Santiago has always stood in the shadows of its South American neighbours. It doesn’t have the beaches of Rio or the faded opulence of Buenos Aires, but this modern city of seven million people on the edge of the Andes is beginning to win over global travellers. Airlines are jumping onboard, too: British Airways started the first non-stop flights from the UK last week, with the 14-hour-40-minute journey making it BA’s longest route.
Now, you may never have been to a Chilean restaurant, or even know what Chilean cuisine is, but the food scene is exploding in Santiago. The influential US magazine Saveur has named it the world’s Next Great Food City, and chefs have been toying with indigenous cooking methods and produce found between Patagonia, the Atacama desert and the sea to redefine the nation’s cuisine.
Meanwhile, there are now several wine bars in the Chilean capital – five years ago there were none – giving an important industry here a platform to shine. As the capital of one of South America’s most prosperous and stable nations, Santiago is in the midst of major changes, welcoming immigrants from across the Americas and erecting skyscrapers that have reshaped its skyline. Scratch beneath the surface, however, and you’ll find neighbourhoods such as Barrio Yungay and Barrio Italia where historic quarters have been reinvigorated.
WHAT TO SEE
Ride the funicular
On a smog-free day, the city’s dramatic setting between the rolling coastal range and the Andes is astounding. To best appreciate it, go to the funicular station at the end of Pio Nono street, in the bohemian Bellavista neighbourhood, ride the rickety railway to the top of Cerro San Cristóbal, sit in the shadow of the Virgin Mary statue and look across the metropolis. Sold from carts throughout the hilltop park is refreshing mote con huesillo, a drink of husked wheat and peach juice.
• Adult ride £2, funicularsantiago.cl
Stroll through Barrio Lastarria
José Victorino Lastarria street (named after a 19th-century writer, diplomat and politician) is just four blocks long, but this trendy and densely packed corridor is overflowing with shops, restaurants, museums and cultural centres. Start at the Gabriela Mistral Centre, and check out the free-admission art galleries on the basement level. Then stroll past the restaurant-filled Paseo Barrio Lastarria and historic Parroquia de la Vera Cruz church towards the street-side craft vendors near the intersection with Merced. Catch an indie film at Cine Arte El Biógrafo or see the latest exhibitions at the Museum of Visual Arts (£1.20).
Explore Chilean history
In the heart of historic Santiago, at the edge of Plaza de Armas, is the newly restored Museum of Pre-Columbian Art (£5). It is filled with indigenous artefacts and, unlike most places here, has English-language displays. The basement of this 200-year-old building is dedicated to Chile and includes Mapuche totems, Inca pottery and the Chinchorro mummies, which are 2,000 years older than the mummies of Egypt. Race forward a few millennia at the Museum of Memory and Human Rights (free). This striking, copper-covered building at the edge of Quinta Normal park houses a sobering exhibit that grapples with the human rights violations and “disappearances” that occurred under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet between 1973 and 1990.
Shopping from artisans
Bypass the made-in-China souvenirs at the more centrally located Santa Lucia Craft market and go to Los Dominicos Handicraft Village. This adobe complex – part of a former monastery – houses the workshops and stores of artisans, and is a great place to purchase ceramic tableware, naturally dyed textiles, and jewellery made with lapis lazuli, a deep blue semi-precious stone found in the Chilean Andes. Grab an empanada at one of the rustic cafes or check out the latest exhibit at the village art gallery.
• Avenida Apoquindo 9085
Visit Mercado Central for seafood
Chile has 2,650 miles of Pacific coastline and there’s no place better to appreciate the bounty that comes from these cool waters than Mercado Central. The counters of this wrought-iron seafood market are stacked high with everything from bug-eyed salmon to razor clams, sea urchins and octopus. At lunchtime, chefs at the food stalls serve fresh ceviche or fish stews such as caldillo de congrio.
• Ismael Valdés Vergara 900, mercadocentral.cl
Barrio Italia has rapidly transformed into the city’s most electric district, buzzing with restaurants, art galleries and boutique stores plotted out like miniature shopping arcades within the rooms of historic homes. Exceedingly trendy, it still retains much of its blue-collar charm. Barrio Yungay has long been a favourite with backpackers with its lively dive bars and graffiti-covered homes. But now that it’s welcomed a new beer hall (Cerveceria Nacional), wine bar (Palacio Del Vino) and cultural centre (Nave), this historic area has never been such a joy to visit.
WHERE TO EAT
Silabario Cocina Local
Gorge on the flavours of the Chilean countryside without leaving Santiago with a visit to Silabario, a year-old restaurant within the rooms (and interior patio) of an old Santiago home. The menu has many unsung dishes from Chile’s indigenous Mapuche population, such as milcao (a pancake made of potatoes from the Chiloé archipelago) and charquicán (a potato, pumpkin and beef stew). All meals conclude with complimentary homemade digestifs, including one infused with the antioxidant-packed murta berry.
