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Lucire: Volante
chile


Where ‘Land’s End’ is just the beginning

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The (Chilean) hills are alive

As you progress further south into Chile’s “lake district” (sometimes known as northern Patagonia, though geography purists may dispute this nomenclature), the landscapes and architecture become more definitively Germanic in their appearance. This was shaped by a wave of immigration from Europe in the wake of the 1848 revolution in the German states. The main settlements, along with their architectural and culinary legacies, can be found throughout the area in such villages as Puerto Varas, Frutillar, and Puerto Montt. The Museo Colonial Alemán in Frutillar brings to life the ways in which settlers made their fortunes in the New World, as well as offer spectacular views of the landmark Mt Osorno volcano from its hillsides.

Cafés in Puerto Varas and Frutillar are distinguished by signage effortlessly blending Spanish and German words. German and Swiss culinary and design influences distinguish Hotel Patagonico in Puerto Varas, which blurs the lines between function and luxury. The same can be said about its wonderful cuisine, which is elegant in its presentation but heartier in its composition. Salmon from local waters cook up into rich, satisfying dishes that pair with Chilean red wines as well as craft beers, many of which are made in the German brewing traditions. The hotel bar also blends Chilean and Germanic food culture deftly with the way they bring unexpected flavours such as ginger and green apple into their Pisco sours.

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Perhaps the most visible—and refreshing—impact German settlers made on regional cuisine is through its beer, where old-world brewing traditions are shaped by Chile’s geographic attributes. Kunstmann Brewery is the best-known craft (or artesanal) brewery, while Austral is also popular and offers a Califate brew with subtle hints of the indigenous berry.

However, there are many tasteful reminders of the fact you are still in South America. Nearby fine-dining restaurant Ibis offers a grapefruit Pisco sour made with Capel Pisco that beautifully pairs with their signature salmon dish. Around the corner, El Patio de Mi Casa features a raspberry sour that balances out their substantial Chilean country comfort food.

Swiss-Chileans (many who arrived through Valparaiso), not only had a knack for trade, but tourism as well. In 1913, Ricardo Roth purchased and transformed a transport company serving Chilean and Argentine traders into a tourism company, sensing there would be a demand for adventure travel in the coming years. His instincts continue to pay off, with charismatic fourth generation hotelier Alberto Schirmer-Roth operating, managing and constantly restoring the original Hotel Peulla (built in 1896, and visited by John F. Kennedy and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, among others) and the modern Natura Hotel. Both family-friendly lodges offer excursions and activities (hiking, canopy tours, horseback rides) that showcase Chile’s alpine geography.

 

Heading south for the winter

Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales are among the southernmost cities on Earth, boasting an eclectic mix of nightclubs, cultural tourist attractions and penguin colonies. However, if you are looking to go to the ends of the earth in the name of adventure and romance, Torres Del Paine National Park is where you will find them.

This sprawl of geological wonder and extreme hiking heaven is a four hours’ drive from Punta Arenas’ airport. Though Puerto Natales is regarded as the gateway to Torres Del Paine and home to several luxury and mid-priced hotels, the newly opened Tierra Patagonia literally takes its visitors to the edge.

Getting to Tierra Patagonia is an undertaking, even with its drivers picking you up from Punta Arenas’ airport. The jaunt involves a gorgeously austere four-hour drive, punctuated by a lunch stop at roadside diner Rio Rubens, and, if time allows, a quick stretch and photo at Puerto Natales.

However, you are richly rewarded on your arrival. The sleek, earthy structure suddenly seems to rise out of the ground. As you enter and check in, the sun is starting to set against Torres Del Paine’s iconic “skyline” and Lake Sarmiento. The entire public area of the property is bathed in a warm pink hue.

Once you sign the paperwork and your suitcases are whisked to your room, you are greeted with piping hot hors d’œuvres and your choice of a classic or calafate Pisco sour, which you enjoy by a crackling fire. Manager Christopher Purcell, whose family is behind this ambitious lodge (as well as the Tierra Atacama resort in Chile’s desert north and the pioneering Portillo ski resort, opened 1961), introduces himself to you, and then to a colleague who will plan the activities for your stay based on your fitness level and interests. She orients guests using a large, decorative map of the park that dominates the living room that adjoins the dining area. However before you decide which of the many hikes to take, look out the window—which extends almost the entire expanse of the property.

It suddenly hits you that you are in a place like nowhere else. You are on the periphery of a spectacular natural wonder largely undiscovered by most North American tourists, refreshingly free of bars, souvenir shops and overpriced sporting goods’ emporiums. Even if you may be missing out on some of Puerto Natales’ acclaimed restaurants 90 minutes away, the kitchen (under the direction of chefs Rafael Figueroa and Jaime Aguilera) strives to ensure guests will be perfectly content with an ever-changing menu, blending locally procured ingredients and some international culinary influences (along with any dietary requirements). The ice cream and sorbets are especially outstanding.

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Learning about how this property came to be is an adventure in itself, especially as Purcell described it. Though the Tierra Patagonia project began in 2005, no detail was overlooked and no expense spared. It took six years to for the Purcells and their partners to conduct various environmental studies, obtain government permits and ensure locals and authorities the structure would harmonize with the tundra setting instead of jut out like a proverbial 20-storey sore thumb.

‘While many properties have a modern Scandinavian or Germanic feel, or pay a stylistic nod to the German and Swiss settlements that had an impact on local culture and cuisine, we wanted to do something very different than anything else that had been done before,’ Purcell notes. ‘Most of the structure is constructed with wood from the indigenous Lenga tree. We sourced (much of) it locally from a sustainably managed forest. Instead of clearing the forest, we hired a local construction company to cut the upper branches, leaving as small a carbon footprint as possible.

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It suddenly hits you that you are in a place like nowhere else. You are on the periphery of a spectacular natural wonder largely undiscovered by most North American tourists, refreshingly free of bars, souvenir shops and overpriced sporting goods’ emporiums

 

 

 


Salmon cooked by Hotel Patagonico


Flowers on the hike to Barraloche


Emu at the Puelle natural resort


Raspberry Pisco sour

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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