Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Chile, a World in One Long, Skinny Strip; South America's Most Varied Nation Has Everything from Sun-Drenched Wine Country to Lush Forests and Rich Culture, as Guy Pewsey Reports

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Chile, a World in One Long, Skinny Strip; South America's Most Varied Nation Has Everything from Sun-Drenched Wine Country to Lush Forests and Rich Culture, as Guy Pewsey Reports

Article excerpt

Byline: Guy Pewsey reports

PLANNING a trip usually requires compromise. Adventure or relaxation? A la carte or authentic cuisine? Complete seclusion or loud, local flavour? In Chile, the spine of South America, the need to choose fades, and the country's vastness provides contradictory delights.

Arriving in Santiago, the capital presents a hint of the juxtaposition that Chile offers. Although it's on the up as a destination in itself, we drive straight through the bustling city and into the sudden, rising countryside beyond. At La Casona in the Casablanca Valley, an on-site restaurant provides an elegant menu and the first welcome glass of wine. Afterwards, a guide takes us on a six-mile trip through the Rosario Valley to a wine cellar in the hills.

That, it turns out, was just a taster. The next morning it's back to the airport, where we fly south to Temuco and then drive to Pucon, where the sunblanched countryside of Santiago is replaced with dense forest creeping up into the dormant volcanoes. Hidden in the landscape is Hotel Vira Vira, a rare gem nestled beside the river, where the produce is grown onsite, the cheese made in the dairy, and the inviting rooms are impeccably decorated with smart, local touches.

After a night of undisturbed sleep and a wholesome breakfast of granola and fruit, it's on with the boots and waterproofs before we journey up the slopes for a long hike. The guides lead us through the woods of ancient monkey puzzle trees, into the hills and out onto a majestic volcanic lake. On its banks we eat a lunch of rich-green avocado and hot chocolate, and the chill passing across the water fades.

After the return hike, we visit the town of Curarehu and the home of a local Mapuche woman who explains the history, culture and food of the region's indigenous people as we sit in her ruca, a Mapuche hut. We leave, full of tales and bread.

The terrain around here offers many options for adventure-seekers, and the beauty of the fast-flowing rivers makes white-water rafting an appealing (if daunting) prospect. …

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