Latin America

Chile is Hip All Over

written by | Posted on February 1st, 2010

With new gem-like properties opening up everywhere from the vineyards to the desert, and landscapes that enthrall, this South American sliver of a country is the “go to now” destination for the luxury set.

What makes Chile hot? Broadly speaking, it has economic and political stability that bolsters tourism. Yet to be a bit more specific on Chile’s visitor appeal: from top to bottom, this 2,640-mile-long country is a geographic extravaganza of towering snowcapped peaks and icy blue fjords, of moonscape deserts and Pacific Coast beaches, ancient archaeological sites, world-class vineyards and an increasingly cosmopolitan capital.

Chile is not only part of the essential South America, but the country has come of age for the upscale market, offering luxury-loving travelers great places to stay. Here, there are new haciendas in the vineyards of the Central Valley, stylish lodges for hikers and anglers in the Lake District, small inns with spas from the Atacama Desert in the north and all the way south to the fjords of Patagonia—even luxury tents in the Torres del Paine National Park.

Those of us who travel to Chile often, notice that between visits new luxury hotels and lodges seem to pop up like a garden abloom. Here are a few new ones to consider, all seeming to offer different takes on the high-end experience that Chile knows how to deliver well.

valparaiso A well-heeled traveler to Chile will always detour to Valparaiso, a small and historic fishing port, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage site, that lies on the Pacific Coast, a 90-minute drive west of Santiago. Occupying a hilly terrain, the city boasts countless narrow little streets and alleyways, multicolored clapboard houses and weathered Victorian mansions, while flights of steps and funiculars connect the harbor to the hilltop. Here, vacationers come for the seafood served up in quayside restaurants, for the Victorian architecture and to visit the house of poet Pablo Neruda, and they get to explore it all by picking up a map of the walking tour along the Heritage Trail. This is a captivating city, and nowadays there are a couple of small, new deluxe hotels to hang out in for awhile in a town everyone’s calling Valpo.

Located in the heart of Cerro Alegre and facing the bay of Valparaiso, is a 1920s mansion renovated by one of Chile’s star interior designers and restored to emerge as the boutique Casa Higueras. The adjectives sumptuous and charming come to mind describing this Mediterranean villa-like property, whose 20 beautifully decorated guestrooms are distributed throughout the hotel’s five floors and appointed with all necessary luxury trappings. Additionally, clients will be pleased that most have terraces. Meals are served in the Montealegre restaurant, and at the garden level, a grand pool with lounge chairs and a spa invite total relaxation. A single or double room with breakfast starts at $203; suites start at $315.

Another newcomer, Zero Hotel—small, intimate and cozy—occupies another wonderful old mansion that has been converted to accommodate nine-plus bedrooms, four with views of the bay, the others facing the surrounding hills. All rooms have spiffy modern baths, LCD TV and WiFi. The Wintergarden with grand views of Valparaiso Bay is the place to take one’s coffee for breakfast and wine at sunset. There’s also a living room to lounge in, with the Honesty Bar adjoining and four great sundecks. Double room rates range from $230 to $320.

colchagua Some 112 miles north from Santiago, Colchagua is Chile’s go-to wine district, where loamy soil and heady sun are a perfect mix for growing its signature Carmenere grapes. This area, along with others, is promoting tourism as a way to showcase its wines. Here, travelers will find 18 wineries sponsoring a do-it-yourself wine route—a travel option that did not exist a decade ago—guaranteeing entry to such wine estates as Viu Manent (which visitors can tour on horseback) and Viña Montes (which offers a new botanical hiking trail during a vineyard visit).

Lapostolle, producer of Wine Spectator’s “2008 Wine of the Year,” has the most luxurious and exclusive lodging option in the area: Casa Lapostolle. Guests stay in four chic, 1,000-sq.-ft. casitas, each named for red grape varietals planted on the property and accessed by stairs or electric car. Casitas—elegantly decked out in modern decor, plush bathrooms, fresh flowers, and indeed with private deck views—are matched with other amenities such as a true gourmet restaurant in the guesthouse, in-room massages, an infinity pool with a waterfall, horseback riding and, of course, wine touring and tasting. All-inclusive (accommodations, meals, touring) rates for the first night are $500 pp dbl, additional nights are $400.