Fantasy Friday – Santiago, Chile

I am opening up a bottle of very nice Chilean wine for dinner tonight, to pair with my boyfriends famous sausage pasta.

Then, as per usual, anything remotely related to me picturing myself traveling to a new destination, this wine sparked a daydream about exploring Chile for a few weeks.

My fantasy includes as much outdoor activity as I can, as well as exploration of city life in Santiago.

Outdoor Activities

1. Viña Cousiño Macul

Most of the vineyards of Viña Cousiño Macul are now at Buin, but tours take in the production process and underground bodega, built in 1872. It’s a 2¼km walk or taxi ride from the metro.

2. Teleférico

A 2000m-long teleférico runs east from Estación Cumbre. The first stop is Estación Tupahue, around which are clustered the Jardín Botánico Mapulemu, a botanical garden, as well as two huge public swimming pools, the Piscina Tupahue and Piscina Antilén. The cable car continues to Estación Oasis, at the north end of Av Pedro de Valdivia in Providencia (about 10 minutes’ walk from Pedro de Valdivia metro station). The small but perfectly landscaped Jardín Japonés is 400m east. There are snack stands near the cable-car stations, but Cerro San Cristóbal is also a prime picnicking spot.

3. Backpackers Store

Head up Barrio Bellavista’s Pío Nono and then wind your way up the Cerro San Cristóbal hill. It’s best to get there early as half of Santiago seems to come here on a sunny weekend; but there are plenty of opportunities to get off the main thoroughfare – the park is a vast rambling space with many corners to discover. For bike hire, go to the Backpackers Store.

4. Museo de Ciencia y Tecnología

In the middle of Parque Quinta Normal there’s an artificial lagoon where you can rent rowboats. Beyond the lagoon is the Museo de Ciencia y Tecnología, which has interactive exhibits on astronomy, geology and other aspects of science and technology.

Other museums in the park include the Museo Infantil and the open-air Parque Museo Ferroviario, which displays lovingly maintained steam locomotives.

5. Jardín Japonés

The small but perfectly landscaped Jardín Japonés is at the most eastern point of Abate Molina.

City Sights

1. Palacio de la Moneda

Chile’s presidential offices are in the Palacio de la Moneda. The ornate neoclassical building was designed by Italian architect Joaquín Toesca in the late 18th century, and was originally the official mint – its name means ‘the coin.’ The north facade was badly damaged by air-force missile attacks during the 1973 military coup when President Salvador Allende – who refused to leave – was overthrown here. A monument honoring Allende now stands opposite in Plaza de la Constitución. Shiny-booted carabineros (police) stamp through a brief changing-of-the-guard ceremony every other day at 10am.

2. Cerro San Cristóbal

Smog permitting, the best views over San­tiago are from the peaks and viewpoints of the Parque Metropolitano, better known as Cerro San Cristóbal. At 722 ha, the park is Santiago’s biggest green space, but it’s still decidedly urban: cable cars and a funicular carry you between different landscaped sections, and roads through it are aimed at cars rather than hikers. The park lies north of Bellavista and Providencia and has entrances in both neighborhoods: the cheapest and most logical way to visit is to buy a joint cable car and funicular ticket (adult/child one way CH$2500/1500) to start on one side and finish on the other.

3. La Chascona

When poet Pablo Neruda needed a secret hideaway to spend time with his mistress Matilde Urrutia, he built La Chascona, which he named for her unruly hair. Neruda loved the sea (but disliked sailing) so the dining room is modeled on a ship’s cabin and the living room on a lighthouse. Guided tours walk you through the history of the building and the collection of colored glass, shells, furniture and artworks by famous friends that fills it – sadly much more was lost when the house was ransacked during the dictatorship. The Fundación Neruda, which maintains Neruda’s houses, has its headquarters here and runs a swank gift shop and lovely café.

4. Iglesia de San Francisco

The first stone of the austere Iglesia de San Francisco was laid in 1586, making it Santiago’s oldest surviving colonial building. Its sturdy walls have weathered some powerful earthquakes, although the current clock tower, finished in 1857, is the fourth. On the main altar look for the carving of the Virgen del Socorro (Our Lady of Perpetual Help), which Santiago’s founder Pedro de Valdivia brought to Chile on his 1540 conquistador mission to protect him from attacks.

5. Cerro Santa Lucía

Rising out of the eastern side of the Centro is Cerro Santa Lucía. It was a rocky hill until 19th-century city mayor Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna had it transformed into a beautifully landscaped park where the grassy verges are still a favor­ite with canoodling local couples. A web of trails and steep stone stairs leads you up through terraces to the Torre Mirador at the top. Charles Darwin proclaimed the view from here ‘certainly most striking’ in 1833 – the smog-and-skyscraper-filled 21st-century version may have changed a little but it’s still well worth the climb. You need to sign in with your passport details when you enter.

* All information from Lonely Planet