Santiago, Chile, and Mendoza, Argentina, are separated by the mighty Andes but joined by their passions for food, wine, adventure and South American hospitality.
You’ll want to sit on the left side of the plane for the southbound flight from Miami to Chile’s capital city. Narrowly wedged between the snow-capped Andes to the east and the vast Pacific to the west, Santiago’s downtown buildings — and those awe-inspiring mountain peaks — grow closer outside the aft windows upon descent. Spend a few days here, reveling in the historic city’s cutting-edge food and rich culture. Then venture over the Andes to Mendoza, where a wine retreat at the foot of the mountains recharges your energy while swaddling you in five-star luxury. Choose either side of the plane for the flight home; you’ll be dreaming about the next time you can return to this magical corner of the world.
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Settle in for the first part of your trip at The Aubrey. Cozy and clean, the 15-room boutique hotel used to be the home of a prominent Chilean political family. The Aubrey has the personable feel of an indie bed-and-breakfast and the amenities — Brazilian-cotton sheets, sun-drenched pool, stately common areas, strong drinks at a piano bar — of an international brand. The hotel sits at the base of Cerro San Cristóbal, a 1,000-foot hill inside a public park with an impressive Virgin Mary sculpture at its peak. Head to the top (there’s a funicular if you don’t feel up for a 40-minute hike) for unbeatable blue-green views of the city and — on a clear day — the mountains and ocean.
Bellavista, the residential and shopping neighborhood where The Aubrey is situated, is pedestrian-friendly and safe. A taxi stand just outside the hotel is convenient for destinations outside of walking distance. There’s also Uber, which, as in Miami, tends to be a little more comfortable and a little less expensive than cabs. You can walk after the climb up Cerro San Cristóbal to locals-favorite Galindo, a few hundred yards from the hotel, for a deep bowl of sweet-savory corn porridge called pastel de choclo.
Santiago’s high-end gastronomy in recent years has centered around talented young chefs who showcase indigenous ingredients through creative cooking. Two of the top tables to experience this style are at Restaurante 040 in Bellavista and at Boragó in the upscale Vitacura neighborhood.
At 040, Spanish-born chef Sergio Barroso quietly and humbly serves a constantly changing tasting menu of two-bite, tapas-style dishes on the lower level of a small hotel. The flavors Barroso coaxes out of minimal ingredients are as vivid as the colors he puts on plates: a red-orange sea urchin “bloody mary,” a bright-green huacatay mint sauce poured over raw clams, a yellow-brown bed of hay holding an eggshell filled with warm custard and blood sausage. After dinner, a hidden freight elevator whisks you upstairs to Room 09, a new rooftop speakeasy that opened this year.
Chef Rodolfo Guzman’s Boragó has been reimagining Chilean cooking through a modernist lens since 2007 but only recently gaining the international recognition it deserves. The restaurant last year made its first appearance on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, at No. 42; this year, it jumped to No. 36. Boragó’s 18-course “endemico” tasting menu is a full emersion into Chile’s varied produce, fauna, climate and cooking styles. Dish after brilliant dish — sepia wrapped around a squid-ink breadstick, braised pork with crispy milk, grilled conger eel served on a sea rock — comes paired with small-production Chilean wines.
The day after the feast, you’ll want to be active and breathe some fresh air. Walk from The Aubrey a few blocks to La Chascona, the quirky hideaway that Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda built for his lover. His foundation maintains the home as a small, indoor-outdoor museum with a self-guided audio tour — a quick and inexpensive way to get an inside glimpse at Neruda’s personal life.
For more of the outdoors, Upscape leads personalized, guided adventures throughout Chile, Argentina and Uruguay. A bicycling itinerary through the nearby Casablanca Valley wine region begins with a morning pickup at The Aubrey from two affable guides who speak fluent English. After an hourlong drive through intermittent coastal fog, step out at Emiliana Organic Vineyards. A private tour of the biodynamic winery includes close-ups with alpacas and free-roaming chickens, and a tasting features Emiliana’s super-premium Gê red blend. Hop on bikes and peddle to Kingston Family Vineyards (one of the Upscape guides rides with you while the other trails in the van). Another private tour concludes with a three-course, chef-prepared lunch overlooking the vineyards and paired with Kingston’s award-winning syrahs and pinot noirs. No need to bike after that; naps are encouraged on the drive back to Santiago.
