Chile: the ballad of a long, thin country

From coast to mountain, and from the Atacama Desert to the wilds of Patagonia, the South American country is a study in contrasts, with breathtaking scenery, a capital city enjoying a gastronomic renaissance, and fascinatingly diverse wines.

Chile is a country of eccentric shape and topography and enormous contrasts. Long and thin, it covers some 2,670 miles (4,300km) north to south, but at no point is it more than 220 miles (354km) wide, while the average width is a mere 112 miles (180km), and the narrowest point just 40 miles (64km) across. Bound by the Pacific to the west and the Andes to the east and north, it runs from one of the world’s driest deserts (Atacama) in the north to within touching distance of Antarctica to the south and through all the changes in climate, flora and fauna that a journey through 38° latitude implies.

This remarkable geographical diversity attracts a correspondingly wide range of tourists and holidaymakers. Until relatively recently, however, one kind of visitor—those drawn to the country by an interest in Chile’s rapidly evolving wine culture—would have found themselves ushered towards only a very small slice of this narrow strip. In part because of its proximity to the capital, Santiago, and in part because of its historic position as the home of Chile’s best—certainly its most famous—red wines, the Maipo Valley was by far the best prepared of all Chilean wine regions for welcoming visitors.

But as Chile’s wine industry has developed over the past two decades, so the options for wine tourism have blossomed. In the various valleys that make up the traditional production zone of the Central Valley—Colchagua, Curicó, and Maule as well as Maipo—producers have grouped together to form wine routes with tasting rooms and cellar door sales. But as the industry has expanded into new sites towards the coast (Casablanca, San Antonio, and Leyda), to the far north (Limarí, Elqui) and further south (Bío Bío, Itata, Malleco), so new areas of exploration have opened up for the intrepid wine tourist.

A capital beginning

For all that the horizons for the Chilean wine tourist have broadened, any vinous visit to Chile would still begin in Santiago—and not just because it’s the location of the country’s main international airport and its most important transport hub. With more than a third of Chile’s 18 million inhabitants living in the city and the surrounding metropolitan area, it’s not surprising that it also has by far the biggest concentration of the country’s best restaurants, wine bars, and wine merchants.

Indeed, over the past decade the city has emerged as one of the gastronomic centers of South America with a flourishing food scene that seems finally to have left the stuffy privations of the Pinochet era behind. In chef Rodolfo Guzmán’s much-admired Boragó in the trendy boho district of Vitacura (ranked 38th in San Pellegrino’s The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list), unusual indigenous ingredients, many of them foraged, are at the base of a distinctive modern Chilean cuisine that has provided a model for like-minded chefs such as Kurt Schmidt at the casual 99 Restaurante in Providencia and the more French-inspired Carolina Bazán at Ambrosia, also in Vitacura.

For the wine-minded diner, the wine lists of each of these new-wave restaurants focuses on Chile’s emerging small-producer scene: natural, biodynamic, and organic wines. These are well represented, too, alongside wide choices from the grandees of Chilean wine and a variety of small-plate dishes, at Barrica 94, an informal wine bar in the student-and-artist quarter of Bellavista, which vies with Bocanaríz in the historical center for the most extensive by-the-glass selections in Santiago. This is a good place to start an in situ exploration of Chile’s wine scene, as are wine merchants such as El Mundo del Vino (; various locations in Santiago) and BBVinos, a boutique based in the fine arts complex, Centro Gabriela Mistral (

Maipo and Aconcagua

One doesn’t have to travel very far from central Santiago to find oneself in the heart of Chilean wine country. Indeed, the atmospheric cellars of Viña Santa Carolina (www.santacarolina. cl), magnificently restored after the 2010 earthquake, are very much within the city limits (Rodrigo de Araya metro station), while Cousiño Macul, the oldest Chilean winery, with a history dating back to the 16th-century, is accessible via metro (Quilín station) followed either by a half-hour journey on foot or a short taxi journey. Both offer comprehensive tours and tastings.

Also a short journey from central Santiago by metro (in this case to Las Mercedes) followed by a short taxi ride is the headquarters of Chile’s (indeed Latin America’s) largest winery, Concha y Toro. Based around a gracious traditional house (the summer residence of the Concha y Toro family in the late 19thcentury), tours start at $27 and include a tour of the park, gardens, estate house and the hundred-year-old cellars, plus a walk around a grape “variety garden” with 26 different varieties, and the company’s Pirque vineyard, before concluding with a tasting.

