Read the story - Daniel J Allen


Read the story - Daniel J Allen
Travel chile
Holland Herald
new groove
The burgeoning barrios of
Chile’s capital are giving this
new KLM destination a fresh
bohemian vibe
words and photography: Daniel allen
Valenzuela holds his gleaming red racing bike upright in one
hand, and a water bottle in the other. When you’re 82 years old,
cycling up the Chilean capital’s 800 metre-high San Cristobal
Hill can be a challenge. But the octogenarian, dapper in racing
cap and multicoloured jersey, is more sprightly than most of his
exhausted compatriots nearby.
“I’ve been riding up here every weekend since I was 19,” says
Valenzuela with a gappy grin. “The view has changed, and so has
my body, but reaching the top still feels as good as it did all those
years ago.”
Sitting beneath the snow-capped ramparts of the Andes,
Santiago is a rapidly evolving city. Across from Valenzuela’s
viewpoint, rising up from the valley floor like a giant metal
shard, the new 300-metre-high Gran Torre Santiago pays
testament to a booming local economy. Hosting Latin America’s
tallest building is just one more sign that this metropolis no
longer plays second fiddle to Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro.
“Santiago once had a reputation for being strait-laced
and, let’s be honest, slightly boring,” says local tour guide Ximena
Velesquez. “They either used to call Chile the England of
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Photo on this spread: Beth Wald/National Geographic Society/Corbis
With his back to the Santiago skyline, Jose Edison
Travel chile
left and above
and a relaxed
positivity are
attracting a new
creative community
Jose Edison
Valenzuela and his
bike after the climb
up San Cristóbal Hill
South America or the Switzerland of South America.
Whatever that means, you can draw your own conclusion. Now
we have great nightlife, great cuisine and some great cultural
attractions. For many overseas visitors today, Santiago is
definitely a surprise package.”
Shaking off its reputation as a one-night stopover hasn’t been
easy for Santiago, and the competition for tourist time in Chile
remains stiff. An elongated ribbon of land stretching more than
4,300km, the country has stunning landscapes, from the arid
Atacama Desert in the north to the pristine glaciers and lakes of
Patagonia in the south. Yet the capital now has more than
Holland Herald
enough colour, charm and avant garde appeal to hold its own.
Neatly divided into ‘barrios’, each Santiago neighbourhood
has its own character. One of the most up-and-coming is Barrio
Lastarria, boasting blocks of trendy bars and sidewalk cafes,
salsa studios and arthouse cinemas, contemporary art and chic
boutiques, plus the best sushi, empanadas and ice cream in town.
On weekend afternoons, the area comes alive with painters,
jugglers, buskers and stallholders, creating a real boho vibe.
“I guess you could call Lastarria Santiago’s take on
Montmartre,” says local resident Carol Robles. “Artists,
intellectuals, gourmands and tourists all come here to
“The view has changed, and so has
my body, but reaching the top still feels as good
as it did all those years ago”
clockwise from
Part of the city’s
relaxed cafe
scene; Gran
Torre Santiago
with the Andes
beaches are
less than three
hours away
sample the elegant streets, cobbled courtyards, great
shopping and cafe society.”
Lastarria hasn’t always been Santiago’s hippest
neighbourhood. After years of decline, the repopulation of the
area began around the verdant Parque Forestal. The evolution
was led by designers, artists, independent clothing shops and
small restaurants, cafes and bars.
“It’s been an organic process, started by young people who
wanted to make a difference,” says Santiago-based architect
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Ignacio Saavedra. “There aren’t many places in Santiago where
you can see a high-end handicraft shop rubbing shoulders with a
delicatessen selling artisan cheeses and gourmet coffees, or
drink a great piscola [a Chilean cocktail made with pisco brandy
and cola] on the street next to a guy playing the piano.”
The main gathering point in Lastarria is the Plaza Mulato Gil
de Castro, recently revamped to provide room for two great new
museums, the Museo Arqueológico de Santiago and the Museo
Nacional de Artes Visuales. The winding pathways of the Parque
Travel chilE
Vibrant Valpo
“Here, we like to give our opinion
and we’re always telling jokes”
A short drive from Santiago,
past the vines of Chilean wine
country, the port of Valparaíso
(‘Valpo’ for short), is one of the
country’s most intriguing cities.
Draped haphazardly over a
succession of low hills that
drop down to a wide bay,
Valpo is as unlike the wellordered, well-manicured
capital as you could possibly
When he said: “Valparaíso is a
heap, a bunch of crazy
houses,” Chilean poet Pablo
Neruda summed up the place
perfectly. Today, Valpo’s most
striking feature remains its
chaotic melange of houses,
most of which boast colourful
exteriors of corrugated metal.
Access to this urban rabbit
warren is by ancient-looking
funiculars that slowly haul
passengers up to incredible
Be sure to check out the
UNESCO-listed Historic Quarter
and seafood market at Caleta
Portales (complete with
attendant sea lions), while the
newly renovated boutique
hotel Palacio Astoreca
which started life as the
mansion of a Croatian shipping
magnate, is a stylish base.
