Tuesday, April 3, 2012


By Janet Steinberg

There are said to be only three places in the world with a Mediterranean climate: The actual Mediterranean coast…Catalina Island, California…and the coast of Chile around Santiago.  And, if you work it right, you could enjoy the best of The Med’s climate 12 months of the year. 
During spring, summer, and fall, that glorious Mediterranean climate is yours for the asking on the Mediterranean coast or on Catalina Island.  However, when winter’s chilling blasts blow in, enjoying a Mediterranean climate takes a little more doing. 

That fete involves flying down, or cruising to, Santiago, Chile in the dead of our winter…when it is mid-summer in the Southern Hemisphere.  Silver Sea’s Silver Whisper afforded me that opportunity this past winter when she sailed me from Buenos Aires to Valparaiso, the port for Santiago.
Once a city little known to North Americans, in the last few years Santiago has become one of the great places to visit in South America.  Back-dropped by the majestic Andes Mountains, this capital of the Republic of Chile is a bustling, vibrant metropolis of 6-million people.
An interesting bit of trivia about the country of Chile itself is the fact that it is the longest, slimmest, country in the world.  Stretching 2604-miles from north to south, it is only 150-miles wide at its widest point.  It has been said that if Chile were a man, he would definitely be a star basketball player.
In Santiago, Colonial structures abut soaring skyscrapers.  Tangled electric lines, resembling those seen in third-world countries, are reflected in the facades of sleek glass skyscrapers.  Horse-drawn wooden carts click-clack along the same tourist routes as Mercedes limos. 
Tangled electric lines are reflected in the facades of sleek glass skyscrapers.
In recent years, visitors to Santiago have been impressed with its smartly designed hotels, sophisticated shops, contemporary restaurants, stunning street sculptures, and modern museums.
For those whose taste in hotels runs to elegant old-world decor, the Ritz Carlton should be your hotel of choice.  Located in one of Santiago’s most exclusive neighborhoods, El Golf, the hotel boasts of a huge fitness center and stunning swimming pool area beneath a glass-enclosed rooftop.  Whether you are overlooking the mountains in the afternoon, or the dazzling city lights in the evening, it is the perfect place to relax after a hectic day in the fascinating city of Santiago. 
If a drop-dead, contemporary, avant garde lifestyle is your choice, head for the W Hotel.  A sushi lunch in W Hotel’s Osaka Sushi Bar was the best sushi I’ve ever eaten.  Be sure to check out the gift shops in both hotels.  The only purchases I made in all of Chili were in the gift shops of the Ritz Carlton and W hotels. Both hotels are located in the upscale El Golf neighborhood. 
Once a traditional neighborhood, El Golf is now the most luxurious area of the city.  It is resplendent with its displays of street sculptures and decorated park-like benches scattered along the avenues.
The vibrant metropolis of Santiago, a geographically gifted city, is easily accessible to sandy beaches, the Pacific Ocean, ski resorts, vineyards, and snow-capped mountains.  It also offers a plethora of attractions within the city itself.
Downtown Santiago is the city’s center of government.  In the blink of an eye, the historic Plaza de Armas will transport you from Colonial times to the present.  The Plaza de Armas is framed by the National History Museum, the Cathedral of Santiago, the main Correos de Chile (Chilean Post Office) and the Presidential Palace.
Carbineros (policemen on horseback) sit at attention on well-groomed horses; children jump over silvery rain puddles; and dogs splash in the circular granite fountain.  Devotees of Cincinnati Chili and chili-dogs please pardon my pun…but these are the original Chile-dogs!     
Carbineros (policemen on horseback) on the Plaza de Armas
Approximately 30 museums in Santiago exhibit a faithful representation of its cultural wealth.  There is something for everyone…everything from Chilean pre-Columbian Art Museum to the Museo de la Moda, a museum devoted to fashion. 
The latter is housed in a1960’s Modernist glass building, once the family mansion of textile merchants.  It showcases approximately10,000 garments including a black strapless gown worn by Princess Diana, a conical bra designed for Madonna and a tutu that belonged to Margot Fonteyn.
San Cristobal Hill (Cerro San Cristobal) offers a spectacular view of the city.  At the bottom of the hill is the Metropolitan Zoo.  You can walk, run, bike, or drive to the hilltop Metropolitan Park.  If those options don’t work for you, there are always the telefericos (aerial cable cars) that will zip you up the hill.
The Central Market (Mercado Central), founded in 1872, is a most popular attraction in Santiago.  Evoking the spirit, warmth, and hospitality of Chile, it is surrounded by fish markets and restaurants.  The Central Market is a must for those who crave a fresh seafood meal cooked according to ancestral recipes.
Time permitting, if you are a lover of good Chilean wine, you might enjoy a day trip to visit one of the Chilean vineyards in the valleys surrounding Santiago.  Or, if you’re into seeing the all the superlatives the world has to offer, you can drive 60 miles west of Santiago to Chile’s San Alfonso del Mar resort that boast the world’s largest swimming pool.  This “Big Dipper” covers 10 acres and stretches half a mile long.  A sandy shore and an ocean dotted with sailboats surrounds swimmers in the gargantuan pool.  The pool was built in 2007 at a cost of $3.5 million.
JANET STEINBERG is the winner of 38 national Travel Writing Awards and an International Travel Consultant with The Travel Authority in Mariemont, Ohio.

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