Chile 12/14

Home Up Chilean Wines 12/14

Red hot Chile - Santiago, Valparaiso & wine country...

Valparaiso funicular Ascensor and waterfront

Central Chile map

I spent a week in Chile in mid-December, which is their late spring. This page concentrates on the sights. A separate Chilean Wines page delves deep into their wines. The map to the left opens in a separate window, detailing the geography that I covered. I came away with many impressions of Chile: It's a small, tectonically active country 2500 miles long and 90 miles wide that is the most prosperous and safest in South America. The population is very homogenous with a Latin-Euro look. People follow rules, work hard and are friendly. Their infrastructure was first-class everywhere that I went. As in most countries except the US, there was no evidence of mentally ill people living on the streets or a large homeless population. Friendly, stray dogs were everywhere in the cities, well taken care of by the government and private citizens.


Wednesday December 10th - Santiago El Centro


In my three flights from LAX through Houston and Lima to Santiago, I read Sideways 3 - Chile, following Miles' adventures as he learned about Chile - very timely. On our descent into SCL at 6am, I caught a nice sunrise over the Andes (first picture below). I met my driver, Christian (reference at bottom of page), in the arrivals hall, ATM'd some Chilean Pesos and headed to the Marriott Santiago. The front desk checked me into room 2508 (second picture below) around 10am. I unpacked, cleaned up and walked ~20 minutes to the Manquehue metro station for the quick ride to El Centro.


Santiago - Santa Lucia below Castillo Hidalgo


Santiago - top of San Cristobal mountain


Sunrise over the Andes

Room 2508 with a view

Santiago - Palacio de La Moneda

Plaza Christmas doll tree


The Metro in Santiago was a breeze to use - all distances anywhere on the system are charged the same low rate with a slight rate uptick during morning and evening rush hours. I found it to be fast, clean, safe and modern. After buying my "BIP" card at the station's ticket booth with $14US on it - about 12 trips worth - I was set for my entire stay, saving a fortune in taxi fares. I disembarked at La Moneda station and walked a short distance to the 18th century Palacio de La Moneda (third picture above), which is the presidential headquarters and site of Salvador Allende's death in Pinochet's coup of 1973. Heading north through the city streets, I arrived in just a few minutes at the Plaza de Armas, which was bustling with holiday activities (fourth picture above and first picture below). I then walked through the Metropolitana Catedral (second picture below) before heading east about ten minutes to Cerro Santa Lucia (third picture below), which is a park oasis of sorts rising up out of the modern city (fourth picture below) situated below an old fortress, Castillo Hidalgo (large picture top of page, right center). After touring the whole site and starting to feel my lack of sleep from my plane flights earlier that day, I got back on the metro eastbound at Santa Lucia station, stopping at Los Leonas station for an early dinner a short walk away at the Hard Rock Cafe. Calling it a day, I took the metro back to Manquehue station, walked the 20 minutes to my hotel and retired for the night.


Plaza de Armas

Metropolitana Catedral interior

Cerro Santa Lucia

Santa Lucia old & new


Thursday December 11th - South to the Maipo Valley


I planned an easy day for Thursday, not knowing ahead of time if I would be able to catch up on sleep and beat any jet lag from my prior travel day. Chile is 5 hours ahead of Los Angeles this time of year - just 3 hours ahead when our respective daylight savings times flip in March. It turned out that I was well rested and ready to explore when I met Christian outside the lobby at 10am. We headed to the southern outskirts of Santiago where the Maipo Valley begins. For wine-centric details of this valley, click here.


Our first stop was the Cousino Macul winery (first picture below). This winery's tasting room was attached to a small museum of sorts outlining the history of their family and their winemaking. Outside, beyond the vines was an extensive residence fronted by gardens. Heading farther into the valley our next stop was at Concha y Toro, the largest winery in Chile. The property was big, fronted by a main entrance and then a smaller gate with buildings lined up behind it (second picture below) which I couldn't help noticing were reminiscent of concentration camp gates in Europe. Once inside, we headed past the tour bus groups and posed winemaking buildings and cellars directly to the small wine bar near the back of the property where I enjoyed an excellent two-hour plus wine tasting. Driving farther into the valley in the mid-afternoon, we arrived at the Santa Rita winery. The property was massive and beautiful. I took a walk through the gardens on my own (third picture below) before heading up (fourth picture below) into Café La Panadería and the wine shop to dodge the tour and taste their best wines. Leaving Santa Rita, we tried in vain to find another open winery along the main road before heading back to Santiago.


Why do I dodge the winery tours? Because I'm much more interested in the wine than in how it is made. In my opinion, winery tours that I've done in the past were far too long and dwell on details that only the winemaker and production crew need to know. I prefer to use my limited time in wine country visiting more wineries and tasting a greater variety of wines. After returning to my hotel in the early evening, I walked to the large upscale mall next door to eat dinner, buy postcard stamps and pick up a few supplies. For all three endeavors, I used my smartphone's two-way voice translator, Jibbigo, to communicate reasonably effectively in Spanish. The key to Jibbigo's usefulness for a traveler is that the language data is all stored in the phone itself instead of requiring an (expensive when roaming) internet connection.


