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Santiago on the Sly

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9th Oct 2008


While the other hoi-polloi are planning to sun in Brazil or shop in Buenos Aires, you are trying to discover a warm, out-of-the-way place to collect your thoughts. Mexico would be logical (or maybe Thailand), but perhaps a place with a booming business scene, yet seldom thought of, might be better.

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The Colonial Spanish Cerro Santa Lucia in Santiago
Chile perhaps? Santiago indeed! Not a bad choice.

on the ground

This great string bean of a country features one cool bustling, noisy, dust-fringed capital: Santiago. It s nestled at the foothills of the Andes in a dirt powder bowl with Laredos, cowboy hats, steaks, and frijoles. When there is a breeze, the air can be wonderful: scented with the smell of fresh grass and flowers.

You arrive into a strikingly cool, clean, and beautiful air hub, Arturo Merino Benitez International Airport. You might be tempted to just stay there after you find out that they charge $100 to step foot through immigration, but trust it s worth getting to the city, which is a good 35-minute taxi ride.

within the limits

Santiago sprawls, but tightly. It may not be the most beautiful city in the world, but it is sunny, modern, and enjoying a bit of a design moment. Frequent earthquakes and bad architecture from the 1960s and 1970s still dominate, making everything a bit of an adventure in aesthetics, but it s slowly changing. Local architects like Felipe Assadi and Mathias Klotz have turned the Santiago suburban scene into international bywords for cool, and their imprint is spreading across the city. But since you can't hang at architectural projects, the best areas for nightlife, business, and entertainment remain neighborhoods like Providencia, Bellavista, and El Golf in Las Condes.

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Playa Reñaca Viña del Mar - be prepared for a chilly splash!
You could park at the Ritz Carlton, close to shopping in lush environs. Santiago is a bit slow on the luxe boutique hotel front, so the other option would be the Santiago Park Plaza in the European part of town, Providencia, and features a fun little rooftop pool. It s a bit 1962, in a weird way, even though it was built in 1991.

food and beverage services

Okay. You re not here for the food. Chile is the Britain of South America when it comes to cuisine. Which is to say, uninspired. You could try Como Agua Para Chocolate for the more upscale and formal sort of evening it s in a big red building that looks somewhat like a red giant deluxe five-star Taco Bell, but the food is grand. For fun, definitely check out Etniko, which imports the beautiful people by the basket. It s all Latin lover in here, with magazine cover models and boys in navy lurking in the garden sipping sake. But if you re all about being seen in hot restaurants, maybe best to stay in Hong Kong. Santiago s charms are the little whatever places in Bellavista where you can drop in, grab a table, and get served whatever comes your way.

evening out

Why not check out the surreal charms of Le Cutton, a funky bar with strong drinks and eclectic decor including musical instruments, sewing machines, and chairs that nearly fall apart when you sit down. Very popular with Santiago s creative classes, Le Cutton skips out on the fab and checks in with a sweet down-home demeanor that leaves you comfortable. When you ve had enough, swing to Plazza Nunoa, where the hot crowd is gorgeous and sexy, if a bit cheap and cheesy at the same time. Thursday is the big night.

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Peaks & powder at Valle Nevado Ski Resort, Andes, Chile

Chile is one of the most stunningly beautiful countries on Earth. After three days sampling Santiago city delights, you may be yearning for something more. Head north to the ski resorts, a short drive away in the Andes, for skiing, hiking and climbing. July, August, and September offer great snow and wonderful diversions especially the Portillo and Valle Nevado resorts.

The beaches around Santiago also offer their own attractions: Vi a del Mar in its own way is quaint and enjoying a revival of sorts while areas around nearby Valparaiso offer good waves and a stunning bay.

Finally, don't plan to do anything between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Telenovelas rule the roost, and you don t want anyone to discover you engrossed in Tentacion, a telenovela so bad it s absolutely fantastic. In three days, you have picked up the story lines and wonder who is pregnant now, why the family linen company is going under, and ponder what friend might be sleeping with your assistant.

And when you return home, never let anyone know where you've been - let's just leave Santiago our little secret.