Another historic Maipo winery, Viña Santa Rita, offers one of the best wine tourism experiences in Chile at its base in Buin, 45 minutes south of Santiago. Among the attractions is a stunning, discreet boutique hotel based in the historic estate house. Built in the 18th-century, the building, surrounded by lush, mature gardens, is listed as one of the National Monuments of Chile and was converted into an atmospheric 16-room hotel in 1996. The complex also features a modern museum housing Santa Rita owner Ricardo Claro’s peerless collection of 1,800 pieces of pre-Colombian art, and a fine traditional restaurant, Doña Paula, housed in another National Monument of Chile. A range of wine tours and tastings taking in the Santa Rita cellars and vineyards, and with options to take bikes or a horse and cart into the vineyards, are available (

Viña Errazuriz also has interests in the Maipo Valley in the shape of its Viñedo Chadwick vineyard. Visits to this celebrated family producer are, like the company’s wine production, based in the valley where it has the majority of its production, Aconcagua, however, a drive of roughly 90 minutes north of Santiago. The company’s impressive visitor center in Panquehue hosts a restaurant and wine shop, and offers a range of tours through the vineyards, and underground cellars, with options for wine and food matching over lunch (

Valparaíso and the Casablanca Valley

Although it is perfectly possible to take a day trip to the cooler climate vineyards of Casablanca while based in Santiago, many visitors prefer to base themselves in the UNESCO World Heritage coastal city of Valparaíso, or its seaside resort neighbor, Viña del Mar. Reminiscent of San Francisco with its steeply sloped streets lined with colorful 19th-century wooden houses and slightly rickety, bohemian feel, Valparaíso is a lively city with many restaurants to tempt the wine-loving diner. Among those with the best wine lists are the seafront seafood specialist Portofino ( and, high up on one of the city’s cerros (or hills), Espiritu Santo (www., from acclaimed chef Manuel Subercaseaux, which specializes in local ingredients and coastal Chilean wines.

Another option would be to base oneself in the Casablanca Valley itself. One of the region’s most exciting wineries, the organic and biodynamic estate Matetic, has a fine eight-room hotel, La Casona, at its base in the southern part of the valley. The hotel has its own private chef, but the Matetic restaurant, Equilibrio, is also highly recommended to both hotel guests and day visitors to the winery, where other attractions include trekking, horse-riding, and biking through the vineyards, and where any tour includes a comprehensive explanation of biodynamic and organic winemaking (

If Matetic is one of the highlights of the 15 participating wineries in the well-organized “Casablanca Ruta del Vino” (, another is Casas del Bosque, which has one of Chile’s best winery restaurants (Tanino) and offers bike rides and trekking up to a viewpoint (mirador) with panoramic views of the surrounding vineyards with or without picnic accompaniment.

The Colchagua Valley

With a concentration of wineries specializing in voluminous red wines, the Colchagua Valley, around 150km south of Santiago, is another popular site that is just about within reach of a day trip from the capital, but with facilities to support an extended stay. One of the best hotels in the region, the Hotel Santa Cruz in the center of the eponymous small town, offers guided tours of the region including a cable car ride over its affiliated winery in the Lolol Valley sub-district, where an observatory offers visitors the chance to make the most of Chile’s famously clear night skies for a spot of star-gazing. The hotel also plays host to one of Chile’s best museums, with a collection of artifacts second only to Santiago’s Chilean National Museum of Natural History, covering more than 400 million years of history.

Another fine hotel in the region is the work of one of its most respected producers, Casa Lapostolle. In the heart of the Apalta sub-region, the Clos Apalta Residence is an exclusive retreat offering four luxury rooms with private terraces overlooking vineyards and mountains. The winery itself, a spectacular Bond villain’s lair-like modernist construction set into the hills, can be visited by appointment, including tasting, from $20 ( A number of wineries involved in Colchagua Valley’s “Ruta del Vino” (www. offer tours with lunch or a picnic included— Viu Manent has one of the best restaurants in the region, Rayuela Wine & Grill, while the winery offers food and wine “studios” and bike and horse-riding vineyard tours (www.

North and south

In the more recently developed Chilean regions in far-flung destinations to the north of the country that are beyond the scope of day-trippers from Santiago or Valparaíso, you’ll need to make an appointment if you wish to add a wine visit to your holiday itinerary. Two of the more spectacular wineries happy to receive visitors are Viña Falernia in the spectacular northerly Elqui Valley ( and Viña Tabalí in the Limarí Valley just inland from the delightful seaside resort of La Serena a few hours north of Santiago ( Elsewhere, it’s worth consulting the websites of the various “Rutas del Vino” for guided tours and participating wineries in traditional winemaking valleys to the south, such as Curico Valley (www.rutadelvinocurico. cl) and the Maule Valley (

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Clos Apalta Residence

A magnificent setting among the vines, tucked into the hills of Apalta, Clos Apalta Residence offers four luxury rooms with private terraces.
Km 4, Apalta Colchagua, Santa Cruz | +56 72 295 3360 |

Hotel Casa Silva

Profoundly peaceful colonial style boutique hotel complete with polo field run by Colchagua’s Casa Silva winery; fine traditional restaurant and winery visits are all on hand.
Hijuela Norte s/n Angostura, San Fernando | +56 72 271 7491 |

