The Chile I love

Jul 16, 2013 Comments Off on The Chile I love by

By Francisca Mattéoli*

I was born in Santiago, so all my childhood memories are linked to Chile. I now live in Paris, where I wrote all my books, but I return to Chile whenever I can. I love seeing how it has changed, and am always pleased by how well the country is developing. Following a country’s development is fascinating, and even more so when it is your own. The Chilean people are so friendly, and it is a safe place with excellent infrastructure, hotels, and restaurants. Definitely not just a jungle, but rather a country in which travel is enjoyable.

One of my favourite places is the Atacama Desert, in the north. Unlike Europe, Chile offers unbelievably vast and grandiose landscapes, and it is very soothing to be able to gaze at a totally unobstructed and infinite horizon. In the span of one day, one might see pink flamingos, condors, geysers, salt lakes, and rock canyons; one can visit a typical little village and be served piping hot empanadas just out of the oven. The atmosphere is fantastical and charming, a magical mixture.

A few years ago I also spent a week in the south, in Patagonia. This was the other extreme, a world of ice, fjords and cold. But it was just as fantastic as Atacama. The Torres del Paine National Park is an absolute ‘must see’ place – if you have the time, because it will take a day to get there from Santiago! Immediately on arrival, you feel far away from everything. To go trekking, to admire the wonderful countryside in a spectacular environment, to be surrounded by blue sky, peace and fresh air, is a fabulous luxury.

As I recently invested in a wine company, during my latest trip to Santiago I visited the Santa Carolina wine merchant, a typically Chilean company dating from the nineteenth century. The house reminded me of Rancagua in the central valley, where I spent my childhood and where you can visit old bodegas (wine cellars) that all have a different story to tell. It feels remote, even though it is close to Santiago.

It is worth spending at least two days in Santiago to see how Chile is developing. There are ultra modern towers such as the Gran Torre (to be inaugurated in 2013 as the highest tower in the whole of South America). But there are also other places I adore, including The Palacio Cousino (a lovely little palace built between 1870 and 1878) and the Mercado Central, a splendid old building where the seafood is simply delicious (Chile has quite a reputation for its seafood and wine!).

Chilean food may not be as refined as that of other South American countries, but for me, it was an important part of my childhood. Whenever I am in Chile, I dream of eating pastel de choclo (beef and corn casserole) or empanadas. The last time I was there, my friend Jean Paul Gondonneau introduced me to the restaurant Hostería Doña Tina, which was very welcoming, with a family atmosphere and a mix of Chileans and tourists. It’s the kind of place where you always end up drinking too much pisco sour and singing ‘Si vas para Chile’, one of the most popular songs in the country.

These are some of my favourite places in Chile, places where I re-discover the Chile I love so much, its atmosphere and its soul. I sincerely hope that when you go there yourself, you will have the chance not only to experience these places of which I am so fond, but also to build your own memories.


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