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4 days in Chile: Santiago, Viña del Mar, Valle Nevado and wineries

Javier Urrejola

Sebastián Utreras, Valle Nevado

One of Chile's greatest geographical attributes is the stretch of just a few miles that separates the Andes from the Pacific Ocean. And the country's central region is the perfect place to enjoy, in four days, all the attractions that exist between the two

 

Day 1 – Santiago

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10 a.m. - Quinta Normal

Among the neighborhoods of the Chilean capital of Santiago, there is one that looks like a small village smack in the middle of the city. In Yungay, the streets still exude a welcoming, countryside atmosphere. And while local residents here know (and say hello to) each other, the neighborhood has also started welcoming immigrants who, just like in other parts of the country, come in search of a higher quality of life. In the mid-19th century, the second oldest urbanization in the city took place in one of the capital's wealthiest zones. The mansions and small palaces, as well as the park Quinta Normal (1841), are witnesses to this era of glory. Today the area attracts loving couples, students and tourists who visit attractions like the Museo Nacional de Historia Natural. The museum occupies a building from 1875 which is a national heritage site, and whose symbol is a whale's skeleton affectionately nicknamed Greta.

 

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12 p.m. - Memory

Across Avenida Matucana is the modern design of the Museo de la Memoria, which recounts the years that Chile was ruled by a dictatorship, helping to understand and reflect on the country's recent past. On this same street – evidence that this is the most important cultural axis in the city – you'll also find the Centro Cultural Matucana 100, MAC (Museo de Arte Contemporáneo), the Santiago Library and, at one end, the lovely train station Estación Central.

 

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2 p.m. - Barbershop + Restaurant

The best way to experience Yungay is on foot. To get there, just take the subway to the Quinta Normal station. This way you can absorb every little corner, detail, piece of graffiti art; overhear the conversations of others and notice new accents; wander through its villas and alleys (like Adriana Cousiño) and attractions like Peluquería Francesa. A combination vintage barbershop and restaurant (Boulevard Lavaud), the place is packed with old furniture, mirrors and memorabilia (and it's all for sale). Nearby Plaza Yungay, also known as the Roto Chileno, stands the restaurant Fuente Mardoqueo. The objective here is to sample a recipe that's part of the nation's DNA: the pork sandwich (order it with avocado and/or string beans).

 

Day 2 – Valparaíso

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10 a.m. – Cultural Center

A little over an hour's drive (or bus ride) from Santiago, this port city is perched atop hilltops that act as a natural amphitheater overlooking the Pacific. Beautifully chaotic, full of life and personality, Valparaíso remains a favorite among tourists visiting Chile. A good place to start is Cerro Cárcel, the hill that's home to the city's old prison, now converted into Parque Cultural de Valparaíso. The place merges modern architecture with an old restored building which once contained jail cells (and which boasts stunning panoramic views). Its attractions range from theater to dance, and include shows, workshops and a long list of activities.

 

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2 p.m. - Panoramic

Alegre, as the neighboring hilltop is known, is one of the most touristy, concentrating a handful of sights that can be seen in one day. One of the best terraces in the city is located there: at the hotel and restaurant Fauna, a great place to relax and enjoy a snack. Across from Fauna is El Internado, a combination restaurant, bar and cultural space which hosts concerts, theater performances and movie screenings – it also has its own online radio station (Sinpasaporte). And while Fauna has a view of the ocean, the one here faces the mountains. While you savor a tasty burger (the house specialty), the maze of houses and inimitable architecture of Valparaíso serve as a feast for the eyes.

 

5 p.m. – Green Heritage

Pizza lovers simply must visit Malandrino, which has the only wood-burning oven in Puerto and serves Neapolitan flavors comprised of homemade sauce, crispy borders and thin crust. If you decide to go down to the “plan,” as the locals refer to the lower (and flat) part of the city, stop by the bar La Playa or El Inglés (in Barrio Puerto) to photograph their hundred-year-old countertops and imagine the stories of the sailors who once passed through there. If you're looking for an authentic souvenir, stop by the headquarters of the local soccer team (the oldest in Chile), the Wanderers, to pick up an official jersey of Valparaíso's green heritage.

 

Day 3 – Wineries

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10 a.m. – The Devil’s Vines

The valleys in central Chile are home to the wineries that have made the country's wines world famous. And among those that are in (or really close to) Santiago, one standout is Viña Concha y Toro, with its famed Casillero del Diablo – probably the most popular wine outside of Chile. There are several ways to get to the zone of Pirque, where the bodega is located. One is by participating in a tour that travels to the region. Another is to go on your own, taking subway line 4 to Plaza de Puente Alto, and then getting a taxi which will take you there for a few dollars. There are two types of tours of the winery, the difference being the wines that are sampled in the end. But both display the installations, the garden of varieties (where you see the 26 grape types grown in the country) and the cold cellar – which dates from 1800 –, where “el diablo” (Spanish for the devil) supposedly lives. This was the story they used to tell in order to prevent bottles of wine from being stolen. The legend is retold in a six-minute audiovisual presentation projected in loco.

 

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12 p.m. - Viña Vik

Located about two hours south of the capital, and close to the village of San Vicente de Tagua Tagua, the winery Vik has managed to position itself as a prominent option for an immersion in Chile's viticulture. Along with its most emblematic wine, Vik (a blend of five grapes), its main attraction is the futuristic building designed by Chilean architect Smilan Radic. In the midst of a 4,000-hectare area filled with grapevines, the upscale 22-room hotel shines thanks to its titanium roof, which reflects the sun in the zone of Millahue (which means “place of gold”). Its restaurant, Milla Milla, is another highlight. Run by chef Rodrigo Acuña, the house offers cuisine based on four pillars: products that are fresh, local, in season and free of pesticides. “The dishes here are made with ingredients that were in the ground just two hours earlier,” Acuña says with pride.

 

Day 4 – Snow

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9 a.m. – Just Steps Away

Due to Chile's geography, you can visit the coast and wineries in the same day. And nothing would stop you if the next day you felt like heading into the mountains. In a few hours, you could be zipping down the slopes at the resorts near the capital, like Portillo, La Parva, El Colorado and Valle Nevado.

 

11 a.m. - Valle Nevado

Located just 37 miles [60 km] from the Santiago airport, it's one of the most complete ski resorts in the region: 14 lifts and 39 slopes which, all together, add up to a length of 25 miles [40 km] and a ski surface of 900 hectares. A favorite among tourists due to its infrastructure which suits beginners and experienced skiers alike, it has a snow park for freestyle skiing and a Heli Ski option so you can explore virgin snow away from the slopes. There are also three hotels if you'd prefer to stay overnight, as well as an arsenal of entertainment (bars, restaurants, heated pool, spa, movie theater, DJs), the perfect complement to this ski resort for snow lovers.

 

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