We disembarked on January 16, in Valparaiso, leaving behind our lovely luxurious being waited on hand and foot lifestyle, and caught the local and convenient metro to our new lodgings – Hostal Reloj de Flores in Vina del Mar.
This B&B is a friendly little place which is VERY tucked away on a steep hill close to the beach. Our taxi driver (from the downtown subway station) had a comically difficult time finding it, which also ended up costing us way more than it should have!! Oh well!
After depositing our luggage in our little room with a tiny Romeo & Juliet style balcony with views of the ocean, we headed back to Valparaiso to find a restaurant that had been recommended to us. Le Filou de Montpellier was the perfect lunch spot for us on this particular Sunday. The small restaurant was packed with locals and the food was delicious.
We really enjoyed Valparaiso when we visited in 2009 and were intentional in returning there. We particularly love the surrounding hillsides with their winding alleys and lanes; the antiquated funiculars that magically elevate you or take you on the steep descent. For some reason, on this visit, the street art (a step up from graffitti) was more noticeable to us.
The Concepcion district is particularly attractive and inviting with the buildings constructed of corrugated metal (originally shipping crates) and painted in a rainbow of colours.
Vina del Mar is quite different to Valparaiso in that it is definitely more of a resort or vacation destination rather than being a commercial port city, and despite our affection for Valparaiso, we were happy with our decision to spend several days in Vina.
On the Sunday that we arrived the temperature was in the high 80’s and by late afternoon the beaches were packed with sun-drenched families.
Several times we went up the coast to Renaca and Con Con – little beach villages with small restaurants lining the sidewalks – right across the street from the beach, where we enjoyed an empanada lunch and cold beer to beat the heat!
We rented a car for the day so we could drive out into the wine country (between Valparaiso and Santiago) and have a little tour of the countryside. We arrived at Casas del Bosque by accident. Chris had read an article about the restaurant, Tanino, and how wonderful the chef was.
This winery could compete (in beauty, orderliness and any other category!) with the best in California, France or anywhere else that grapes are grown and wine is made. It was a truly first class and beautifully tranquil place … and our lunches and the wine were to die for!
I don’t think there is anything that doesn’t grow in those chilean valleys – we saw entire valleys planted with avacado trees, corn, tomatoes, strawberries – you name it.
The 20th of January rolled around and it was time for us to catch the bus to Santiago, for the last leg of our journey, before returning home to Maine. We were booked into the Hotel del Patio a remodeled 19th-century mansion with spacious rooms, beautiful wood floors, and the rooms have 10 foot tall double doors which lead out onto a central courtyard. On our last trip to Chile we stayed in Santiago for five days, so this time around curtailed it to just two. In the evening we had particularly enjoyed the Barrio Bellavista area around the university with artisan market, lots of pubs and restaurants and a large square surrounded by outdoor cafes, etc. We knew that the hotel was in this neighbourhood, but were totally surprised to find that the terrace of the hotel overlooked the amphitheater that hosts live entertainment most evenings. (Last time we saw a fashion show). When you live in Maine, it is particularly exciting to be able to sit outside and enjoy a drink or meal during January!
Our last day in Santiago was a long one – our flight departed at 10.30 p.m. and we checked out of our room in the morning. I was a little concerned about how we’d manage and what we’d do all day with temperatures in the mid to high 80’s, and Dennis’s inability to walk great distances. Anyway, we joined a 4-hour free walking tour which left from the cathedral at 10 a.m. with a very well informed guide who spoke impeccable English. There were only about eight of us on the tour and it was very laid back and relaxing; we even took a good 45-minutes to stop for lunch. Dennis and I departed company with the group as they were heading over to Bellavista, and spent the remainder of the afternoon relaxing in the shade in a park. I didn’t take too many photos this time around, as I had many from our last trip, but was particularly intrigued by the number of reflections I saw of old buildings in the glass of new ones.
The most noticeable damage from the earthquake in 2010 was the collapse of a statue of the Madonna from the cathedral (between the two towers). Otherwise, as our tour guide told us, there was very little damage in Santiago and that the buildings are all built to a very stringent code. He said that the metro was even running within three hours of the quake, and so life went on as usual very quickly.
We have both, easily, fallen in love with Chile and the people … not to mention the fantastic wine and delicious local specialties, one of which is Mote con Huesillos; a concoction of barley in a sweet, flavourful liquid which is drunk cold and is (maybe not so) surprisingly refreshing. We hope that we we will be back again!