by Karen Loftus
A Chilean Mine-Set: It was the best time to be in Chile. After the safe return of the Chilean miners, the country’s high and their sense of pride was palpable when I arrived in November. Driving in to Santiago, the city immediately felt familiar to me. Similar to Buenos Aires, Santiago has European influences in its architecture. My driver said that at the turn of the 20th century many wealthy Chileans spent half of their year in Paris. Checking in to The Aubrey Hotel in the trendy Bellavista neighborhood, once home to Pablo Neruda, was a pitch perfect start to Santiago. The boutique concept is a new one for them. This is a first for the city and The Aubrey is a stunning example. Once a private mansion of an influential Chilean businessman and politician, it now houses fifteen well-appointed rooms and suites. It was an impressive, yet approachable place.
While waiting for my room, I passed time in the cozy rustic restaurant Pasta e Vino, once home to weekly political meetings. The yogurt alone was melt in your mouth fabulous. Everything was fresh, including hot homemade baked breads. By noon I was off on a biking tour of the city with Paseos En Bicicelta. Santiago is a very cosmopolitan city with an abundance of vibrant bars, restaurants, cafes, colonial architecture, museums, graveyards, floral shops, outdoor markets and parks. There are several bohemian enclaves and a great mix of neighborhoods from upmarket to arty. By bike it felt like an urban art gallery as the graffiti art is expressive and prevalent throughout the city. Then behind the urban sprawl, the snowcapped Andes Mountains provided the perfect backdrop.
Just an hour or two outside the city you can be at a beach, vineyard or mountain. The locals love their quality of life and I too was enjoying mine. After a neighborhood walk and a quick nap we slipped in to the now bustling Pasta e Vino for a Saturday dinner. Their more than seven types of gnocchi, ten types of ravioli, fettuccine and papardelle prepared by hand and served with original sauces in the internationally acclaimed restaurant are a big draw for locals and visitors alike.
Their Ginger Pisco Sour was my first Pisco Sour and one of the best of the trip. Chileans and Peruvians both claim proprietorship of Pisco and both believe they created it. Don’t argue. Just drink it in. Ours was beautifully paired with our decadent dinner of lobster gnocchi with caviar sauce, which was knee weakening.
We were off to repent our dinner sins the next morning. Two hours outside of Santiago we were surrounded by Andean scenery in El Morado National Park. It was a daunting trek at first with severe inclines and a high altitude. Twenty or thirty minutes in my lungs finally acclimated. The San Francisco Glacier before us was all the motivation I needed to keep moving.
The next day we were off. Chile is small, long and skinny. So, everyone jumps on and off flights all the time to get up and down the country. We hopped a quick flight to Temuc, a tiny airport that felt like a friend’s garage. An hour later we were in Pucon checking in to the famous Bauhaus styled Antumulal, which means Corral of the Sun in honor of their notorious sunsets.
Pucon is an unrivaled location with the expansive Lake Villarrica and its iconic Volcano forever in the backdrop. Equally iconic is the Antumulal itself. In the 40’s the husband of the Czech couple who once owned a café on the lake asked the President of Chile, who was there to take in the cuisine and scenery, if he could have a loan for his hotel. The rest is hotel history. Antumulal was the first boutique hotel in all of Chile. Royals and Rockefellers alike have called the hotel home.
Our host’s genuine warmth and their wall of fame in the hallway with old black and white photos makes you feel like you’re invited guests and friends of the family. We all could have stayed there all day lollygagging, reading books, napping, and relaxing or being reflective or romantic in front of a fireplace or looking out at the expansive lake.
The world class cuisine includes produce grown on property and fish caught in the lake. After a lunch of homemade potato chips, hearty homemade dishes and one too many wines we finally set out for some adventure, which Pucon is known for.
We went to the center of town, similar to Tahoe or Aspen, a ski town out of season, which was great as it felt like we had the otherwise busy resort city to ourselves.
