Santiago, the capital city of Chile, is nestled between the coast at Valparaiso and the lofty peaks of the Andes. It is a modern cosmopolitan city whose highlights include the San Francisco church, San Cristobal Park and the Plaza de Armas with its historic cathedral. The fashionable suburbs of Las Condes or Providencia are home to casual European-style bars and restaurants. Easily accessible from downtown by metro, these areas offer a great place to relax in the evenings.
The Central Valleys & Wineries
The vineyards of Chile's Central Valley now feature on many tours of Santiago and its surrounds. In recent years there can be few dining tables in this country that have not seen a bottle or two of Chilean wine. Bound by the Pacific Ocean to the west, the snow-capped Andes to the east, desert to the north and chilly Antarctic influences to the south, it’s not surprising that long, thin Chile has an exciting diversity of climates – and a correspondingly wide number of wine styles.
Vines were first planted in Chile around 1550, shortly after Pedro de Valdivia had conquered the territory in the name of the King of Spain. Chile was producing wine more than a century before South Africa and some 200 years before California. French varieties of grape were introduced in the mid 19th century and these remain the most popular types of wines produced today.
Many of the vineyards are in Chile's Central Valleys close to Santiago and can be visited for the day. With the number of vineyards increasing five-fold in recent years, a number have opened their doors to visitors, with some offering accommodation.
Closest to Santiago and immediately south of the city is the Maipo Valley where wines are produced in traditional colonial-style wineries and where you can stay in a historic hacienda at the Casa Real. Situated west towards the coast and Valparaiso is the Casablanca Valley, home to the most modern producers and famed for its crisp white wines. Further south still lies the Colchagua Valley, a producer of very fine wines from historic vineyards dating back to the 17th century. Here you can take a journey on the 'Tren del Vino' or wine train.
Other things to do
Santiago has a Mediterranean climate but it's only a short trip to the mountain ski resorts in the Andes - Valle Nevado and Portillo are just a few hours drive from the city.
The attractive town of Valparaiso can be visited on a day trip. Fans of Pablo Neruda may want to make a pilgrimage to Isla Negra, his former seaside home and now a museum.
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