I feel very fortunate to have been selected to Brownell Travel’s “1887 Club” and have just returned from the annual honorees’ trip which this year was in Chile. This club is selected yearly from the agencies top producers, and is aptly named as that is the year the agency originated.
I started my journey southern Patagonia on the Chilean side, known as the jewel of Patagonia. Lest you forgot from 8th grade geography, Patagonia is primarily located in Argentina between the Andes and the Atlantic Ocean. However, at the extreme southern end of Chile, the border juts eastward to reach the Atlantic Ocean thus becoming part of Patagonia. The regional governments in both Chile and Argentina are embracing the name Patagonia as a collective name for this southern region.
We arrived deep down in Patagonia, 5 hours south of El Calafate, basically near the bottom of the earth. Thankfully, this destination brought sheer delight. We were surrounded by natural beauty, vast open lakes, golden burnt fields, snow capped mountains, and ever changing weather.
We spent our first three nights at the recently opened Singular resort (http://thesingular.com/puertobories-en) near Puerto Natales. It has a unique history as it was originally a sheep processing plant up until WW II. The architecture is a mix of the original factory which is housed in the main building and a more contemporary wing that has been added which houses 60 rooms and a few suites. The rooms were spacious, with an open feeling accented by floor to ceiling windows and decor that was light and airy.
Guests have a huge array of daily activities to choose which are all set in the most spectacular scenery. Singular offers three activity levels for guests and about 30 offerings of trekking, biking, horseback riding, fishing, boating, or kayaking which are all guided by a member of their expert staff. One small negative of not staying within the Torres del Paine National Park, where Explora Lodge (http://www.explora.com/explora-patagonia/) is located, is that it takes 2 hours to drive to the park which can make for an early start to your day. However, if you stay “outside” the park you get to experience a greater variety of activities.
We spent a picture perfect day in the Torres del Paine National Park, 93 miles to the northwest of Natales. This auspicious landscape is dominated by three ice-carved peaks that rise 10,000 feet above glacier-riven lush valleys, high-altitude lakes, sheer-sided fjords, and a ring of 8,500-foot granite-and-basalt skewers known as the Cuernos del Paine. Torres del Paine is isolated from the rest of northern Chile by the Continental Ice Fields and deep fjords.The park is laced with some of the best hiking trails in the world, where Andean condors glide above paths that wind through birch groves.
Patagonia is an outdoorsman’s dream, a paradise for those that love adventure, the beauty of pristine nature, wildlife, and can adjust to ever changing weather. I think one has to be flexible and in summer the fierce winds are not for the fragile or for those too young. They are intense and come out of no where.
After our stay at Singular we headed north for a one night stop in Santiago, the capital and largest city in Chile. We stayed at the “hip” W HOTEL (http://www.starwoodhotels.com/whotels/property/overview/index.html?propertyID=1979) which has gorgeous and lively public spaces but one must have infrared eyes to see in the bedrooms as they are SO dark!!
I would suggest Santiago for a quick stop over but it is not much in the way of beauty and full of pollution. Despite its long history, there are only a few historical buildings from the Spanish colonial period remaining in the city. This is largely because Santiago, and in fact the entire country, is regularly hit by earthquakes.
I did enjoy a city tour on bikes with a few colleagues to discover the urban environment from a different perspective. Our finale was an amazing 4 course lunch on the gorgeous outdoor patio at the Ritz Carlton Hotel (http://www.ritzcarlton.com/en/Properties/Santiago/Default.htm).
Santiago is where the 1887 Club trip ended. However, a few of us extended our stay for two nights and went two hours south to Millahue (“Place of Gold”). There we spent two glorious nights at what is to become the hottest property in the country and most definitely the spot to go in the wine country, Viña Vik. Viña Vik is part of the beloved www.vikretreats, which those of you who follow my blog know from the sister properties Estancia Vik and Playa Vik in Uruguay.
We were greated at the W by our adorable hosts from Viña Vik, Sabrina and Gonzague, who drove us to the property. We also were lucky to have one of my favorite artists from Uruguay join us, Alejandro Turell. He was a really fun addition and is helping Vik design the wine label for the Viña Vik wine bottles.
It was a lovely drive south as we were surrounded by the Andes mountains through the Cachapoal Valley. This route slowly introduced us to the beautiful landscape, topography, and mountain valleys that run between the Andes foothills and the Coastal Mountain Range. We eventually arrived in Millahue, a unique and one of a kind vineyard that has a holistic concept. We were enamored with the gorgeous vineyard and plethera of plump grapes and the greenest of untouched leaves. However, most importantly we can vouch for the “gold” that is in every bottle of Vik’s wine. This holistic wine is already in a category by itself for its longterm aging and is destined to become one of the top reds in the world. This exceptional wine is the result of an elegant blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carménère, Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, blends which are chosen yearly in different combinations.
We stayed in a lovely 4 bedroom cabin as the main facilites of the property will not be complete until late 2013. We all felt lucky to be able to get a sneak preview and we left with great expectations. One of the highlights of our stay was that we happened to be on property for the Harvest of the 2012 vintage. In order to know if it is the right time for Harvest four factors are considered: tannins, chemical analysis, maturation, and sugar level.
The top pickers began picking at 1am. We arrived at 5am to lend a helping hand. Gonzague was so gracious to take us around the operation and explain the process. I decided picking is not for tall people as all that bending down gave me a backache! We then went to the winery to see the rest of the production and finally were rewarded by tasting the final product…the best grape juice ever! Of course, the fermenting takes weeks.
We were lucky to have dinner one night in the vineyard where we arrived on horseback. Cristian Valejo, the chief winemaker, had us rolling in laughter with his delightful jokes. He and Gonzague are an invincible team and made our stay along with Sabrina and Alejandro extra special.
VIK clearly knows how to line up the sun, moon and stars at every destination. Speaking of stars, we had never seen a sky so bright shining down on what is to become the best resort in Chile. As with all of the Vik Retreats, they are places that you want to return, and like a good bottle of vino it only gets better with age.