Santiago, chasing food and wine

Thursday 18 to Saturday 20 January

It was a long drive to the airport in Calama – an hour and a half through the driest desert on earth, then a wait to board. We’d finished our GoToPeru tour, so I had booked the flight and hotel. Instead of relying on a taxi we also found an online site called to book a private car to the hotel. This turned out to be an excellent option as the driver was waiting for us and whisked us into the city in no time.

The challenge then was to find somewhere to eat at 10pm. We settled for a sandwich bar (hamburgers, wraps, etc). It had been a very long day, from the Geysers del Tatio to Santiago.

We desperately needed some personal maintenance time. We prepared a huge bag of laundry and then did some paperwork – a wine tour, forward flight bookings, somewhere to stay in our next destinations. We had just finished our computer work and the power went out. We later learned that it was the whole of the area of Belles Artes and more. No coffee, no cool drinks. Our next important stop was a hairdresser/barber to tidy our hair. The hotel had recommended one who was happy to cut our hair in the dark. They had enough power in their shaver for Bruce’s buzz cut, but I had to leave the salon with wet hair.

Coming so far south, we were at more than 33°S, the days were already stretching out, so we climbed the Cerro Santa Lucía, the small hill that is in the Belles Artes district that dates back to the founding of the city on 12 February 1541. From there was a fantastic view of the city. On our way down we noticed the little stalls that sell cool drinks had fans and lights on. After about 3 hours the city had power again. As it turns out a truck had smashed into a power pole. Clearly there was no backup for such an accident.

That evening we enjoyed a meal outside. The summer weather high in the Andes is not conducive to eating outdoors. It is too cool and there is often a strong wind which blows up in the evening, making the desert areas very dusty.

Our second day was spent on a tour to the Casanova Valley, one of the many valleys where wine is produced in Chile. We certainly learnt some interesting facts. Our guide for the day was Ayelen, which, she told us, means Blue Ribbon or The Girl That Smiles.

Santiago is more than 500m above sea level and about 120km from the coastal city of Valparaiso.

The valleys between Santiago and the coast are cool and humid. In fact, most of the tour group were dressed for the warm city weather, only to find themselves shivering. Our hosts, dressed in warm jumpers or coats, were not surprised.

The first vineyard we visited, Bodegas Re, is more of an experimental establishment. Of the huge acreage of vines, they keep about 4% for themselves and sell the rest off. They were also using the ancient Georgian method of fermenting in clay pots that are partly submerged into the ground. They may age in barrels or take the wine directly from the clay pots. They specialise in blends and have their own names to identify them such as Pinotel, Chardonnoir and Cabergnan. Of course, the wines we tasted were excellent.

They also ‘dabble’ in liqueurs and had a room full of jars with a variety of fruits and herbs that are in various states of laceration. As well as the citrus fruits like lemon for limoncello and mandarin with brandy, they also had strawberries and blue berries.

The second vineyard, Loma Larga Vineyards or Long Hill, was far more traditional and we were shown big vats and barrels. They make straight wines and we tasted some very traditional varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Malbec and Cabernet Franc.

The Carménère grape was imported from Bordeaux during the 19th century and survived the phylloxera infection. In Chile it was confused with the merlot grape, as it was used to blend with other varieties. It has been used to create a blend unique to Chile.

Our third stop was at House of Morandé Casa de Vino, a vineyard restaurant, much like we have at home. We had a number of small dishes paired with their wine. Unfortunately, the bottles weren’t left on the table, so it is hard to remember what we had with each dish. They then took us downstairs to their cellar to taste their champagne as the finale.

I don’t often sleep in the afternoon but it was hard to stay awake on the return to Santiago.

After a wander around the nearby streets, where we found another sculpture by BoteroEl Capello (1992) (the horse) outside the Museo de Belles Artes, we wandered off for another delightful dinner en plein aire.

We spent our last day in Santiago on the hop-on hop-off bus, to get an understanding of the layout of the city. We started our journey at the Plaza de Armas, and the Metropolitan Cathedral.

The city is elongated along the Rio Mapacho (river) which has carved out the valley.

The upmarket side to the east is Providencia.  The area was first established in 1897 by the sisters of the Divine Providence who arrived in Chile from Canada in 1853. The story goes that their original destination was Oregon in USA, which was flooded. Not knowing how to return home, they accepted a ride offered by the captain of a Chilean boat who brought them here. Providencia has been developed as a home for the wealthy industrialists but has now given over to high rise.

Our ticket included the Teleférico Santiago to the Cerro San Cristóbal (San Cristobal hill), which is the highest point in the city at 860m. On top of the hill is a statue of the Virgin Mary and a great view of the city.

The pope had visited Santiago a few days before us and there were banners everywhere for him. We were told that the city had come to a standstill during his visit.