After a river rafting briefing that boiled down to “If you fall in, don’t lose your paddle. Don’t swim and knees up,” we were in the river. Our leader was more serious than we were. We, including two male friends, were squealing like school girls first splash and spin in. Our group was rounded out with an American military family: husband, wife and college-age daughter who weren’t as amused by us as we were with the situation.
We were wheezing with laughter, getting completely soaked in our level 3-4 river. An impromptu swim in the river, encouraged by my mate, broke the ice with our new friends and with the fear of falling in. After a few switched seats of shot gun and my switching to the front of the raft I was thrown down the river in no time. It was like eating a wave as a kid, scary for a second. Then I was on my own zipping down the rocky river knees to chest.
After an engaging evening of vegetarian fare and spirited conversation at ecole restaurant in town it was one nightcap in front of the fireplace before an early rise and several hour trek in Huerquehne National Park. Santiago was but a warm up compared to this. It was a wobbly one, a slippery slope with a wet and muddy path. Gripping the ground was like a never ending series of squats. We were finally rewarded a few hours in with a gorgeous lake and a never ending bounty of beauty en route.
One final flight to San Pedro de Atacama and we were in the driest desert in the world and home of the miners. It was the polar opposite of the lush wet greenery and lakes of Pucon. An hour later on a desolate desert road, we were in the ambient town settling in to our new oasis, the five star boutique property of Tierra Atacama.
The staff wastes no time coordinating your activities. We got sorted right away and I must say in hindsight it was the perfect build up within the trip. We started nice and easy that evening with the Chilean Flamingos, salt beds and a sunset. The next day we were walking on the moon in Moon Valley. You could actually hear Jim Cameron like craters expand in the heat. We took the it picture of the trip in Death Valley on a desert cliff and later took a long dusty desert bike ride to a salty bed of water similar, but smaller in scale, to The Dead Sea.
Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, it did. Our last day, we got up early to drive north a few hours to the geysers. I initially felt ambivalent about this. Yet once there, nature wowed me with her endless ability. Geysers shot up enthusiastically everywhere around us. The people looked like black and white shadows from a film set as the sun started to rise in the background. It was a jaw dropping display of nature.
After another flawless lunch of Shrimp Timbale, Grilled Turbot with wild mushrooms and an orange and chocolate tart at Tierra Atacama, I biked in to the tiny colonial town for a baby alpaca scarf, some trinkets and some play with the locals. Then I met my two Chilean cowboy guides.
We strolled through town on our horses and galloped in to Death Valley to experience surreal peaks and stunning sandy valleys I couldn’t have imagined on foot. It was a spiritual experience at the top for the three of us to stand there in awe and in silence with 360 degrees of natural beauty before us and three gorgeous horses beside us. It was a sight and a sound I will never forget.
Santiago – The Aubrey Hotel: www.theAubrey.com
Pucon – Antumulal: www.antumulala.com
San Pedro De Atacama – Tierra Atacama: www.tierratatcama.com
A Gastronomical Accomplishment - Lima’s the perfect destination for Culinary & Cultural Explorers
Peru’s capital city is also its largest. The desert, coastal city of Lima is close to the equator in the central part of the country, right on the Pacific Ocean. Many international travelers arrive in to Lima then continue on and catch flights to The Amazon or Cusco and go on to Machu Picchu. That’s changing. Savvy travelers, especially those with archeological, cultural or culinary appetite spend a few days in Lima to feast on the local lure before traveling on. Consider a two to three day layover before heading off to your next jaunt.
The Historic center of Lima is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The architectural achievements of the colonial era can be seen in Plaza Mayor, The Monastery of San Francisco, The Cathedral and the grand Convent of San Francisco.
Stop by nearby Casa Aliabad, the oldest mansion in Lima. The regal palace is inhabited today by the sixth generation descendants. The art and architecture alone will excite the senses and you may meet a current resident.
