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People and Places: Santiago, Chile

MML

People and Places: Santiago, Chile

Visiting the Museum of Memory and Human Rights was a sobering introduction to Santiago, and as I read the thoughts and cries of those who had suffered through the Pinochet dictatorship, my understanding of their pain and history grew. 

The museum (www.museodelamemoria.cl) visit also helped perceive and appreciate the optimism and resilience of the Chileans.

The Chilean tourism industry is relatively new and perhaps still finding its feet, and yet, the country has people and places so welcoming, fascinating, fun and beautiful, that it’s definitely worth a look.

The following is a checklist for any visit to Santiago and surrounds:

Best view: Sky Costanera, the tallest building in Chile at 300 metres, (Andres Bello 2425, Providencia) has been open to the public with its 360 degree views for a matter of weeks. 

Admittedly, the city can get smoggy but it was heady fun looking out onto the numerous provinces, with their distinct architecture and style.

The open-air top level platform provides an exhilarating rush.

It’s found in a shopping mall, but more on that later.

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Best icecream: A brilliant mix of strawberries with a hint of basil satisfied my fussy taste-buds at the luxe icecream bar at Coquinaria. (www.coquinaria.cl)

The gourmet establishment, filled with high-end lunch-time diners, is nestled in the basement of the W hotel and has an attractive deli and assortment of imported and local goodies on offer.

Best BBQ: Despite being the least ‘horsey’ person I know, I still thoroughly enjoyed a slow trot through the countryside where my caring guide Cristian Waidele from Andes Riders (www.andesriders.com) pointed out the flora and fauna, as he checked on my welfare. I must have looked petrified.

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In the end, it was an easy ride across El Dehesa and the reward was more than adequate. With the Andes mountains as a backdrop, I chomped on a most delicious, succulent steak accompanied by rice salad and local wines. Nothing like mountain air to peak an appetite.

Best empanadas (fried or baked bread/pastry stuffed with meat, cheese and/or vegetables): Carolina Blanco is a wondrous woman who opens her inner city home to travellers so that they can experience a home-cooked meal. (santiagopuertasadentro.cl)

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Her abode is filled with artefacts and exquisite pieces (replicas and such) from her 30 years as publicist for the Museum of Pre-Colombian art.

The charismatic Carolina is the perfect host and masterful conversationalist. She sat with us at her expansive dining room table to tell tales of her illustrious career and her love of the city. The empanadas were entr?e to an exquisite meal and experience at what translates as ‘hidden kitchen’.

Best cerviche: Locals on the streets near the Mercado Central (Central market)  serve cerviche (fresh raw fish cured in citrus juices) from their rickety shopping trolleys or rigid cardboard boxes fashioned into tables.

Unless you have a rock solid constitution, I would advise steering clear of such offerings. Instead, the cerviche that truly impressed was at the trendy restaurant/bar called Chipe Libre (Jose Victorino, Lastarria 282).

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I found myself distracted/engrossed by the cool dudes, mixing cool cocktails in their cool threads draped in cool jewellery. The music was pumping, the food was tasty and the eye-candy tremendous. Honestly, I reluctantly called it a night.

Best wine: Earlier this year, Chile replaced Australia as the fourth biggest exporter of wines. On arrival at the Bodegas Re winery in the Casablanca Valley, I admired the passion and commitment poured into the place. I snaffled the local wine vinegar as a tasty souvenir. A must mention is the brilliant gift store with hand-made rugs, sauces and spices and of course a significant range of wines. Look out for kooky blends such as Pinotel and Chardonnoir.

Best art and craft shopping: The stylish Carolina Blanco (see best empanadas) implored me not to leave Chile without an Indio Picaro.

She insisted that I use my final few hours to dash to her favorite spot to pick up hand-crafted items and cultural pieces.

So I set off for the Pueblo Artesanal Los Dominicos where I did in fact locate an artesan couple who had a vaste selection of Indio Picaro items. The wooden carved toy depicts a smiling Mapuche Indian who is proud of his assets, let’s say. The outdoor art and craft centre also has beautiful clothing, stunning scarves and creative and traditional jewellery.

Best soup: Colin Bennett from Iowa (www.foodychile.com) led me through the Mercado Central and La Vega where I was witness to an incredible array of fruits and vegetables and loud chararacters and soup. It was at Don Victor, a local institution, that I joined locals to slurp my hearty bean soup.

Best market (experience): I am usually quite adventurous.  However I couldn’t bring myself to taste the freshly squeezed donkey’s milk that market guide Colin had paid a few cents for.

The man offered the droplets in a tiny plastic cup. I looked at the milk and politely declined.

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Best hot chips: As we climbed to 2800 metres elevation in the mini-bus, I began to see floating red dots.

Our guide suggested we stop for a spell and admire the view so I could acclimatise (and avoid altitude sickness) as we headed to the Valle Nevado ski resort peak of 3000 metres. I don’t ski but that didn’t matter.

I built a tiny snowman and watched the snow lovers do their thing. I sipped on a hot chocolate and inhaled crisp, perfect hot chips.

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Best shopping: The Costanera Mall is a standard six storey shopping centre with department stores and boutiques. But when I landed at Alonso De Cordova, Vitacura (some call it the Chilean Rodeo Drive) I knew I was in the right spot to satisfy by passion for shoe shopping. Spanish crafted tan-coloured suede ankle boots for about 130 Australian dollars made me very happy. While Patio Bellavista is a gorgeous centre of boutiques, with an arty plaza to hang out in. There’s a mix of eateries including Japanese fare and the brilliant Barrica 94 (www.barrica94.cl) which serves splendid dishes including excellent short-ribs and a renowned mushroom risotto.

Best street art: Valparaiso is a colourful, vibrant, graffiti-splattered port city.

It seems that there is not a stretch of wall, fence, door or fa?ade that hasn’t been decorated to some degree. It is steeped in history and culturally distinct zones (Italian quarter, German quarter) make it a fascinating place to stroll around. Cool bars and cafes abound.

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Best trivia: The traditional dish is essentially left-overs. Whatever is in the fridge is stir-fried and if available, a few strips of steak and a couple of eggs get thrown in. Also, there are 500 varieties of potatoes and 40 types of avocado in Chile.

Best breakfast: Hosted at the Novotel  (Av. Americo Vespucio Norte 1630, Vitacura, www.novotel.com.br/santiago) in the swish suburb of Vitacura meant I could indulge in the impressive breakfast buffet generously stocked with local fare.

My favourite morning morsels included sliced prickly pear, a delectable soft cheese spread, potato soup, polmites (palms) caramel custard and copious olives mixed with pickled onions.

Each morning, I watched guests, a mix of tourists, travellers and business people, indulge in the pastries, yoghurts, chocolate-filled croissants and cereals, while I crunched on gherkins. The hotel’s proximity to the previously mentioned ‘Rodeo Drive’ shopping strip was an obvious plus.

How to get there: Qantas has increased its services to Santiago from November 8 to January 24 2016.

The only airline that flies non-stop from Sydney to Santiago, it will offer flights on Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

The writer travelled courtesy of Qantas, Accor and Turismo Chile (www.chile.travel)

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