Valparaiso & Vines

Wine Routes in Chile offer luxury cruise travelers the taste of the country’s many wineries.Pictured: Wine Routes in Chile offer luxury cruise travelers the taste of the country’s many wineries.

Affectionately called “Valpo,” Valparaiso in Chile is celebrating its 13th year as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and, increasingly, upscale cruise lines are embarking or disembarking guests in this historic South American city, one of the oldest founded by the Spanish explorers. In fact, guests on any vessel sailing into Valparaiso will likely be out on deck “oohing” and “aahing” at Valparaiso’s brightly colored homes, Bohemian cafes, winding streets and plenty of hills. 

In addition, just a 90-minute drive away is Santiago, Chile’s capital city, nestled in the shadow of the Andes Mountains. Plus, many outstanding wine regions including the Casablanca Valley and San Antonio Valley are easily accessible from the port and Santiago. So what lines sail to Valparaiso? What options do luxury travelers have in 2015 and 2016?

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In early 2016, Crystal Cruises’ Crystal Symphony will sail to Valparaiso on the “Amazing Antarctic” itinerary departing from Buenos Aires, Argentina; it also calls at such Chilean ports as Puerto Montt and Punta Arenas before ending in Valparaiso. Other luxury lines visiting in 2015 and 2016 include Compagnie du Ponant, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Silversea Cruises. Upper premium Oceania Cruises will also sail to Valparaiso.

Once ashore in Valparaiso, visitors—much as they’d want to ride a gondola in Venice—often head for the city’s funiculars or “ascensores,” some dating to the 1800s. Not all are operating, but those that still are will transport visitors up steep slopes to appealing neighborhoods.

Cerro Santa Lucia is a small hill in the center of Santiago and is popular with tourists visiting the city.Pictured: Cerro Santa Lucia is a small hill in the center of Santiago and is popular with tourists visiting the city.

Among Compagnie du Ponant’s many Le Boreal voyages including Valparaiso is one departing from Ushuaia, Argentina, on February 27, 2015. Upon arrival in Valparaiso, cruisers will head out on a cruise line tour that includes a funicular ride on El Peral, linking the terrace of the Paseo Yugoslavo to the harbor. They’ll also visit Vina del Mar; stop to photograph sea lions along the ocean; and tour La Sebastiana, the Valparaiso house and museum that celebrates the life of the late poet Pablo Neruda, a Nobel Prize for Literature winner. Other activities on this tour include a ride through Valparaiso’s narrow streets; a walking tour to view old homes and harbor views; and a cocktail with Chilean wine and cheese empanadas.

For shoppers headed to Chile, Andy Pesky of Protravel International, suggests checking out the natural, handcrafted souvenirs, many made from alpaca or llama wool. A self-admitted “sweater freak,” Pesky characterizes the wool in the llama sweaters as about the softest imaginable. The sweaters make great gifts, as do colorful wool ponchos or, alternatively, a “gorro chilote,” a hat that dips down over the ears to keep out the cold.

Many Valparaiso shops carry lapis lazuli, a deep blue semi-precious stone. Shoppers might begin browsing along the harbor-front area but then head for the city’s Cerro Alegre district for more upscale offerings.

Savory Eats: One local dish popular with the locals is “chorrillana,” a heaping mound of French fries topped with steak, fried onions and eggs. Fresh seafood is also popular. Chileans definitely love their fresh bread so visitors can find bakeries around every corner. We suggest ordering a flaky empanada stuffed with cheese or meat or bread lathered with “palta,” the Incan word for avocado.

Valparaiso will be visited by Compagnie du Ponant’s Le Boreal, which departs from Ushuaia, Argentina, on February 27, 2015. Upon arrival in Valparaiso, cruisers will head out to explore.Pictured: Valparaiso will be visited by Compagnie du Ponant’s Le Boreal, which departs from Ushuaia, Argentina, on February 27, 2015. Upon arrival in Valparaiso, cruisers will head out to explore.

For luxury cruise travelers, though, the “must-do” experience is touring and tasting at Chile’s many wineries. Nearby Casablanca Valley vineyards produce such crisp whites as Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay and spicy reds, including Pinot Noir and Syrah. Be sure to sample savory Malbec and Cabernet Franc vintages that have been developed through experimentation by some of Chile’s top vintners and winemakers. To learn more about all of the Chilean wines and wine regions, a great resource for travelers is Wines of Chile.

