Whatever you want out of a holiday, Chile has plenty to offer. If you are looking for wild nature, there are deserts, mountain ranges, fjords and forests. If it is city life you prefer there are fantastic restaurants, clubs, museums and galleries. History is here in abundance, or you may wish to just relax and soak up the sun on one of the many beaches. Let us start our journey in the capital, Santiago. The first thing you will notice is that virtually everywhere in the city has breathtaking views of mountains. Set in a valley amid the wine growing regions of Chile, Santiago is only a couple of hours’ drive from both the sea and the Andes mountain range. This is a great city for a holiday; it is a modern capital, with all the conveniences you expect from a city, but it is also an ancient colonial city. Downtown Santiago has some wonderful colonial and neo-gothic architecture to inspire you. Walking through the Barrio Bellavista is a delight, with its lively Bohemian atmosphere. Musicians play on the streets, and most of the old houses have been converted into bars or restaurants. This area is definitely not just for tourists; locals and foreigners alike love to take advantage of the great food on offer here. Chilean food is a wonderful experience, being greatly influenced by European cuisine, but with its own distinct South American identity. Chile’s massive coastline means that seafood is abundant, fresh and tasty. You should try the kra kra fish from Easter Island, or Pacific oysters. For the daring there is the ancient Chilean meal of Conger Eel soup. A favourite of mine is Curanto. This southern Chilean dish is a mixture of meat and seafood, potatoes, potato bread, corn and other vegetables which is traditionally baked on hot stones in the ground. Many restaurants serve this delicious and filling meal, but most cook it in a pot on the stove. Like country dishes all over the world there is no fixed recipe, and everyone you meet will tell you that their grandmother has the original and best recipe. A quick word of warning: Chileans love salt. Everything is cooked with lots of salt, so make sure you taste your food before adding more at the table. From Santiago you can take one of the many excursions to the wine growing areas, where you can tour the vineyards and cellars. My favourite is the Maipo Valley tour, which takes you to the home of Casillero Del Diablo wines. This name means The Devil’s Cellar, as the legend has it that the devil is reputed to reside there. In truth this story has no diabolical relevance, but originated in the 19th Century when the vineyard’s owner invented the tale to prevent the theft of huge quantities of his wine by local villagers. Due to its unusual shape, being long and thin, Chile has a range of climates across the country. However, in the summer the long coastline makes it a fantastic place for beach life, water sports and diving. Whatever kind of beach you like, whether it is lively and touristy, or quiet and secluded, all are available here. Bahia Inglesa, near Caldera is north of Santiago, and has a very well developed tourist service. It is a place to relax on glorious white sand, soak up the sun, and watch the world go by. On the other hand, just a few miles away the small beach at La Virgen, in Copiapo, can only be reached along a dirt track, and consequently is relatively quiet and secluded. Here the beautiful turquoise waters and unspoilt natural surroundings allow you to forget all about the stresses of daily life. It is really worth a trip to the historic city of Valparaiso, one of the oldest colonial cities in South America. Wander around the historic quarter of the city, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and look at its fantastic colonial architecture, or take the Cordillera or Artilleria funicular railway to gain a spectacular view across this beautiful cityscape. Afterwards, unwind in one of the many cafes and restaurants and enjoy Chilean seafood at its freshest.
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