• Mains from £7, Lincoyan 920, cocinalocal.cl
This restaurant is the happy mix of European techniques and local ingredients, as imagined by chef Sergio Barroso, who moved to Chile from Spain five years ago after a stint at the renowned El Bulli restaurant. Most of the small plates on Barroso’s 10-course tasting menu showcase endemic seafood, including picoroco (giant barnacles) and locos (large sea snails). Meals end with a trip in a lift to Room 09, a rooftop speakeasy where head bartender Diego Harris Olivera shakes up some of the best cocktails in town (try the che-leno, an invigorating mix of pisco, lemon, mint and yerba mate).
• Tasting menus from £24, +56 227 329214, 040.cl
Farm-fresh items and foraged finds are the staples here in a quiet corner of Ñuñoa. It’s been a locals’ favourite for some time – for its bountiful brunches and secret dinner parties – but chefs Néstor Ayala and Patricio Pichuante recently opened Silvestre Bistro in the evenings for unpretentious auteur Chilean dinners that change nightly. The antique-filled interior is as appealing as the plant-packed patio at the back.
• Mains from £9, Caupolicán 511, +56 291 569974, on Facebook
Built within the walls of a monastery, attached to a games arcade, and with its own cultural centre, La Diana defies easy description. The eccentric furnishings and funhouse atmosphere verge on gimmickry, but the outstanding, seafood-heavy menu (try the octopus) is proof this place is more than just a lavishly designed novelty. It’s a feast for all the senses, and the most entertaining eatery in town.
• Mains from £7, Arturo Prat 435, +56 226 328823 ladiana.cl
Salvador Cocina y Café
Since butcher Rolando Ortega won Chile’s chef of the year award in 2015 the tables at his humble lunch spot (in a shopping arcade in Centro) have been booked well before anyone arrives for service at 1pm. The market-focused menus change daily and often include items one may associate with a butcher’s castoffs, such as pig’s feet and cow’s tongue. There’s typically a fish or vegetarian option to balance out the more exotic meaty dishes.
• Mains from £7, Bombero Ossa 1059, +56 2 2673 0619, on Facebook
WHERE TO DRINK
La Misión Wine Bar
This trendy new spot in the Vitacura district comes from the same team of wine experts who created Bocanáriz, Santiago’s first (and most beloved) wine bar. While Bocanáriz is big on Chilean wines, La Misión serves wines from across the Americas. Try Chilean carignans, Uruguayan tannats and Argentinean malbecs all in one night.
• Nueva Costanera 3969, lamisionsantiago.cl
This self-proclaimed “republic of pisco” on José Victorino Lastarria is the only bar in town dedicated to the South American brandy, which makes it the best spot to try your first pisco sour (a frothy mix of pisco, lemon juice, bitters and egg whites tossed together in a cocktail shaker). Belly up to the long bar to watch the action or get a table on the patio to pair your sours with ceviches. Chipe Libre also offers flights of pisco to help newbies determine whether they prefer Chilean or Peruvian varieties.
• Lastarria 282, on Facebook
The view of central Santiago is the main reason to reserve a table at this rooftop bar in Bellavista, the city’s tourist core. The second reason? It’s great for trendy cocktails such as an aperol spritz. Foreigners get a free welcome drink on Saturdays for Azotea Matilde’s “expat sunsets”.
• Chucre Manzur 2, azoteamatilde.cl
Coffee nerds geek out over the ways baristas can prepare their morning fix at this art-filled cafe in the Las Condes business district. Its silky cold brews come in mason jars stuffed with freshly cut orange slices and are among the crowd-pleasers on a hot summer’s day.
• Don Carlos 3185, cafetin.cl
WHERE TO STAY
CasaSur Charming Hotel
Barrio Italia’s first boutique hotel is as charming as it purports to be, with a terrace that leads into a lovingly restored 1940s home. There are harlequin tiles on the floors, exposed brickwork and six artfully designed rooms bearing nameplates that welcome each arriving guest. Owners Catalina and Eduardo are avid travellers themselves, and go out of their way to make visitors feel at home.
• Doubles from £130 B&B, casasurchile.com
Following two years of meticulous renovations to re-fashion a 1920s heritage building as a boutique hotel, this 42-room property opened in October 2016 to rave reviews. It ingeniously intertwines old and new as chequered tiles, marble staircases and reconstructed stained-glass windows appear alongside ultramodern light fixtures, geometric furnishings and vertigo-inducing glass floors.
• Doubles from £130 B&B, hotelmagnolia.cl
With an unbeatable location (and an unmissable facade), this newly opened hotel in the heart of Lastarria puts guests within stumbling distance to some of the city’s best restaurants, bars and cultural attractions. Each of the 70 rooms has its own artistic touch, and there’s even a small rooftop pool.
• Doubles from £138 B&B, cumbreslastarria.com
Alma Bed & Breakfast
This homely B&B offers great value. The 10 rooms are basic but many look out over a plant-filled interior patio that’s packed with inviting hammocks.
• Doubles from £45, almabnb.com
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