondly remembering my stay at Lapostolle Residence three years ago, I seized the opportunity to return to the area. A two-and-a-half-hour drive south of Santiago, the titanium-roofed Viña Vik cuts a startling profile amid the acres of vineyards and orchards, as though a Frank Gehry-designed flying saucer had landed on a convenient hilltop. The hotel commands magnificent panoramas in every direction. We spent happy hours lounging beside the infinity pool and contemplating the valley, which ends in a range of low mountains green with vineyards and acacia trees. At night, pin lights at the bottom of the pool made it appear to be a reflection of the gloriously clear night sky above.
The hotel commands magnificent panoramas in every direction.
Aside from taking in the views, we spent our time horseback riding through hilly vineyards populated with countless quail, and along the valley’s lake, where we spotted flocks of cranes, ducks and southern lapwings. We also toured the dramatically designed winery, notable for its boulder-strewn roof rippling with water, which keeps the barrel room cool and humidified. It currently makes just one wine from the 1,000 acres of vineyards surrounding the hotel, a rich and well-structured blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenère, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Syrah. This premium wine retails for well over $100, but it is the house red at the resort, poured generously at delicious market-driven lunches and dinners. I also considered having a treatment in the fragrant five-room spa, but I couldn’t resist returning to a pool lounger to read my novel and sip a cool glass of single-vineyard Sauvignon Blanc. Mountain biking and hiking are also available.
Public spaces and guest rooms surround a flower-filled courtyard and zen garden. Up-to-the-minute museum-quality art can be found throughout the colorful lounges and the 22 accommodations, each of which is decorated in an individual style. Our room, “Chile,” came outfitted with contemporary paintings hung on sisal-covered walls, and doors and a headboard made from cactus wood. The theme continued with cowhide Breuer-inspired chairs, a lenga-wood dresser and a desk lamp made from a Mapuche-style cow udder basket. I loved the freestanding egg-shaped beechwood tub and matching sinks, and even the surprisingly waterproof mud walls of the bath seemed charming. Floor-to-ceiling windows framed a captivating scene of vineyards and rugged hills, but rooms overlooking the lake such as “Azulejo” and “Minimalist” have even more panoramic views. For more space, request Master Suite “Vik,” “Fornasetti” or “Gablers Grisaille,” which face the pond, or “H,” facing the pool and valley. “Shogun” has exquisite Japanese décor but more limited views. Avoid the circle-themed “Redondo” room, sure to induce headaches (if not hallucinations), and “Valenzuela,” with its aggressively colorful bath.
Perhaps because the hotel is so new, we experienced a few problems, notably on arrival. There was no porter, which obliged our driver to carry our bags up the steps to the lounge. The young lady who welcomed us spoke excellent English but seemed frazzled. Immediately after leading us to our room, she left in a rush without showing us how to operate the remote-controlled drapes or the climate control, or helping to set up our luggage. We had no choices at lunch or dinner, aside from preferences expressed before we arrived. And the shower, uncontained by any barriers, inevitably covered half the floor with water. We enjoyed ourselves nevertheless, not least because the majority of the staff worked hard to make sure we felt at home. I recommend staying at both Viña Vik, where most of the activities are on-property, and the complementary Lapostolle Residence, which is better located for visiting wineries.
AT A GLANCE
LIKE: The museum-quality contemporary art at every turn; the sensational views; the accommodating staff.
DISLIKE: The rushed welcome; the bath design; the lack of choices at dinner.
GOOD TO KNOW: Guests with mobility difficulties will be happier elsewhere; the nearest off-property winery is an 80-minute drive. No television.
Viña Vik 92 Suite, $1,600, all inclusive; Master Suite, $2,100. Hacienda Vik, Millahue s/n, San Vincente de Tagua Tagua. Tel. (56) 9-9534-9437.
Whatever your Chilean itinerary, a stay in Santiago is almost unavoidable. This is not at all bad. Santiago ranks among the safest metropolises in the hemisphere, and has enough attractions to occupy you for at least two or three full days. Nowadays, it has numerous inviting wine bars and stylish restaurants, notably in the lively Lastarria neighborhood adjacent to the Cerro Santa Lucía, a green hump of a park affording views across the city to the Andes. The new 62-room Singular Santiago has opened on the edge of this neighborhood, just around the corner from its main commercial street and within walking distance of several impressive museums. The property has a masculine, clubby feel within its modern exterior. Framed watercolor plates from old magazines and bird reference books crowd the black walls of the lobby bar and the lounge, which are filled with seating groups upholstered in black leather and olive-green velvet. A second bar decorated with framed covers of vintage Vogue and New Yorker magazines occupies the top floor, along with a shady roof terrace and a small outdoor pool. Guests can also unwind in the attractive Ayurvedic spa in the basement.
Santiago ranks among the safest metropolises in the hemisphere, and has enough attractions to occupy you for at least two or three full days.
Aside from The Singular Suite, the accommodations to reserve are the junior suite-like Singular Rooms (lower categories can feel cramped). Book as far in advance as possible — we made our plans too late to secure a room with a king bed. Done in calming grays, our Singular Room had twin beds, a small dining area, two traditional armchairs and framed plans of famous French gardens. The white-and-gray marble bath offered a separate shower and soaking tub, and a matte granite floor that provided traction even when wet. Regrettably, most rooms overlook unremarkable city streets.
Service tended to be exceptionally obliging. The youthful concierge, Jonathan Aguilar, helped immensely with dining recommendations and reservations, even going so far as to eat at an unfamiliar restaurant in advance of our stay to determine its quality. He rearranged our dining reservations when we changed our minds mid-stay, made shopping suggestions and even helped with our luggage when we departed. General Manager Nicholas Russ frequently appeared in the lobby and checked in with us regularly to make sure we were enjoying ourselves. The barmen, adept at making balanced cocktails, were unfailingly amiable. One or two other staff members need additional training, however. When a problem arose and I asked a front desk employee to speak to the manager, she rolled her eyes as she reached for the telephone. A shirt I sent out for pressing came back with most of its wrinkles intact. And at breakfast on our last morning, service was relentlessly clumsy and inattentive. Dinner in the intimate formal restaurant was much better, highlighted by a sumptuous dish of sous-vide veal with potato cream, onion purée and broccoli.
Because of The Singular’s youth, character and the mostly warm and helpful service, I couldn’t help but forgive the stumbles. When I return to Chile, I look forward to a second stay.
AT A GLANCE
LIKE: The clubby décor; the very helpful concierge; the convenient location.
DISLIKE: Occasional service missteps; the lack of staff at the pool; the uninspiring views.
GOOD TO KNOW: Request a room ending in -05 or -06 to have a partial view of the leafy Parque Forestal.
The Singular Santiago 92 The Singular Room, $320; The Singular Suite, $720. Merced 294, Santiago. Tel. (56) 2-2306-8820.