The colorful, bohemian, graffiti-decorated streets of Chilean city, Valparaíso, are more akin to Cuba’s Havana or Brazil’s Salvador — a true contrast to the slick streets of Santiago. Here’s how to spend a getaway weekend in this charming coastal city:
First things first, check into designer hotel, Palacio Astoreca. Following a two-year restoration, this red-and-white 1920s mansion opened as a 23-room boutique hotel in September 2012, creating quite a buzz. The property’s restaurant, Alegre, has received particular attention, as the chef, 28-year-old Sergio Barroso, once worked at Spain’s famous El Bulli Restaurant. Entrees such as lamb with potatoes, apples and thyme, and lacquered salmon fillet with polenta gnocchi, as well as delicious churros with chocolate, grace the establishment’s fine-dining menu.
Made up of more than 40 cerros (hills), Valparaíso offers an endless scope for exploration, so begin your day by wandering its steep streets. You can tour Cerro Alegre (where you’ll find the Museo de Bellas Artes) and Cerro Concepcion (where you’ll find the Museo El Mirador de Lukas, honoring political cartoonist Renzo Pecchenino) on your own. Or, if you fancy venturing into less touristy areas, set up a guided walking tour. Palacio Astoreca can arrange guides for its guests; or, contact Santiago Adventures, as it has a great database of in-the-know local guides who’ll show you around their hometown.
Whatever your route, make sure you ride one of the city’s century-old funiculars, called ascensors, or elevators. Like stepping into a piece of history, these funiculars pay homage to Valparaíso’s past. For example, Cerro Concepcion boasts Ascensor Reina Victoria, named at a time when the area was a British neighborhood.
If art and literature interest you, be sure to visit the Museo de Bellas Artes on Paseo Yugoslavo. The museum, a historic 1920s mansion, has been closed for renovations, but is as interesting for its building and grounds as it is for its art. Pablo Neruda’s La Sebastiana, one of three houses belonging to the poet, is found on Cerro Florida. Its five floors are filled with eclectic, eccentric treasures from the famous Chilean’s life. In Cerro Polanco, one of the less touristy neighborhoods, the Polanco Ascensor will deliver you to the top of a tower with stunning panoramic views — a great area for art lovers, as the houses are decorated with some of Valparaíso’s most impressive street art.
When it comes to food, Alegre should be saved for a candlelit dinner, and head to Pasta e Vino and Casa Higuera for lunch on Saturday and Sunday. The former serves delicious creamy pasta dishes while the latter boasts one of the city’s best terraces and serves an unbelievable squid ink risotto.
At about two hours from Santiago, a visit to Valparaíso can easily be done in one day. But with the new Palacio Astoreca beckoning, and the countless activities to experience, it’s well worth investing a weekend in this city of hills, art, food and history.
Photos Courtesy of Nils Schlebusch and iStock-Brent Heit