I’m bowled over by Santiago! A vibrant city; clean green and pumping.
Santiago is hot, but dry and less sapping of energy than Sydney in summer. The Mapocho River, that carries waters from the Andes in the spring is barely trickling over rocky bottom at the moment.
My innate attraction to the city is amplified by our hospitable hosts – Chileans Mario and Matías, and Korean expat friend from Australia, Hyun Ju. I have to beg for time out to catch my breath or I’d be run ragged seeing all they’ve planned.
We stay in a new hotel in El Golf, within the new Las Condes municipality; it’s like Potts Point. The neighbourhood still preserves architectural roots from the middle 20th century, but it has become the heart of fashion, interior design and high gastronomy. Large financial institutions and hotels occupy the modern skyscrapers built along wide tree-lined avenues stretching to the mountains.
Mario says, “Las Condes area benefits from being new. It was created on land from the old Golf Club, and parklands that once surrounded noble mansions, family estates and American-style bungalows. Other public buildings were demolished and today’s mixed-use urban-planned area was developed using modern anti-seismic construction techniques in a harmonious way with modern design, and extensive landscaping.”
In contrast to Las Condes is the bohemian, Bella Vista neighbourhood on the other side of ‘downtown’. We enjoy a wonderful meal at Pasta y Vino in the Aubrey, a chic hotel conversion of two old residences by an Australian expat, before taking a ‘walk on the wild side’ in the balmy night air through the adjacent blocks of bars, dance clubs, restaurants and outdoor dining establishments. I’ll be back.
We ride the efficient subway to spend a morning walking through ‘old’ Santiago with it’s buildings from the late 19th Century through to the Thirties, before lunch in the hip Bellas Artes area. I enjoy grilled tuna that immediately goes on my ‘best-ever’ list at the Opera Catedral Restaurant.
I am surprised to see that Santiago is the centre of a thriving Lapis lazuli industry. I previously thought that the world’s Lapis supply came from Afghanistan – well that’s what the Indian jeweller in Delhi told me when I had some lapis cufflinks made there twenty five years ago. I take the opportunity to replace those cufflinks, long lost. The clarity of the blue may not be quite as pure, but nonetheless . . . stylish.