Once Sleepy, Santiago’s Now Wide Awake
Attention travel planners. It’s no longer appropriate to view Santiago just as a turnaround to flying either south to the Lake District and Patagonia, north to the Atacama Desert, or west over the Pacific to Easter Island. In the last decade, Chile’s capital has blossomed into a destination worthy of enjoying for its smartly upgraded international hotels and beautifully restored mansions turned into boutique-style lodgings; lively neighborhoods full of trendy shops, art spaces and cafes; and restaurants manned by world-class chefs forging a fresh
Consider the new look of Santiago’s hotel scene. At the InterContinental Santiago in the Las Condes district, rooms are newly renovated, ditto the just totally refurbished lobby, and the hotel has a second tower, one with 81 new rooms, an elegant club lounge, and a handsome new Temple restaurant, serving Japanese fusion cuisine, which joins the hotel’s roster of fine dining options. One not to miss is the Terranee, whose walls are lined with a 500-bottle wine collection that complements the restaurant’s emphasis on pairing food and wine; guests should book a seat at the table for the hotel’s class in matching world wines with the kitchen’s sensational tapas. A particular fascinating feature of this upgraded hotel is its green “living wall,” some 17,000 sq. ft. of the building’s exterior planted as a vertical garden, watered by a drip irrigation system using recycled water. Rates start at $150 dbl.
Also in Las Condes is a lovely new addition to the city’s bevy of boutique properties. The Hotel Magnolia has just finished its complete renovation of a 1929 mansion, the first of its kind in the city’s “El Centro” neighborhood. The 42-room hotel mixes historic interiors with luxury accommodations, a gourmet restaurant and an enviable location at the foot of the Cerro Santa Lucia hilltop park. Marble staircases and stained-glass windows preserve the old, while new are the addition of three floors, the Magnolia Restaurant, specializing in Chilean cuisine, and the Terraza Magnolia, a seventh-floor rooftop bar and lounge with a splendid view of Santiago. Rates start at $220 dbl.
A short walk from the InterContinental is the Costanera Center complex, which combines Chile’s largest shopping mall and Sky Costanera, whose elevator whisks its passengers up to the top of the tallest building in Latin America. It is also the beginning or end of the line on the Turistik hop on/hop off sightseeing bus, whose 13 stops around the city offer one option for getting to know Santiago.
Along the route visitors can hang out around the 16th century Plaza de Armas, dominated by the richly decorated Metropolitan Cathedral. Here in the older section of town is the San Francisco Church and Museum Cloister, one of the few early-colonial structures in the capital, as well as the excellent Museum of Pre-Columbian Art, housed in a lovely late-colonial building. The Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, a major center for Chilean art, has its own stop, and the Bellavista stop lets you off in this trendy neighborhood, considered Santiago’s Greenwich Village. Its most famous cultural attraction is La Chascona, museum-house of Pablo Neruda.
Every list of essential things to do and see in Santiago should include the Mercado Central, designed by Gustave Eiffel, in 1830, built in Glasgow and shipped here to evolve today into a veritable showcase of Neptune’s domain and one of the world’s top seafood markets. It overflows with both fresh seafood and rustic bistros serving up such specialties as a Chilean stew called chupe de locos. No one should come to Chile and not take time out to get acquainted with everyone’s favorite—mine, too—Valparaiso, clinging to impossibly steep hills, navigated by a system of 16 funicular cars on the Pacific coast 70 miles south of Santiago.
This UNESCO World Heritage site’s citywide street art is supported by the government. Chilean artists and others from around the world pilgrimage here to put their colorful and creative mark on Valparaiso’s canvas of walls, windows, street signs, trolleys and mansions. Take it all in by strolling slowly up and down the rolling streets; visit Pablo Neruda’s home; check out artist-owned shops and galleries; and head up Cerro Concepcion for a Chilean specialties lunch or dinner at La Colombina restaurant, which adds to a delicious experience a panoramic view and a very fine art gallery.