Visitors to Matetic — a traditional, 19th-century farm near Valparaiso, Chile — can take scenic horseback rides within the property’s 25,000 acres. // © 2012 Jimmy Im
Got booze? Chile does, and lots of it. From the flagship wine varietal Carmenere to the South American heavyweight pisco, Chile lures travelers the world over not only for its iconic, diverse landscapes but for spirits that are truly unique to the country. Drinking here is just as much a tradition as it is, well, fun. A toast is in order to the country that’s been on just about everyone’s radar lately (The New York Times voted Santiago as the best place to go in 2011, Chile held the first international Lollapalooza this past spring and the ALMA astronomy project is set to complete this year). So grab a corkscrew and follow this booze-heavy, city-hopping itinerary to catch the buzz — in more ways than one.
Day One: Santiago
There is plenty of hype regarding the Noi Vitacura, which opened this past July. The 87-room boutique hotel offers a contemporary design in the chic El Golf neighborhood. Noi Vitacura features three room categories and a cosmopolitan suite, the Italian Piegari restaurant, a terrific spa with an indoor, heated pool and a rooftop bar with an outdoor pool and terrace. Start your adventure with one of the hotel’s signature cocktails such as the ginger sour that incorporates two kinds of pisco.
Lunch at Donde Augusto, Central Market
This downtown market, which inaugurated in 1872, specializes in seafood. The market is touted for having some of the best conger eel in town. Despite its name, conger eel is a local fish, best eaten in a soup and known to Chileans as a hangover cure. Head upstairs to Donde Augusto and get your seafood fix with king crab and ceviche. Don’t forget to order the special mashed potatoes seasoned with merken (a Mapuche spice found in Chile).
San Esteban Vineyard
Just an hour outside Santiago, San Esteban is a classic, Chilean vineyard that should be on any wine lover’s agenda. Set on a rolling hill overlooking the Andes, the 20-year-old establishment has been pouring wines for 14 years and recently started producing its own avocado oil for $3 per bottle. Sip on some lovely Carmenere, syrah and cabernet, and don’t forget to visit the ancient Inca petroglyphs carved into rocks on property.
Day Two: Valparaiso
Wine Tour and Lunch at Indomita
In Chile, it’s never too early to drink, so take the hour-and-a-half drive to Indomita after breakfast. If you’ve flown on LAN Airlines, chances are you have already tried the label — it’s one of the most popular in the country. Set on 1,230 acres of sprawling vineyards, Indomita in Casablanca Valley produces the Zardoz label, a top-of-the-line bottle made with individually selected grapes determined by color and size. Have a delicious lunch paired with different wines, then pick up a bottle of Zardoz for $32.
Eco-Wine Tour at Emiliana
Practically across the street from Indomita is Emiliana, an eco-friendly winery where Chilean fowl run amok (to eat the pests) and the tasting room is located in a farmhouse. About 85 percent of their biodynamic production is white wine. Go for the fruity sauvignon blanc, then take plenty of photos with the alpacas out back. The rustic vineyard also makes its own olive oil and honey, should you like your liquids in other forms.
Tanning at the Beaches of Vina Del Mar/Drink at Radisson Aqua
This beachside resort is just a half hour from the port city of Valparaiso and a favorite stop on cruise ship itineraries. Catch some rays at Renaca beach, then head to Radisson Hotel Concon, which is more local and away from the masses. A pisco sour on the hotel’s terrace on the cliffs is a romantic affair, considering the sound of crashing waves and bird’s-eye view of the coast.
Casa Higueras/Dinner at Montealegre Restaurant
In Valparaiso, the 20-room Casa Higueras, formerly a historic home, has sublime views of the port, comfortably chic and modern rooms and claw-foot tubs in bathrooms. It’s so intimate, that you might feel like a member of the family. Dinner in the Montealegre restaurant (known as one of the best restaurants in Valparaiso) is a must for top Chilean wines, fresh vegetables and Mediterranean options. The outdoor dining terrace has commanding views of the hills and port.
Day Three: Valparaiso
Horseback Riding at Matetic
This charming, rustic vineyard is just a half-hour drive from Valparaiso and offers seven rooms on a traditional, 19th-century farm. Matetic features cozy rooms with woods made from local castano nuts, an outdoor pool and restaurant by a pond. Take a scenic ride on horseback from the farm to their main area of production. There is a whopping 25,000 acres of pure nature and vineyards for guests to explore.
Make Your Own Wine at Undurraga
A friendly staff awaits at Undurraga in the Maipo Valley, where they will host lunch in an 100-year-old home. Undurraga produces five different reds on its 4,000-acre property. The best part? The staff will bring you five different wines to create your own blend. They will then cork the bottle, label it and allow you to give it a name. Best gift ever?