There have been waves of immigrants that have descended upon this key city for centuries. As you explore Lima’s gastronomy you can see the influences from the Spanish, African, European, Chinese and Japanese. America’s own Knob is known to have been deeply and forever influenced by his time spent in Lima. Raw fish is quite common as are Creole and rice driven dishes in Lima.
While exploring San Isidro and Mira Flores, a trendy neighborhood and the epicenter of the culinary movement, we went to Mercado de Surquillo, a food market frequented by the city’s top chefs. Chef Francisco gave us a culinary tour of the meats, fish and the indigenous produce and fruits. Lima has 84 of the 112 bio climates in the world, which means anything and everything can and does grow there including 300 types of potatoes.
For lunch we were spoiled in Brujas de Cachiche, a Peruvian restaurant in Miraflores known for their gastronomy. The chef prepared ceviche at the table and the bartenders mixed an array of Pico sours: original, passion fruit and the witch, a pisco with macerated cacao leaves. Peruvian piscos are made with brandy versus the Chilean grappa, which means you’ll be dancing with the band.
After lunch we stopped by Love Park to see the sensuous sculpture of two people passionately kissing. Above was an array of tandem paragliders floating towards the sea. It’s an evocative spot with the cliffs and beaches below.
Once in neighboring Barranco, another trendy spot with great galleries, shops and cafes, we went to La Fonda de los Suspiros for picarones and coffee. Picarones are a decadent dessert: Peruvian donuts made of squash and sweet potatoes and covered in molasses, similar to New Orleans famous beignets. They were dizzyingly delicious.
Slipping in to the Miraflores Park Hotel by Orient Express was a flawless finish to my Lima intro. This is the most sophisticated and sexiest hotel in the city. It’s the perfect way to destress from a day of excess by indulging in a hot stone massage in Zest Spa. Awaken to the breathtaking and tranquil view of the Pacific Ocean from their rooftop.
Then settle in to the chic open air Mesa 18 Restaurant filled with sexy execs, girlfriends grabbing cocktails and couples enjoying the ambiance. Chef Frederic Ziegler hails from Michelin starred restaurants in France. His chicly prepared octopus carpaccio, seared foie gras with a sugar cane biscuit and onion puree and duck slices over cooked egg were full of flavor. It was yet another gastronomical accomplishment in Lima.
After that it was sweet dreaming at the Thunderbird, a business driven hotel providing chic sleeps for the business elite. They may have one of the best beds in the business.
After a day filled with cultural and culinary excursions I was ready for archeological adventures. Eating in Huaca Pucllana’s restaurant in an archeological compound built between 200 and 700 AD by Lima’s early inhabitants did the trick. That evening’s event at Museo Larco tipped it over the edge. After a stunning presentation, which peaked with the gold and jewelry display, I was privy to the back of house tour in their storage vault where they house 45,000 meticulously catalogued ceramics and artifacts.
In between pisco sours I wandered in to the erotic hall on site to see archeological objects made by Rafael Larco Hoyle in the 60’s, a result of his research on sexual representations in Peruvian and pre-Colombian art. Our last day we went to the Pachacamac Ruins 40 km SE of Lima in the Lurin River with seventeen pyramids dating back to 200-600 CE. I felt like Indiana Jane at the end of my 24 hour archeological adventure.
Our tour came to a seamless close at the Hacienda Mamacona, 25 km outside of Lima. Greeted by Piscos and Peruvian food and charmed by Peruvian Paso Horses and folklore was the perfect way to spend any Sunday. It was a slice of the idyllic local life. Now I’m saving for my own sexy Hacienda. Here’s hoping…
Thunderbird Hotel: www.thunderbirdhotels.com
Miraflores Park Hotel by The Orient Express: www.miraflorespark.com
www.visitperu.com / www.perutravelmart.com
You can follow Karen on The Global Road & on Twitter @LAKarenLoftus
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