Friday, 23 November 2007

Chile Trip Nov 2007: Part 2 - Valparaíso, Viña Del Mar & Wine Tasting at Concha y Toro vineyard

On our second day in Chile we took a 10am TurBus Busscar coach from Alameda station for a day trip to Valparaíso, 74miles North West of Santiago on the Pacific coast; a city which once enjoyed a golden age as the principal seaport for ships sailing around the Cape Horn, that is until the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914. However it’s still Chile’s most important port, and, according to Wikipedia it’s seen a resurgence in traffic over the last few decades “with fruit exports, increasing opening of the Chilean economy to world commerce, and Panamax ships that do not fit the Panama Canal.”

The trip out to the coast takes about 2hours by bus – it kept stopping to drop people off seemingly in the middle of nowhere, a bit like the scene in North by Northwest when Cary Grant is chased by the plane. I love that movie, although I’ve probably watched it once too often as I kept expecting the bus to be pursued by a crop-duster!!! – its a very scenic trip, albeit a bit repetitive, as we passed through vineyard after vineyard after vineyard, Veramonte, Morande and Casablanca to name a few. I later learned the area supposedly has the perfect climate for growing Sauvignon Blanc grapes. Melissa, however saw none of this since she was completely spark out, snoozing for the entire journey. Although I couldn’t say I blamed her, since we’d got up hideously early that morning to get the bus and the Busscar coach was extremely comfortable. She later claimed it to be the best two hours sleep of her life and says she’s considering doing research into whether Busscar also make beds. In fact so enthralled was Melissa by the comfort of these buses that if you were to ask her what her favourite aspect of her trip to Chile was I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if she said the
Busscar buses, closely followed by the Alfajores, chocolate coated cookies with a dulce de leche filling. Mmmmm!!!

…But back to Valparaíso, an interesting, if slightly run down, city of colourful homes hugging steep hills overlooking the Pacific ocean; a higgledy piggledy maze of streets and passages to explore and lots and lots of ‘ascensors’ – elevators in English, it doesn’t have quite the same ring as ascensors does it? – raising you from the seafront to the mish mash of streets above. We spent about an hour or so wandering around, trying to make sense of the suggested tour route in our guide book – it’s all very well giving us street names to follow when the streets don’t have piggin’ signs. Pht – and feeling a lot like we were lost in a giant maze. In general we liked Valparaíso and thought it was an interesting city, but we both agreed that as tourists Valparaíso wasn’t a city we’d necessarily have felt comfortable in at night, as although it didn’t feel unsafe during the day, it seemed all too easy to get lost and end up somewhere a bit dodgy.

Left, from top to bottom: Monument to the Heroes of Iquique; erm…..not sure what this is, it’s an official building, but I couldn’t tell you which one; Ascensor Peral; Pasaje Bavestrello. Main pic: a view of the hills.

Below is a view of the port from the hills. As you can see it’s quite an industrial city.

After stopping for lunch we decided we’d pretty much exhausted Valparaíso - you've seen one ascensor, you've seen 'em all - and decided to take the train to neighbouring Viña Del Mar, a popular beach resort 15minutes away.

Viña Del Mar is nice, very pretty and well maintained, but unless you are a beach person, which neither of us are, there’s not an awful lot to do there, save for the small botanical garden and a few fancy mansions built by Viña’s early 20th Century elite. We had a walk around and stopped for a coffee and ice-cream, or 'Té con leche' in Melissa's case. She drank a lot of tea while we were in Chile, although none so unusual as the one she was served in the cafe in Viña, I remember she looked at me in complete horror as the waiter indicated her to put her tea-bag in the bottom of her cup and the proceeded to pour hot milk over it. I couldn't help but laugh, which upset our waiter a bit and we had to explain to him in broken Spanish that 'Té con leche' was typically served with agua caliente y un poco de leche frio. He seemed somewhat placated, although it wouldn't have surprised me if he'd spit in our ice cream.

Anyway, here are a few pics of the botanical gardens and the beach.

Left, pictures of Quinta Vergara Park/Botanical Garden. From top to bottom: Palacio Vergara, once a home of the Portuguese shipping magnate Francisco Alvarez and his wife who created the park; a sculpture made from a tree; cutsie mum and baby elephant topiaries. Main pic: Playa Acapulco and Playa Mirasol beaches which are divided by the pier.

