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Trip Report Stopping In Santiago, Chile

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On our way to Patagonia (Chile and Argentina), we decided to break the flight and to spend a day and night in Santiago before heading further south and another three nights in Santiago before flying back to Miami. For years, we avoided Chile**, but decided it was time to go.

Using Marriott Reward points, we reserved a room at the Santiago Marriott (points are more fun to spend than money). On-line booking was a snap and our one bedroom corner suite (thanks to Platinum upgraded accommodations) ready when we arrived, offered courtesy breakfast in lounge on 23rd floor while our suite was readied and bags retrieved.

The Santiago Marriott is located in Las Condes, an upscale residential neighborhood with broad tree lined boulevards, offering a variety of fine and casual dining opportunities and a modern shopping center right next door, if needed. With 6.5+ million residents, the center city of Santiago is congested with vehicle traffic and suffers periodically from air pollution similar to LA smog at times…..being removed from the inner city and catching a frequent breeze sweeping down from the Andes, makes Las Condes a better choice.

In the late afternoon, after a short nap, we walked several blocks to the Ritz-Carlton for a light lunch at the much touted Wine 365 http://www.ritzcarlton.com/en/Properties/Santiago/Dining/Wine365/Default.htm and for a chance to taste of some premium Chilean wines, including a 2003 Almaviva (95 points in Wine Spectator) Over 365 Chilean wines can be ordered by the glass, offering the opportunity to enjoy a variety without buying a full bottle.

After tasting ’03 Almaviva, we decided to schedule a private tasting at the winery on our return trip back through Santiago. The Almaviva Winery is a collaborative effort of the Baroness Philippine de Rothschild of Mouton Rothschild in France and Concha Y Toro (much along the lines of the collaboration with Mondavi which has produced the much heralded Opus One in Napa Valley). We will be posting more information in a wine blog later regarding our visit and tasting experience.

Santiago boasts a long and colorful history, since being founded in 1541 by the Spanish conqueror, Pedro de Valdivia. The center city buildings and neighborhoods are a mixture of Spanish Colonial architecture and various periods of European architecture. However, we found the Bellas Artes neighborhoods, filled with cafes, museums, great little book shops, and a variety of gourmet food shops both appealing and entertaining.

We decided to take a walking tour with a Liz Caskey, an American expatriate now living in Santiago, who operates a private guide service and write articles for magazines and newspapers http://www.lizcaskey.com/ Over a period of five or six hours, we talked and walked through neighborhood markets, buying fresh produce, local cheeses, purchased freshly made breads and stocked up on several flavor of extraordinary ice cream from one of her favorite shops. We returned to her spacious apartment overlooking the park and the Palacio Bellas Artes and assisted her in the preparation of a three course gourmet lunch (prepared from the products we had just purchased). While we waited for our Humitas(Chilean tamales) to warm up, we enjoyed a freshly prepared pisco sour, tasted small batch goat cheese snacks seasoned with Chilean merquen http://www.etnia.cl and helped in the kitchen as sous-chefs. Liz, who is also an accomplished sommelier (having written numerous articles for in-flight magazines and travel periodicals) , paired our meal, which began with a cold avocado and yogurt soup, with a fresh crisp Chilean sauvignon blanc. Lunch was delightful and the conversation, insights of living in Chile and general banter was even better.
If you’re looking for nightlife, head for the Bellavista neighborhood dark (well, it doesn’t get dark until around 10:00PM in January), great little restaurants of most ethnic persuasions are prevalent…..and we suggest:
Cocoa
Jose V. Lastarria 297
562.632.1272
Although a Peruvian restaurant, locals and expats alike consider Cocoa a great place to dine…..as did we!
Hare Krishna House
Jose Miguel 330
Santiago
Pubs and clubs are loaded, sidewalks are clustered with outside dining and all of the small boutique shops are open for business. One concept we couldn’t quite grasp is unique to Santiago…it is called café con piernas http://archive.salon.com/travel/wlust/2000/05/05/piernas/print.html
Although we didn’t visit one of the coffee shops, those we walked by seemed to be doing a “bang up” business….busier than our corner Starbuck’s back in the US.

If you happen to be in need of a private guide, consider contacting Hector Medina. He offers the garden variety of tours of Santiago, Valparaiso, Vina del Mar and Casablanca Valley Wine Tours. More importantly, he is an independent operator with his own van (new and clean), speaks exceptional English and communicates quickly via Internet. He is available to tailor his services to your specific needs and desires rather than fixed routes on a bus or crowded van with other tourists.

We used his services for airport transfers, transportation to a couple of specific vineyards we wanted to visit and a driving and walking tour of Santiago of sights we specifically wanted to see. His motto is “Flexibility” and he means it….his rates are very competitive. Great value for money spent.

Hector Medina
Very Personal & Private Tour Service.
hectortourservice@gmail.com
56-09-8 9002248 (24 hrs)

We’re looking forward to returning to Santiago in the near future…..maybe we’ll even stay at the Marriott again….especially if our points total continues to hold out!

**Given the political climate of Chile from the early 70s until 1990, we shied away. During the dictatorial rule of General Augusto Pinochet, we had no interests in traveling to the country (although tourism was possible and even encouraged). History has recorded more than 3,200 people being executed or having disappeared, and scores of thousands more being detained and tortured or exiled during the Pinochet years.

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