The Biddington's Bentley Takes to the Road

Santiago & Valparaiso, Chile
Neighborhoods, Geography, Politics & Art

"En mi patria hay un monte. En mi patria hay un rio."
Pablo Neruda (1904-1973), "El monte y el rio" from his Las Vidas Series of Poems

Editor's Note: Jake Biddington takes over for this August 2006 South American installment of The Bentley. Please note that US citizens must pay a $100/person "reciprocity tax" before being allowed entry into Chile.

Whether the political winds blow from the left or the right, geography remains the overarching reality in Chile. The Andean mountain chain where Chile abuts Argentina boasts 15 peaks that rise higher than 20,000 feet. Flying over the vast Argentine plain, the traveler sees the Andes abruptly materialize--glaciered and impenetrable--from the vineyards of Mendoza. Twenty minutes later, having traversed the mountains, the plane descends into Santiago, a city only 1700 feet above sea level. In theory, Santiago should be picturesque, but a temperature inversion layer usually cloaks the city in a chilly mist so penetrating it is hard to imagine how palm trees survive there so happily.

Cordillera painting Alfredo Helsby
Andes Painting entitled "Cordillera"
Alfredo Helsby (1862-1933)
El Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Santiago
The 17 years of the brutal, US supported Pinochet (1973-1990) military dictatorship largely erased the poignant, poetic Chile of Neruda leaving in its place a country safe for foreign investment. Even though the current regime of Michelle Bachelet leans slightly to the left, bank towers and international retail chains remain much more evident in Santiago than they are in Buenos Aires or Montevideo. Copper exports, especially to China, provide Chile with a trade surplus that reinforces its wealth and success as a capitalist nation. The skyline of Santiago is populated with tall cranes constructing sleek, apartment blocks in prosperous, upper middle class neighborhoods such as Providencia and Las Condes where many of the upscale hotels are also located.

For tourists, the Centro neighborhood is an immediate draw. Transport on the remarkably clean efficient Metro is the quickest way to arrive. El Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, a cultural resource housed in a domed 1907 belle epoque-style building, makes a good first stop. The Bellas Artes' curatorial staff has worked to provide an historical overview of Chilean painting with exhibitions of well-chosen examples of the traditions of realism, naturalism and portraiture in Chile. In 20th century art, the museum devotes a large room to a fine group of paintings by important mid-century Surrealist-influenced Chilean painter Roberto Matta (1912-2002). The museum's temporary exhibitions typically feature contemporary artists from Chile and abroad.

Tiwanaku Arica Hat Further into the Centro, near the handsome Plaza de Armas, is Santiago's true gem of a museum: Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino. This museum of ancient art from Central and South America owes its existence principally to one collector Sergio Larraín García-Moreno who amassed the works during the mid-20th century. The exhibition of Pre-Columbian textiles--with graphic information on knots and weavings--is invaluable for anyone with a serious interest in this field. The multitude of other fascinating objects includes: figurative animal vases, large funerary sculpture, wonderful straw, feather & textile hats as well as an amazing chord hanging that provides an historical record of an ancient Andean people told solely via colored, knotted strings.
4-Pointed Hat, Tiwanaku Arica
Southern Andean Region
Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino, Santiago

Because of its proximity to the Pacific Ocean, seafood in extraordinary variety arrives daily for sale in Santiago's large central market which also houses several restaurants in its bustling, renovated center. Across a short bridge into the Recoleta neighborhood, a less elegant version of the foods market expands into literally acres of farm-fresh meats, fruits (six kinds of avocados) and vegetables (mountains of Andean potatoes of varying shapes, sizes & colors). The venturesome can pull a stool at one of the food counters in the marketplace where the workers themselves eat.

Adjacent to Recoleta, the fashionably funky neighborhood of Bellavista maintains a low-rise, low-key charm with coffee shops and cafes in abundance. In these blocks, the outdoor tables are always filled--despite the chill. Locals and tourists drink coffee and chocolate by day and wine and cerveza by night; music--smooth jazz or emphatically rhythmic Peruvian tunes--seems always to emanate from somewhere nearby. In the crafts and culture market, artisans hammer silver into jewelry mountings for the beautiful cobalt-blue lapis lazuli stone which is mined in Chile. La Chascona, one of the three Pablo Neruda houses preserved as museums, is situated in Bellavista.