Cousino Macul winery

Concha y Toro winery

Santa Rita winery grounds

Santa Rita entrance


Friday December 12th - West to the Casablanca Valley & Valparaiso


Friday was planned as a big day, covering both a major wine area and then sightseeing in Valparaiso and Vina del Mar on the coast. I met Christian outside the lobby at 8am for what turned out to be a 12 hour plus journey. We drove west about 90 minutes over the mountains to the Casablanca valley (first picture below). There is also a less photogenic tunnel that we took on the return drive that bypasses the mountain road. For wine-centric details of this valley, click here.


Because the Casablanca valley is cooler than other wine regions in Chile, they produce more white wines and light reds, like Pinot Noir. Our first stop was the Emiliana winery (second picture below), the first certified organic winery in Chile. After a great tasting experience there we continued through the rest of the morning and early afternoon at three other wineries in the valley, Matetic, which was disappointing, Casas del Bosque, which was wonderful and Kingston Family which was very good. From the Casablanca Valley we drove about an hour northwest to the coast at Valparaiso.


I characterize Valparaiso as a vibrantly colorful, but somewhat run-down version of San Francisco. It used to be a very important port town until the Panama Canal wiped out its business. The fifteen remaining hundred-year-old funiculars still work - carrying passengers up and down some of its 43 steep hills (large picture top of page left). We walked around several parts of the city (third picture below near the waterfront) taking a funicular down in one spot and then back up in another. We had a great local-flavor late lunch in the bohemian hilltop neighborhood of Cerro Alegre, at tiny Café Vinilo. Moving on, Vina del Mar was a short drive distance-wise from Valparaiso along the coast, but not traffic-wise. Friday get-away rush hour was in full bloom as we inched our way north. It looked a lot like any upscale US beach city, except for its iconic flower clock (fourth picture below), so we bailed out on the coast road without stopping and headed back to Santiago, arriving as the sun set around 9pm. I grabbed some snacks at the hotel lounge, backed up pictures and retired for the night.


Casablanca Valley overlook

Emiliana winery

Valparaiso Plaza Sotomayor

Vina del Mar flower clock


Saturday December 13th - North to the Aconcagua Valley & a hike through Parque la Campana


Saturday was planned to strike a balance between wine tasting and adventure, including a wilderness hike on the lower Andes in the late afternoon. I met Christian outside the lobby at 10am. We drove north mostly on multi-lane toll roads about two hours to the Aconcagua valley. This region gets its name from the Aconcagua river and mountain, which at 23,000 feet (7000 meters) is the tallest peak in both the western and southern hemispheres. For wine-centric details of this valley, click here.


The Aconcagua valley presented us with some challenges. Major wineries that should have been open weren't, including Errazuriz, Von Siebenthal and San Esteban. Christian managed to talk the owner of Von Siebenthal (first picture below), Mauro, into doing a private barrel tasting with me even though the regular tasting room was closed, which was the highlight of the day. After leaving Von Siebenthal, we drove to Sanchez de Loria which was open, but their selection was thin.


Frustrated from those winery misses, we moved on to a local restaurant, El Jabali (Wild Pig) where I had an authentic Chilean lunch accompanied by a half bottle of Erraziriz 2011 Cortton Cabernet Sauvignon, which was drinkable with food, but very flawed. The lunch was inexpensive and was made up of a unique soup called Cazuela de Vacuno which has a potato, a chunk of beef, rice, a slice of pumpkin and corn. Lunch also included a tomato and onion salad, and finished off with Leche as Asada, which is a cooked milk dessert. I now know why Chileans do their biggest meal at lunch - I needed time and exercise to wear it off.


We drove southwest from the valley in the early afternoon to Parque la Campana, which is part of Chile's extensive national park system. It was hot and dry there, so instead of attempting the long hike to the waterfall, I limited myself to a ~2 mile hike up the wide trail (second picture below) to Mirador El Amasijo overlook (third picture below). We returned to Santiago in the early evening.


Von Siebenthal winery

Parque La Campana trail

Mirador El Amasijo overlook

San Cristobal funicular


Sunday December 14th - Santiago: San Cristobal, museums & Barrio Lastarria


I planned Sunday as my day off from wine touring both to ensure I saw everything that I wanted to see in Santiago and because many of the wineries are closed on Sunday. After a leisurely late breakfast at the hotel lounge, I walked to the metro and rode west to Baquedano station and then walked ten minutes up Constitucion Avenue to the base of Cerro San Cristobal in Parque Metropolitano. Parque Metropolitano is a 3 square mile park just east of El Centro that was developed in 1903. The 1925 vintage funicular (fourth picture above) took me past the Zoo to the peak, where a 45 foot tall Statue of the Virgin (first picture below and large picture top of page right) was reminiscent of the Christ statue in Rio. It was donated by France in 1904 and can be seen from much of Santiago El Centro. I walked all around the top of the park. The views over the city and surrounding mountains were very good, albeit a bit foggy / smoggy that morning (second picture below). The park's cable cars, which are written about in guide books have permanently closed. After descending from the peak (third picture below - yes, the camera was level), I walked back to the Baquedano metro station grabbing a quick lunch along the way at a small sidewalk bistro.


