If there is one thing I learned in Chile, it is that not only am I a wine person, I’m a CHILEAN wine person!—Nick Henderson
After what felt like a non-stop, fast paced, blitz through Peru (because it was one) Abbi and I hopped onto a Latam flight and continued further South in South America to the country of Chile. Our plan was considerably different than what ultimately wound up happening, however, at the end of the trip we left Chile in love with Santiago and even more in love with their wine.
Landing in Chile late in the morning Abbi and I grabbed a taxi into the downtown area of Santiago. Unlike in Peru, where we moved constantly from one hotel or hostel to another, we were going to be basing ourselves out of the surprisingly affordable and exceptionally well located Park Plaza Hotel. I couldn’t begin to speculate as to why the hotel cost so little, because it was beautiful, well staffed, and historic. It had the feel of a high end turn of the century downtown New York hotel. From doormen to butlers and everything in between, the Park Plaza delivered on all fronts. The room was nice, clean, comfortable and well appointed too. I’ll try and remember to start taking photos of hotel rooms for future blog posts. All of this was great, but the Park Plaza wasn’t done delivering, on the roof – under a glass ceiling – was a pool and sauna that seemed to go unused and under-appreciated by any guests other than Abbi and myself, we had it to ourselves the entire time we were there.
Unfortunately by traveling in September and October we placed ourselves in Chile during their spring season (being in the southern hemisphere) and the weather, though nice while we were there – was chilly, and always had the potential to turn to rain and snow. We had hiking trips booked in the Andes and wound up getting rained out. The bright side was that, being the “off season”, prices were fairly low, and the wine production in that country never stops.
DAY 1 – WINE TASTING 101 AT VINOLIA
On the first day in Chile I had scheduled a very cool experience for Abbi and myself and had kept it as a surprise for her. We got checked into our hotel, dropped our gear, cleaned up and grabbed a car to Vinolia. Vinolia is, I think, best described as an immersive, hands on, crash course in wine tasting. The tour starts with a glass of sparkling wine, then moves into the history of wine in Chile (video presentation in the lobby). After that our English speaking host took us into the smelling room, where we tried our noses at identifying certain concentrated elements that give certain wines their unique flavors and bodies (like pear, plum, chocolate, pepper, flowers, vanilla, and so on). We spent some time in this room, moving from station to station, and then eventually moved into the theatre. The theatre had several rows of desks, each lined with wine glasses and prepared pairing trays for each of the eager “students”. A beautifully produced, imax grade, video tour of four local wine areas, hosted by the owners of the wineries, began. Each owner took us through the history of their family and winery, and then also talked us through tasting notes for their wines, which happened to be the ones in front of each of our stations. Check out these photos!
DAY 2 – HIKING CAJON DEL MAIPO, OR NOT
Day number two for us in Chile was the day we had originally set aside for hiking Cajon del Maipo in the Andes. It was also the coldest, rainiest, day that we experienced during our entire two weeks in South America. Our guide, Francisco, picked us up early from the Park Plaza, after a few more stops and pick ups, began driving us up into the mountains. He had been looking at the weather, and prepared us for the possibility that the roads might be closed by the police and assured us that he had a great plan in mind for a backup – just in case.
Though the conditions had continued to worsen during the drive, our driver was not willing to give up unless he absolutely had to. Despite the falling rain we made it to a mountain house which rents hiking and snow gear to under-prepared tourists heading up into the mountains. This certainly applied to everyone in our van, myself and Abbi included. We had booked Cajon del Maipo based on summer photos, and hadn’t really factored in snow, rain and wind.
After everyone was geared up, and hot coffees had been bought to help us warm up, we started back out on the mountain highway. It didn’t take very long, or very far, for us to come across a road block. The mountain police had decided that it was too dangerous for any traffic to continue, ahead there were flash floods, a mudslide, and no chance at hiking in the Andes. Our guide spun us around, took us back to the mountain house, got all of our money back for the rentals, and we proceeded down the mountain on “PLAN B”. Which was, of course, more wine tasting! He took us to a local vineyard and winery called Vina Undurraga, where we had our first actual walkthrough of a chilean winery and tasting. Meanwhile, while we were in the winery, our guide had set up the ultimate tailgating party in the winery parking lot; the wine, meat, cheese and cookies were meant for us to eat at Cajon del Maipo as part of the tour – so instead, we gathered around his foldout table and enjoyed a story about the wine we were all drinking together. Check out the photos below!