Matta painting
Roberto Matta (1912-2002)
El Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Santiago
A business-oriented city, Santiago's hours run about the same as those in the US. Cocktails are popular, and a nice hotel bar is the perfect spot to enjoy the Chilean cocktail of choice: a Pisco sour. Pisco, a local alcohol derived from a process using the muscat grape, is mixed with sugar, bitters and fresh egg white; this unlikely combination is then shaken enthusiastically--like a martini. The result is a delectably tangy and slighty frothy pre-dinner apertif.

Day Trip to Valparaiso

Traveling the 62 miles from Santiago through intermittent tunnels down and across the grape, apple and cherry growing valley of Casablanca to Valparaiso, it becomes evident how close is the source of the fruit flooding Santiago's marketplace.

Geography trumps all other facets of Valparaiso: This small city situated on Chile's Pacific coast possesses a natural harbor surrounded by an amphitheater of many steep hills called cerros. These populated, urban hillsides bring to mind the Alfama section of Lisbon with its narrow maze of nearly vertical walkways. Valparaiso's cerros are accessed by funiculars called "ascensores" that were built in the 1880's. The ascensores appear not to have been serviced since installation, but a cultural heritage group within the city is working on studies to preserve and restore them. UNESCO has designated Valparaiso a World Heritage Site, so the city's historic buildings (some dating from its founding in 1544) and infrastructure are beginning to be protected and maintained.

Port of Valparaiso
At the base of Valparaiso's hills is a working port from which fruit, wine and some copper are exported and where many cruise ships dock each year. While Valparaiso is geographically picturesque and historically significant, it is not overflowing with tourist amenities such as restaurants, cafes or shopping; so, walking its streets is the predominant activity. Because the cerros are complicated to get around, it's helpful to pick up a specific map which can guide you to historical sites, artisan's shops and restaurants on each cerro. For the impatient traveler, a guided tour with bus or taxi transport is perhaps the easiest way to initially explore the city.

The Port at Valparaiso

Few North Americans realize that this western part of South America falls into the same time zone as New York. To revel in the spectacular sunset, ride a few miles up the coast to Viña del Mar's flower clock at Plaza de la Reloj. Across the way a handsome new hotel (Sheraton) offers an oceanside deck--the perfect vantage point for sipping a Pisco sour while watching the last light glimmer across Valparaiso's cerros and harbor as the sun drops into the Pacific Ocean.

Santiago Restaurant & Hotel Suggestions:

Providencia Neighborhood of Santiago:
Aquí Está Coco--upscale seafood restaurant in an elegant old colonial house. The place for a power lunch in Santiago where distinguished businessmen in severe suits exude the air of deposed generals.
Liguria--noisy and crowded, a casual drinks & dinner spot for unwinding on a Friday night.
Lomit--excellent German restaurant on Providencia Avenue. Try the peredil & chucrut (ham hock with sauerkraut).
Santiago Park Plaza Hotel--classy spot with good service, a pretty enclosed rooftop pool and a generous breakfast buffet.

Bellavista Neighborhood of Santiago:
Eladio--on busy Pio Nono street, this large parilla serves quality seafood, meats and salads. A popular weekend lunchtime destination for friends and family.
Como Agua por Chocolat--charming restaurant near the artisans' market on Constitucíon.

Archived Bentley Destinations:
Restaurant Guide to Buenos Aires--2006
Northwest Argentina: Tucumán, Salta & Cafayate
Tigre, Argentina--Day Trip from Buenos Aires
San Antonio de Areco, Argentina--Weekend Trip from Buenos Aires
Touring Santiago & Valparaiso, Chile
New Haven, Connecticut
Visiting New York City 2006
Buenos Aires--Basic Guide
Cultural Touring along Spain's Costa del Sol
Touring in Lisbon
Touring in Milan
Touring in Antwerp
Touring in Barcelona
I-80 Park City to New York City
Tourism New York City 2003 Update
Tourism New York City 2002
Hudson, New York (Columbia County)
Tourism Rome 2002 Update
Hartford & Wilton, Connecticut
San Francisco Jackson Square
New Hampshire Route 1A
Morris County, New Jersey


Here at BIDDINGTON'S, our work is also our play. When we're not exhibiting and discussing art online, we're learning about wonderful objects in shops, at great shows and in museums all over the world. In this article, Jake Biddington offers tourist information and descriptions of this interesting destination.

Contact Jake Biddington about His Travels

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