The most convenient way to cross the Andes is to take a quick, up-and-down flight offered multiple times a day between Santiago and Mendoza. Those with more time and a greater sense of adventure can opt for a first-class bus ride over the mountain range, although the eight-hour travel time can stretch much longer depending on border traffic and other delays. From the airport, stop for a bite at María Antonieta, a light-filled bistro in downtown Mendoza that’s packed with local businessmen and women as well as other tourists.
The Vines of Mendoza appears like an oasis in the Uco Valley, about an hour and a half outside the city. An American political consultant and a Chilean winemaker joined forces more than a decade ago to create this unique, 1,500-acre property that includes a luxury resort and spa, privately owned vineyards, a working winery and a small village of boutique wineries on its perimeter. The Vines Resort & Spa’s 22 villas offer plenty of space to stretch out: The largest two-bedroom units span 2,700 square feet. Furnishings accented in leather, stone, metal and native fabrics combine with handmade clay tubs, full-on views of the Andes, gas fireplaces and spa-inspired bathrooms for a true sense of rustic luxury.
Wine is, of course, the focal point at The Vines. During harvest time, a family-friendly Wine Camp activity takes guests through the winemaking process, from picking clusters of grapes off the vines to crushing them (by machine and by foot) in The Vines’ state-of-the-art winery. Other times of the year, The Vines’ personable and engaging staff will arrange all sorts of excursions: heli-skiing atop the Andes, fly-fishing in flowing streams, yoga in the vineyards. Don’t miss the chance to catch a sunrise over the Uco Valley from the foothills of the Andes. Nino Masi, a local gaucho, leads guests on horseback — departing at 5:20 a.m. — up rugged terrain, rewarding them at the crest with hot coffee, chocolate muffins and the most unbelievable views.
And there’s always wine. Sit for a blending session or blind tasting with The Vines’ winemaking team, or work your way through The Vines’ endless cellar of private-label bottles (Recuerdo Torrontes is a perennially crisp delight, with pear and lemon peel on the palate). Consider hiring a driver to take you for tastings at some of the Uco Valley’s other prominent wineries. Salentein is one of the largest winemaking operations in the area; its property features a chapel that does a brisk wedding business. Family-run La Azul, by contrast, is tiny; enjoy a traditional Argentine-style barbecue paired with La Azul’s best wines while sitting on funky, mismatched furniture in the back yard. Round out the day with a spectacular malbec tasting at Bodega Gimenez Riili, a second-generation winery run by Pablo Gimenez Riili, who co-founded The Vines. And for a taste of home, pop in to Solo Contigo’s sleek new winery and art-filled tasting room. Solo Contigo’s gregarious owners, Noel and Terry Neelands, are Canadians with a home in South Beach, where they spend about half their time (look for Solo Contigo wines at Alter, Ball & Chain and other Miami establishments).
You can stay a week at The Vines and never tire of its on-site restaurant. Siete Fuegos, run by South American chef Francis Mallmann. A master of live-fire cooking and proponent of local, seasonal ingredients, Mallmann (also behind Los Fuegos at Faena Miami Beach) serves food with unbridled flavors in no-frills compositions. As the restaurant’s name suggests, the kitchen’s fires never seem to go out, and Mallmann and his head chef here, Diego Irrera, utilize every part of their hearths — from ember-roasted vegetables to hanging-rotisserie chickens and from smoked cheese to grilled ribeyes. Once a week, gauchos and guests gather at Siete Fuegos’ kitchen table at Siete Fuegos for a family-style asado where Irrera pulls out all the stops: meat as far as the eye can see, salt-crusted salmon, dulce de leche crepes with grilled peaches. After many bottles of malbec and too much food, retreat to the campfire on the outskirts of the vineyard, and pull up a seat near the gaucho strumming his guitar.
Where to go in Santiago, Chile, and Mendoza, Argentina
The Aubrey, theaubrey.com.
The Vines Resort & Spa, vinesresortandspa.com.
Restaurante 040, 040.cl.
Room 09, tintoboutiquehotel.com.
María Antonieta, mariaantonietaresto.com.
Siete Fuegos, sietefuegosasado.com.
Cerro San Cristobal
La Chascona, fundacionneruda.org
Emiliana Organic Vineyards, emiliana.cl.
Kingston Family Vineyards, kingstonvineyards.com.
Bodegas Salentein, bodegassalentein.com.
Bodega La Azul, bodegalaazul.com.
Bodega Gimenez Riili, gimenezriili.com.
Solo Contigo, solocontigowine.com.