Forestal provide a leafy escape, while the freshly made lucuna ice
cream at nearby Emporio La Rosa is a great way to round off any
afternoon. Those after fine evening dining should head to Opera
Catedral, famous for its home-made piscos and succulent asado
de tira (casseroled beef ribs). Montmartre never had it so good.
As she sips her cream-covered cappuccino, Ximena
Velesquez attempts to explain the Chilean character. “Basically,
there’s two things you should know,” she says. “One is, we like
Holland Herald
Travel chile
Wine of
the times
Less than an hour from
Santiago, the beautiful
Casablanca Valley is
Chile’s fastest growing
wine region. A relative
newcomer, production
here started in the mid1980s, but the area’s fine
Chardonnays and
Sauvignon Blancs have
already gained
international recognition.
Casablanca plays host to
a number of wineries,
most of which offer
tours and tasting, and
many offer dining and
accommodation. One of
the valley’s westernmost
vineyards, Casas del
Bosque, produces a
variety of whites and
reds, and also has an
excellent restaurant.
Southwest of
Casablanca, Matetic is a
glisteningly modern
winery that produces
organic reds and whites,
offering guided tours,
plus accommodation and
fine dining in its stylish
La Casona guest house.
Holland Herald
Vineyard in
Casablanca Valley
above right
The cobbled streets
of Santiago
to give our opinion, even if it’s not asked for. Secondly, we’re
always telling jokes.”
The second point rather belies the Chilean reputation for
conservatism, but then much of Santiago is a contradiction. A
short walk from the Plaza de Armas, with its beautiful
neoclassical cathedral, are a selection of so-called café con piernas
(‘coffee with legs’), where young women in brightly-coloured
short dresses and three-inch heels serve espresso to sharplyattired businessmen.
“Café con piernas have been around since before I was
born,” says Velesquez. “I don’t know why. They are very
Chilean. I heard someone tried to open one in Argentina but it
wasn’t a success. Some women don’t like them, but they’re
pretty harmless.”
A short taxi ride from the Plaza de Armas, past the everlively Mercado Central (fish market), lies Barrio Yungay. This
urban backwater may not feature on many must-see lists, but it
really should.
Travel chile
“Artists, intellectuals, gourmands and tourists
come to sample the elegant streets”
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With its quiet streets and beautiful residential buildings, it has
a small-town feel with a nostalgic air, and is one of the oldest
areas of the city.
“Today Barrio Yungay is slowly becoming something of a
tourist destination,” says Ignacio Saavedra. “The neighbourhood’s
cobblestoned streets and heritage houses still resist the urban
development taking place elsewhere, while there’s a growing focus
on cultural centres, libraries, museums and dining, as well as
designer shops and boutique hotels.”
Highlights of the Yungay include the Parque Quinta Normal
and its museums, while the neighbourhood’s numerous cités
(passageways) boast some exquisite architecture. One of the main
attractions is the Peluquería Francesa, a beautiful two-storey
building that contains a barber’s shop and a French restaurant.
“It’s not often you can get a close shave and a plate of ceviche
[raw fish marinated in citrus juice] in the same building,” says
Ximena Velesquez with a smile.
Today, Santiago is confident, creative, sophisticated and
more pleasurable than many first-timers expect. It may feel more
European and less Latin than anywhere else in South America,
but that doesn’t lessen the temptation to kick back and enjoy
some of the finest art, food and shopping on the continent, plus
an independent cultural scene that’s really taking off.
A city with infectious energy, it’s the perfect place to recharge
the batteries before leaving for wilder climes.
Chile fact file
getting there
KLM operates three direct
flights per week to Santiago
de Chile Arturo Merino Benítez
Airport from Amsterdam Airport
Chile Tours ( are
a highly experienced London-
package and customizable
Lastarria Boutique Hotel
tours in Santiago, the wine
( great
cl): Lastarria-based gastropub
region and beyond.
location in the heart of vibrant
with a great courtyard. Has a
Lastarria, winding marble
barbecue buffet on Sundays.
staircase, contemporary
Try the infamous terremoto
artwork and all mod cons.
(‘earthquake’) cocktail if you
Hotel Galerias (hotelgalerias.
dare: it is made with sweet,
cl): reasonably-priced, family-
fortified wine and dollops of
friendly hotel a stone’s throw
pineapple ice cream. Opera
from San Francisco Church and
Catedral ( offers
San Francisco Colonial Museum.
traditional Chilean fine dining in
a classy environment. Try the
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don’t forget
Wining & Dining
excellent Austral hake and osso You can download this story at
Bar The Clinic (bartheclinic.
buco. Has late-night live music.
Map: Allan Grotjohann. This map is for illustrative purposes only and
should not be considered authoritative.
San Antonio
based tour outfit offering
Travel chile
Holland Herald

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