Set in the center of the world’s thinnest country, between the wild tundra of Patagonia to the south and the immense desert of San Pedro de Atacama to the north, Santiago has long been an obligatory stop on the route to, well, elsewhere. But with a crop of new restaurants touting status as some of South America’s best and wine valleys under two hours from the bustling downtown district, Santiago may be the gourmand getaway of your dreams. (Oenophiles, you’re invited, too).
Related: The Foods You Have to Eat in Chile
The Hotel Restaurant and Bar
Making your way to Santiago’s historic downtown, find respite in Hotel Magnolia, a mansion built in 1929 and newly opened as a 42-room boutique hotel in the heart of the city’s El Centro district. At the hotel’s restaurant, Magnolia Bar & Restaurant, chef Claudio Zuñiga puts a modern twist on traditional Chilean dishes like shellfish with pica lemons and quinoa, king crab-stuffed salmon, and Patagonian lamb in Carménère wine sauce. After dinner, be sure to have a nightcap at the hotel’s 7th-floor rooftop bar and terrace.
Avant-garde Cuisine and Drinks
Molecular gastronomy rules the menu at Restaurante 040, one of the city’s best. Call well in advance for a table to try the 10- or 12-course surprise tasting menu by Spanish chef Sergio Barroso. His deconstructed fare is known to be topped with plenty of foam and flowers.
Expect dishes like sea urchin served in the shell with coconut milk foam (of course) and pickled red onions. For after dinner drinks, venture to the restaurant’s rooftop speakeasy, Room 09. Take your pick of quirky seating nooks and even quirkier drinks, like a cocktail served in blown-glass cup shaped like a smoking pipe or bird.
Visit Bar Liguria for classic Chilean comfort foods, 99 Restaurante for a six- or nine-course tasting menu of foraged Chilean ingredients, and to Boragó, which has been touted as one of the first restaurants to present Chilean cuisine in a fine dining atmosphere.
For a final night out, book a table at Ambrosía Bistro, Santiago’s newest restaurant from Chilean chef Carolina Bazán of Ambrosia, often ranked one of the best restaurants in Latin America. As a French-trained chef who studied everywhere from Lima to Milan, Bazán creates a fresh, somewhat funky Chilean interpretation of a classic French bistro. (Try the lamb medallions and truffle-topped pasta.)
The Local City Markets
Before departing Santiago for Chilean wine country, visit the city’s markets, which may be the true heart of the Santiago kitchen. When you enter La Vega Central’s maze of stalls, join a throng of residents (and likely the city’s top chefs) to shop a myriad of produce and ready-to-eat delicacies like pineapple and basil paletas (popsicles) or sandwiches from local favorite Donde el Nano.
La Vega Central has been Santiago’s largest and most vibrant produce market for over 200 years. It's a true labyrinth, with almost every variety of fruit and vegetable stacked in an abundance of cardboard boxes. Even if you don’t have access to a kitchen to cook the perfect gourmet meal, go to La Vega Central for the experience. Make sure to grab an espresso from Café Altura while you walk.
After collecting your produce, it’s time for Mercado Central. At first glance, you may assume the market is a tourist trap, but if you head to the outlying stalls near the market’s edge, you’ll find a sensational fish market. Walk the stalls to sample seafood empanadas and fresh oysters.
Casablanca’s Ruta del Vino
Venture 90 minutes east along Ruta 68 to Valle de Casablanca on a cycling tour with Upscape. Here, you'll discover one of the country’s most impressive cool climate wine regions. Although Spaniards brought wine cultivation to Chile in the 15th century, they mostly produced the crop in warmer sites, closer to the base of the Andes. It wasn’t until the 1980s that Casablanca’s wine boom began, leading the valley to pioneer organic wine-growing technology.
Today, Casablanca produces some of Chile’s best white and red wines including Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Syrah, and Pinot Noir. Due to Casablanca’s proximity to the Pacific Coast, the valley’s wines have a distinct profile due to the cool breezes sweeping through the valley. It's also quite an enjoyable climate for bicycle trip.
For a custom ride along this 20-mile route, stop at La Recova to sample Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, and rosé made with the skin of Syrah grapes. They also serve a tasting menu featuring local delicacies common along Chile’s Pacific Coast, like conger eel soup and Chilean lamb.
Next, cycle to Kingston Family Vineyards for a tasting at this fifth-generation winery, which produces one of the country’s best Pinot Noirs. Kingston’s wines are unmistakable, thanks to the mountainous and nutrient-rich soils of the vineyard’s rolling hills.
Continue sipping at Villard, a family-run winery established in 1989 by Thierry Villard. Considered one of Chile’s first boutique wine companies, Villard hosts tastings right in the fields. Before you go, be sure to purchase a bottle of Tanagra, a limited-production Syrah among the best of Casablanca’s bottles.
End your journey with a stop at Matetic Vineyards. Nestled within Valle de Rosario, this boutique winery utilizes biodynamic technologies to create its certified-organic wines, including one of Chile’s finest Syrahs. During a tour of the winery’s cellar, you'll see how the vineyard produces wine with the use of gravitational flow.
There’s no need to venture back to Santiago just yet, as Matetic is home to La Casona Matetic, a colonial-style estancia converted into a boutique guesthouse. Containing only seven rooms, guests at this intimate property can enjoy a rich dinner of lamb and red wine paired by chef Matías Bustos before gathering around the property’s cozy living room fireplace.