San Cristobal peak

Santiago view from San Cristobal

Funicular view from base

Pre-Columbian art museum


After a quick turnaround at my hotel mid-afternoon, dropping off my large camera and bag to travel lighter into the evening, I took the metro back to the Plaza de Armas to begin the museum part of my day. From what I had read and heard, the "must see" museum in Santiago is the recently reopened and remodeled Pre-Columbian art museum, which is just off the plaza. To its credit, it was nicely laid out and all of the art descriptions were detailed and written in both Spanish and English. There were lots of ancient pottery pieces, fabrics, statues (fourth picture above) and even mummies, but for me it just wasn't interesting. After 40 minutes I was out walking through the busy plaza northeast heading to the next museum. There are two museums back to back just east of Parque Forestal next to the river Mapocho, the Bellas Arts and Contemporary Arts Museums. The collections at both museums were incredibly small. 20 minutes for each museum left me plenty of time to ponder each piece. I found the buildings they were housed in (first picture below) more engaging than the art.


Undaunted by my museum experiences thus far, I walked through Parque Forestal, which was hopping with families enjoying the hot spring evening together, to Barrio Lastarria and the Museum of Visual Arts. I looked for a long time and simply could not find it. Looking on the internet later, it seemed to be located at the back of an umapped side street that was hidden by the street vendor tents when I was there. The Barrio itself was quite interesting though, so I wandered the streets which were littered with artists, street vendors, street performers and coffee houses. I finished my evening in the Barrio Lastarria at the famous Bocanariz Vinobar, where I had the best meal of my trip and a three hour wine and tapas dining experience that I may never forget. For a more detailed description of my experience there, follow this link and bookmark. Tired from a lot of walking that day, I taxied back to the Marriott and retired for the night.


Bella Arts museum lobby

Lapostolle winery

Montes winery

Viu Manent winery


Monday December 15th - South to the Colchagua Valley


I planned the Colchagua valley as my final wine region of the trip. It was also the most distant from Santiago. I met Christian outside the lobby at 8am so that we could be out of the city before most of the downtown traffic arrived. We drove south about two hours on mostly multi-lane toll roads, arriving in the valley just after 10am. For wine-centric details of this valley, click here.


After being turned away until afternoon at Viu Manent and permanently at Lapostolle (second picture above - "no soup for you") because I wouldn't commit to do their multi-hour tours just to taste their wines, we hit the jackpot at Montes (third picture above). Although pricey, the tasting was private, informative and encompassed their very best wines. Next up was Neyen, where the tasting was short, but worthwhile. Returning to Viu Manent, we first ate lunch at the on-site restaurant Rayuela Wine & Grill, where I had Filete a lo Pobre, which is a filet mignon with french fries, fried onions and two eggs on top. After a very good six wine tasting in Viu Manent's tasting room (fourth picture above), we drove to Laura Hartwig winery where I did a flight including most of their best wines. Heading back toward the highway to Santiago in the late afternoon, we stopped at Silva winery, which had closed early for their annual holiday party. On our way back into Santiago I caught a glimpse of Chile's President, Michelle Bachelet, as she spoke at an open-air military school graduation.


Tuesday December 16th - Santiago departure


On my last day in Chile before my late evening departure, I packed, processed and backed up my pictures, caught up on my emails and enjoyed a surprisingly good late lunch at Cafe Med in the Marriott. For a more wine-oriented run-down of the meal and wines, click here. Christian picked me up outside the hotel lobby at 6pm for my transfer to the airport and my flights home. I had come to Chile to learn and experience the people, sights, culture and wine. While there were misses, there were many more hits, committing this trip to memory as a great adventure.


Christian Montenegro, the "Van Man"

(+1 56 9 52390170,


After reading reviews and recommendations on Trip Advisor and interviewing a few candidates via email, I chose Christian as my driver for this trip. He did two airport transfers and four full days of excursions from Santiago with me. He knows a lot about Chilean wines, although as a driver he couldn't drink a single drop along our travels. He was professional, prompt, knowledgeable and responsive. His English was impeccable. He listened carefully and adapted to my plans before the trip and was resilient to the many unexpected events thrown at us during the trip. In addition to all of that, Christian was one of those genuinely good people that are a pleasure to meet along any journey's way. I offer him my highest reference and without reservation.

Home Up Chilean Wines 12/14

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