Casa Real Hotel

At the heart of Viña Santa Rita’s headquarters, a beautiful historic 18th-century house sensitively transformed into a peaceful haven amid gorgeous mature gardens.
Av Padre Hurtado 0695, Buin | +56 22 362 2520 |

La Casona

Based in the Matetic winery, this hotel is a beautiful colonial house dating back to the early 1900s, with all rooms boasting a private terrace overlooking the gardens and pool.
Fundo El Rosario Lagunillas, Casablanca | +56 22 611 1501 |

Hotel Viña La Playa

A secluded, intimate hotel in a peaceful vineyard setting, where the hosts are happy to book vineyard tours and tasting sessions for visitors at the many fine producers in the Colchagua Valley.
Fundo San Jorge Peralillo, Santa Cruz | +56 72 290 1638 |

Vik Chile

Spectacular views of the Andes, forests, and vines await through the wall-to-ceiling windows in every room in this hi-spec, super-luxury, avant garde retreat in the Cachapoal.
Millahue s/n, San Vicente de Tagua, Tagua | +56 96 193 1754 |

Casa Higueras

Elegant, small-scale boutique hotel with fabulous views over Valparaíso to the Pacific—a great base for exploring Chile’s coastal-influenced vineyards in Casablanca, Leyda, and San Antonio.
Calle Higuera 133, Cerro Alegre, Valparaíso | +56 32 249 7900 |

The Singular

Superb luxury hotel in the capital from a company that—as the name suggests—specializes in an individualistic, but supremely comfortable, approach to hospitality.
Merced 294, Santiago | +56 22 306 8820 |


Rodolfo Guzmán’s innovative mix of unusual Chilean ingredients and skill, backed by a creative, thoughtful wine list, is one of the best restaurants in the world.
Nueva Costanera 3467, Vitacura | +56 22 953 8893 |


More than 400 Chilean wines are on offer at this Santiago favorite wine bar, many by the glass, all served with modern Mediterranean and Chilean dishes in tapas style.
José Victorino Lastarria 276, Santiago | +56 22 638 9893 |

For more restaurants with award-winning wine lists click here.

Concha y Toro

Within easy reach of Santiago, the largest producer in South America has plenty of experience in showing visitors a good time around its 100-year-old cellars in Pirque.
Av Virginia Subercaseaux 210, Pirque | +56 22 476 5100 |

Viña Errazuriz

History and cutting-edge modernity are seamlessly blended with superb facilities and beautiful surroundings at the family firm’s pristine headquarters in Panquehue in the Aconcagua Valley.
E-639 18, Panquehue, Valparaíso | +56 22 339 9100 |

Viña Antiyal

The project of Chile’s biodynamic guru, Alvaro Espinoza, is a homespun affair in the Maipo, with a wonderfully atmospheric bed and breakfast and charming visits for those who book in advance.
Camino Padre Hurtado 68, Paine | +56 22 821 4224 |

Viña Tabalí

One of the stars of new-wave Chile has a supremely stylish winery with one-hour tours and tastings available by appointment in the starkly beautiful scenery of the Limarí Valley north of Santiago.
Quebrada del Durazno, Ovalle | +56 22 352 6800 |

Viña Aquitania

Located in the Alto Maipo, Viña Aquitania offers spectacular views of both the Andes Mountains on one side and the city of Santiago on the other. Guided tours are meticulous in detail, guiding visitors through the production process of a fine boutique portfolio.
Av Consistorial 5090, Peñalolén | +56 22 791 4500 |

Viña Falernia

Set in the hippie and stargazer’s paradise of the Elquí Valley, you’ll need to book in advance for a weekend tour, but this Italian-owned producer in what was once exclusively pisco country is well worth a visit.
Ruta 41, Km 52, Cruce Gualliguaica, Vicuña | +56 51 241 2260 |

Cousiño Macul

One of the oldest wineries in Chile— founded in 1856, still run by the same family, and home to the first vines planted in the country in 1546—a visit to Cousiño Macul is steeped in history, but the tasting and visitor facilities are right up to date.
Av Quilín 7100, Penãlolen | +56 22 351 4100 |

Viña Santa Carolina

A National Monument and a genuinely urban winery thanks to the 20th-century growth of Santiago, Viña Santa Carolina’s historic headquarters offers a variety of tours and tastings.
Calle Til Til 2228, Santiago | +56 22 450 3000 |

Casa Marín

Maria Luz Marín and family were pioneers in the San Antonio Valley. Today the winery offers tastings, a wine bar, visits to the vineyards, and a pleasant bed and breakfast in the vines.
Camino Lo Abarca s/n, Cartagena | +56 98 777 6786 |

Viu Manent

This respected Colchagua Valley producer takes wine tourism seriously with an excellent restaurant, food and wine matching lessons, and bike and horse-riding tours.
Carretera del Vino Km 37, Cunaco, Santa Cruz | +56 22 840 3160 |