After finishing up at Undurraga we loaded into the van and Francisco took us to one last stop before returning us all to our hotels – the Baha’i Temple in Santiago. A beautiful and peaceful temple, located on top of a hill overlooking the city, we explored the grounds, and learned a bit more about a faith I was not remotely familiar with.
DAY 3 – THE CASABLANCA VALLEY
By this point I imagine you’re noticing a couple of themes in our Chile trip…or at least one theme…wine. Our third day in the country was no exception to that, and was originally our one “wine dedicated” tour day. By this point in our time in Chile, however, Abbi and I were enamored with Chilean wines. The idea of spending a day being driven to three different wineries in the Casablanca valley (known for their white wines mostly) was euphoric. There isn’t much else to say about today, we were spirited away to one beautiful vineyard after another and tasted excellent wines at each. We also ate fresh avocado toast for breakfast, and a great lunch. By the end of the day we had bought bottles of wine and other wine related items to bring back home with us. Instead of talking you through every stop, check out the photos below. Wineries visited included: Veramonte, Bodegas RE, and Vina Casas del Bosque
DAY 4 – SANTIAGO CITY TOUR
With our trip coming to a close at this point Abbi and I had one, final, day to explore Chile and had intentionally left this day open, so that we could “wing it” once we were more familiar with the area. What we decided to do was to self-guide ourselves through the city (using a Turistik hop-on/hop-off tour bus service). Armed with a map, a list of places to see in Santiago, and a fully charged GoPro we set out to see everything we could before the day was over.
We ran into a few obstacles, such as the Gondola and Funicular being out of service that day for maintenance – but ultimately we were able to really explore Santiago and see a lot of the city. I’ll leave it up to you to decide if we had wine at all during this tour, by now I think you know. At the end of the day, worn out from all the walking, running, climbing and touring – we dropped our gear back at the hotel and went to one of the nicest rated seafood restaurants in town – Aqui Esta Coco. Check out the video of the day, and the photo gallery below it to get a feel for what our self-guided city tour day looked like. Also, there’s a very important added bonus at the bottom of the page you are NOT going to want to miss.
VERY IMPORTANT BONUS!!!
Ok everyone, first of all I’d like to thank you for reading this far. I hope you enjoyed the posts, the photos and the video. I tried to condense a TON of travel into these two blog posts and I promise to let you go as soon as I show you ONE MORE THING. The day after our day exploring Santiago we flew back to Lima to catch our flights back to the United States. Our layover wasn’t long, we grabbed a room at the airport hotel and got some much needed sleep before the early flights. Fortunately our favorite sandwich place (La Lucha) has an airport location, so that was dinner for us.
The thing I wanted to show you and talk about a little bit is NOT the sandwich place, it was a moment that I observed between Abbi and a local Peruvian woman in the crowded food court of the airport. While I waited in line to order our meals and pick the food up Abbi took the all important job of heading into the crowd to find us a table to sit at. I kept shifting my attention from her, to the food counter, and back to her – keeping an eye on the woman I love in the busy airport to make sure she was safe. At one point though I lost sight of her, and then when I finally found her again, she had found us a table. Though, she was not alone.
An elderly Peruvian woman, who had come to the airport to see family off on a trip had been sitting with them at the table. She and Abbi exchanged glances and the lady invited Abbi to join her at the table. Her english was almost non-existent, practically as non-existent as Abbi’s Spanish and yet, look at that photo above, Abbi and this old Peruvian woman were smiling and laughing with each other and talking like old friends. They exchanged phone numbers and agreed to help each other with their language skills. By the time our food was prepared and I made it to the table, these two were old friends – and the lady greeted me as though she already knew everything about me.
I’m not telling you this story because Abbi talked to a stranger.
I’m telling you this story because this is the first time I’ve ever really had Abbi in the blog and I’m trying to share just a small piece of what it is that I love about her with all of you. Abbi will instantly connect with you, make you feel like you’ve been friends for a lifetime, you feel known and important to her. I see it in how she interacts with friends and with strangers. It’s a remarkable empathy skill she has, and it draws people right in.