On Monday 12th, our 3rd day and final day in Santiago before our flight to Patagonia on Tuesday morning, we booked ourselves on a half day vineyard tour through our hotel for a cost of 25,000 Chilean pesos - about $50 US. The tour bus was scheduled to pick us up at 1pm - there were also all day tours, but we'd sampled enough Chilean wine with dinner during our first couple of days in Santiago to not be so keen on the idea of drinking before noon - so we spent the morning wandering around the sights close to the hotel in downtown Santiago including the Barrio Paris Londres (top left of the photo below), a small hodge podge of small mansion houses lining Calles Paris and Londres behind our hotel; the Plaza de Armas (bottom left), the central square of downtown Santiago where they were in the process of putting up the Christmas tree, although not a proper tree, just leaves - possibly fake leaves at that - over a frame; and Casa Colorado (main pic), the red house, one of the best preserved colonial structures in the city and former residence of Mateo de Toro y Zambrano, a successful 18th century business man, now housing the Museo de Santiago.

Afterwards we headed over to scale the heights of the Cerro Santa Lucia, a charming hill top park off the main downtown street, Avenida Bernardo O'Higgins and a stones throw from our hotel.

We'd seen all the sights with an hour to spare before the tour was due to pick us up, so we decided it would probably be a good idea to line our stomachs with a sandwich before wine tasting, and ducked into a little hole in the wall cafe across the street from the hotel on the busy Avenida Bernardo O'Higgins to order a ham and cheese sandwich each - I completely gave up on my pseudo vegetarianism - no meat, only fish, with the occasional exception for the divine pork buns at Momofuku Ssam - while in Chile. In Patagonia I even ended up scoffing beef and lamb at Parilla's when the menu was limited to that or chicken, and Melissa subtitled the trip, 'Chile, the unravelling of the vegetarian.' The coffee served in the hole in the wall cafe was divine and we rhapsodized over it being the best coffee EVER!! Melissa and I both have a few airs and graces when it comes to coffee drinking in New York, Melissa spends at least $12 on a bag of coffee and has all the paraphenalia, grinders and what not, and while I don't have all that, I love stopping by the artisanal coffee shops in the city such as Cafe Grumpy and Ninth St Expresso, so you can imagine we were quite embarrassed when we later realised we'd been drinking granulated Nescafe with hot milk. Ooopsie!! Ha ha!!

The wine tasting was about an hours drive south of Santiago at a vineyard in Pirque in the Maipo Valley, an area known for cabernet sauvignon, belonging to the Concha y toro winery, Chile’s largest, and founded in 1883 by Melchor Santiago de Concha y Cerda and his wife, Emiliana Subercaseaux.

The winery is known for, among others, its Casillero del Diablo (Devil’s cellar) range of wines and legend has it that in the 19th century, Don Melchor noticed wine was being stolen from his cellar by villagers, and to put a stop to it he spread a rumour his cellar was inhabited by the devil. At least that’s the version told to us by Kristen who took us on the tour through the vineyard. However according to our tour rep, Carolina, the unofficial story is that Don Melchor was carrying on with a woman named Ameliana and the cellar was where they met for their secret assignations. Oh, and Ameliana, she was apparently Don Melchor’s niece. HIS NIECE!!!!!!!

The dirty old bugger!!!

We also learned of Chile’s production of Carménère, a grape variety originally from Bordeaux, which was almost completely wiped out in France by phylloxera in the late 1800s, but which thrives in Chile. However until 1994 Chile inadvertently collected and pressed Carménère along with Merlot grapes and bottled and sold them as Merlot, not realising the two grapes were different varieties. It wasn’t until a 1994 visit from a French wine making expert that the mistake came to light and they realised the Carménère grape was alive and well and living in Chile – due to some vines brought over from France by early European settlers – and very nice it is too. I brought a bottle home. They also make a gorgeous cabernet sauvignon, Marques de Casa Concha. Mmmmmm!!

And on that educational note I shall love you and leave you with these photos of the vineyard. Next up, Patagonia!!


Amel's Realm said...

THANK YOU for taking me around with you. LOVE everything you wrote he he he he...So you're a coffee buff? Uuuuhhh...I don't drink much coffee (just when I visit my in-laws) 'coz it keeps my brain eyes are usually SO tired already, but my brain keeps on running, running, running...Chug, chug, toot, toot...he he he he he...

thewishfulwriter said...

The wine tour sounds like a good time - well, all except the niece thing. yeah, not so much that part.


Lovin' the vacay recaps!

fishwithoutbicycle said...

Hi Amel, yes I am a bit of a coffee buff, although not a good one :-)

Hi Heather, the wine tour was great. I love me a bit of Chilean wine. Glad you enjoyed the post. Fish

Merch y mynydd said...

Concho y Toro vineyard is fab - did you meet the devil??? Pablo Neruda's house was also quite amazing - that left a lasting impression too. It's good to have you back blogging - keep up the good work!

Blur Ting said...

Stunning pictures! Now I really have to bring forward that trip to Chile!

fishwithoutbicycle said...

Hi Merch y mynydd, yes we did see the devil ha ha. Melissa has a picture of it that came out blood red. It was a little bizarre. I liked Neruda's house a lot too.

Hi Blur Ting, glad you are liking the pictures. Chile is a beautiful place to visit.