Walking Tour of Valparaiso
Valparaiso has to be one of my favorite cities in the world. The entire city is recognized by UNESCO World Heritage, and it is one of two cities where the government supports street art. In fact, the entire city is a canvas as walls, windows, street signs and trolleys are given some artistic makeovers. Stroll through the rolling streets, check out the small shops owned by artists, visit Pablo Neruda’s home and snuggle into your room at Casa Higuelas with a nice glass of Carmenere.
Day Four: Valle Nevado
Ski (and Apres Ski) in Valle Nevado
It’s hard to believe that a ski resort exists just an hour’s drive from Santiago. Valle Nevado is where locals go to shred snow in the Andes. The resort comprises three hotels (three-star, four-star and five-star), most equipped with free Wi-Fi access and breathtaking views of the towering slopes. After a long day of snow-bound activities, chill in the outdoor hot tub with a Cerveza Grassau (the local Chilean beer) and watch a glowing sunset.
Day Five: Pisco Elqui
Tour and Tasting at Mistral Pisco Distillery
Just a 30-minute flight from Santiago is Mistral, the main distillery of pisco. While Chileans may admit that Peruvians probably invented the pisco sour (cocktail comprising pisco, lemon or lime juice, egg whites, simple syrup and bitters), they won’t be ashamed to say that they perfected it. Get the comprehensive tour at the pisco distillery in town, which looks out into the vast vineyards that seem to go for miles, then try a glass of your own. Afterward, hit the town for a local beer. The area has some local microbrews, including Guyacan, which won a prize in Australia for best beer.
Check Into Elquimista
Elquimista in Pisco Elqui is a charming and romantic five-cabin property with commanding views of vineyards, hills and the snow-capped Andes. Each cabin is equipped with a stove-oven fireplace, a full kitchen, Wi-Fi access and generous-sized outdoor verandas. The owners live in the central house with their kids, so should you need anything, they are happy to arrange. Admire the night sky — who knows what you might find. (Pisco has the most reported UFO sightings in Chile.)
Day Six: San Pedro de Atacama
In the past few years, luxury hotels have popped all over San Pedro de Atacama, including Tierra Atacama. Open for three years and quietly removed from San Pedro village, Tierra has some of the best views of the Andes. The property offers 32 spacious rooms equipped with L’Occitane bath products, an outdoor and indoor shower and stunning views of Licancabur Volcano. An in-house observatory is set to open by year’s end, and the inclusive in-house guides are some of the town’s best. Have a pisco sour with Rica Rica, an herb grown in the desert that sweetens the cocktail, popular with locals and visitors alike.
Tour the Salt Flats/Hot Springs in the Atacama Desert
San Pedro de Atacama is the driest desert in the world and, thanks to the unique location, it also has some of the most interesting excursions. The entire desert is a geological phenomenon, from Moon Valley to Death Valley, but with limited time, head to the salt flats (Salar de Atacama), a popular desert plain taken over by pink flamingos. Afterward, head to Puritama, an oasis with seven natural hot springs to keep dehydration at bay.
View the Night Sky
The Atacama Desert has the clearest skies in the world, according to scientists, and you can see constellations with the naked eye. It’s also home of the ALMA astronomy project, set to open later this year when it will be the largest telescope in the world. If you can't wait that long, book a night tour in town from local observatories, though stargazing sans telescope will do just fine.
Day Seven: Santiago
Visit the Tatio Geysers
Rise early for the sunset in Atacama and take the hour trek to the Tatio Geysers on the border of Bolivia. The geysers only spew in the morning. It’s a natural phenomenon, guaranteed to make you shutter happy. Afterward, take a dip in the natural hot spring with bubbly water that comes from the geysers, and you will have had a true, intimate geyser experience. It will be your last excursion before heading back to Santiago.
Pilar Rodriguez Food and Wine Studio
Back in Santiago, learn how to make local dishes without slaving at the kitchen. Chile’s best-known chef, Pilar Rodriguez, offers comprehensive and fun cooking classes out of Colchagua and Santiago. Using only native ingredients, Rodriguez will have you cooking top Chilean meals in no time.
Coined as the only true boutique in Santiago, the Aubrey is a beautifully restored mansion with 15 en-suite bedrooms, each with unique character and most with balconies and terraces. Expect hardwood floors and glass rain showers at this “urban retreat.” The Aubrey is right on the main nightlife strip of Bellavista, so grab your last pisco sour, Kunstmann beer, glass of Carmenere or all three at the Aubrey bar then head out for a fun Chilean night on the town.