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Scenic Chile Unfolds At Santiago

by Larry  Larsen

Hyatt Regency SantiagoChile lies along the Pacific coast in the southern part of South America. It is bordered on the east by the Andes Mountains, on the North by the Atacama Desert and on the south by the Strait of Magellan. It stretches for 2,604 miles, nearly the distance between Maine and California. Almost in its geographic midsection, the capital of Santiago is the entry point of most international visitors. From there, a bounty of unique scenery awaits those heading north or south to the extremities of the beautiful country.

Protected by natural borders, Chile is, in a lot of ways, waiting to be discovered. From the driest desert in the world at the northern end, to farmland and resorts in the valleys along the coasts, to ski resorts in the mountains and to the volcanoes and glaciers of Patagonia further south, Chile is one of the most varied scenic countries in the world. While the southern end of the country may be the most famous, some of the world's best astronomical observatories are located in the northern region of Chile, which has the clearest night skies in the hemisphere.

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The Central part of Chile, though, is where most of the population lives. This area enjoys the most temperate climate and is home to some of the country's best known vineyards.  The capital of Santiago was founded in 1541 by the Spanish, and much of the colonial buildings are well preserved. For a city of more than 6 million people, Santiago is surprisingly clean and safe. It blends modern skyscrapers with old world charm.

Undurraga VineyardsSince all international flights arrive in Santiago, it is worthwhile to spend a day or two in the city and visit some of the more popular interesting sights. We recommend the beautiful Hyatt Grand Cypress for accommodations. Truly a five star hotel, the service is unsurpassed.  Here, the concierge desk can easily arrange a group tour or an individual itinerary depending on your interests. A modern subway system provides easy and economical transportation to the main areas of town.

Perhaps the most interesting cultural aspect of Santiago is reflected in its beautiful architecture. There is a lot of French, English and Spanish influence in the city and interesting places to visit. Starting with the Plaza de Armas, with its imposing copper rooftops, the Municipal Theater, designed by French architect Francisco Brunet des Baines, the Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art, the Fine Arts Museum, the neoclassical Government House which is the largest building erected in the colonies by t young grapeshe Spanish during the 18th century, and La Chascona, a house belonging to famous poet and Nobel prize winner Pablo Neruda.

Naturally, a vineyard tour is almost mandatory when visiting the country known for its outstanding wines. The most historical and impressive vineyards in Chile are at about one hour from Santiago. We recommend tours of the Undurraga Vineyards, started in 1885 and still considered a "boutique" producer of specialty wines, and the dramatic Concha y Toro, a large facility catering very well to large groups of visitors. Both will include samplings of wine for visitors to taste and a selection to purchase at more reasonable costs than you would normally find elsewhere.

Near the Hyatt, the Dominicos is a quick, easy stop for shopping for local handicrafts (you are expected to bargain a little in most shops, especially if you are purchasing more than one item).  Over Shopping at area handicraft markets100 small shops are situated next to an old Dominican church, but watch your step as you walk around. The footpaths are uneven and require special attention. Here you can find a variety of unique items from alpaca clothing to wood carvings of masks and statues. There are even a couple of al fresco cafes to enjoy a coffee or sandwich.

Just a short 2-hour drive northwest of Santiago lies the Marbella Golf & Country Club, so we eagerly played a round of golf at the impressive oceanside course. Undulating fairways and strategically-positioned sand traps around the greens make it difficult for the typical Floridian more accustomed to a flat layout.  Some holes offer a spectacular view of the Atlantic Ocean below.

This 27-hole layout borders 5 lagoons and offers a good variety of challenges throughout.  Pacifico Norte's 9 holes offers 3,171 yards from the blue tees, and 2,603 from the front red tees, still a significant distance for the novice. The Andes Pro runs 3,224 and 2,549 respectively, while the Pacifico South is 3,107 and 2,470.  Marbella Resort also offers 46 guest accommodations from regular hotel rooms to suites and family houses.  Since the resort offers nice accommodations, a short stay here might be the best way to enjoy the facilities. Marbella Golf & Country ClubFor more information visit www.marbella.cl.

For more information on Chile, visit www.selectchile.com for an excellent website on everything regarding traveling to the beautiful country.



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