In 2015, Silversea Cruises operates four voyages that begin or end in Valparaiso; two are on Silver Shadow in January, plus two on the expedition vessel Silver Explorer in October and November. Guests disembarking in Valparaiso with a flight home after 6:30 p.m. on disembarkation day may book Silversea’s “Wine Tasting & Chilean Traditions and Airport Transfer.”

This Silversea shore excursion begins with a Casablanca Valley winery tour and tasting session and a visit to an El Rosario Valley hacienda/ranch and lunch. Guests learn about Chilean culture and equine traditions, participate in a Chilean Creole show, taste Chile’s national drink (the pisco sour) and sample a warm empanada. Another highlight? It’s fun to watch Chile’s national dance, the Cueca, performed on horseback.  

For the ultimate wine region excursion, book a private helicopter tour to local wineries. It’s also a great way to see breathtaking scenery. Certified luxury specialist Alicia Geiger, owner, CruiseOne, Sinking Spring, PA, has many loyal Regent Seven Seas Cruises guests, and suggests a pampering heli-wine excursion for two, noting it includes a sommelier guide, helicopter transport to the best wineries along with wine tastings and lunch. 

One experienced heli-operator is Santiago Adventures, which offers a “Casablanca and San Antonio Valley Heli-Wine Tour.” Travelers are whisked to Loma Larga Vineyards, popular for its coastal cool-climate reds such as Pinot Noirs, consistently rated 90+ by The Wine Advocate. After a private tasting session and vineyard tour, travelers then climb into the helicopter for aerial views of Casablanca’s vineyards. After landing in the neighboring San Antonio Valley, there’s a second private tour and tasting at Vina Matetic, which uses eco-agricultural practices. Next, travelers on a private tour often take a bicycle ride through the vineyards and have lunch at Matetic’s boutique restaurant.

Santiago Adventures’ separate “San Antonio Heli-Wine Tour” includes the Vina Matetic and the Casa Marin Winery founded by Chile’s first female vineyard owner, Maria Luz Marín. Casa Marin produces excellent Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc vintages including a delightful Casa Marin Sauvignon Blanc Cipreses 2013. After a private tour and tasting, cruisers have lunch with a Marin family member.

On February 3, 2015, Oceania Cruises is sailing a 20-day voyage from Lima, Peru, to Buenos Aires, with a port call at Valparaiso and multiple tours that focus on culture, equine heritage, city sights and viniculture. One tour, “The Chilean Spirit: Wine and Horses of Casablanca,” includes a Casablanca Valley winery outing and Chilean rodeo visit. On the return to the pier, cruisers also are taken to seaside Vina del Mar, Valparaiso’s sister city, where they’ll head for the Fonck Museum, renowned for its collection of Easter Island artifacts and Mapuche silver exhibit.

For an immersive Chilean experience, Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ Seven Seas Mariner sails from Pisco, Peru, on March 3, 2015, making calls at multiple Chilean ports from Coquimbo to Puerto Chacabuco, from Laguna San Rafael to Puerto Montt, Punta Arenas and Valparaiso, as well as a voyage through the Chilean fjords. The line’s excursions are similar to those of sister line Oceania but the full-day “Panoramic Valparaiso, Vina Del Mar & Winery” tour is included in the cruise fare as part of Regent’s all-inclusive product. 

On day trips to Santiago, luxury guests often book a private car tour for customized sightseeing. Travelers might check out the ornate architecture at Santa Lucia Hill, browse in the Central Market, tour La Chascona, one of poet Neruda’s homes, or visit the National History Museum or Pre-Colombian Art Museum. At the latter, travelers shouldn’t miss the rare “quipu,” a knotted cord used by the Incans for bookkeeping purposes.       

Driving tours in Santiago often provide views of the Cathedral at the Plaza de Armas, the Centro’s paseo or public park, the Presidential Palace and Constitution Square. Hint? It’s easy to snap great photos of both the city and the Andes Mountains at La Piramide viewpoint.

When it’s time for a lovely dinner in Santiago, Geiger suggests her high-end customers dine at Astrid y Gaston, a branch of the famed Peruvian restaurant owned by Gaston Acurio. Using fresh ingredients and regional influences, the three-hour tasting menu experience showcases Peru. Desserts shine, so we suggest Suspiro Limeno, translated as “the sigh of a woman from Lima.”

Seeking the eclectic? At Borago, Chef Rodolfo Guzman, a Chilean native, changes the menu nearly every day and creates dishes that mix nature with fresh culinary ingredients. Diners might try the Curanto, a Chilean shellfish, cooked with rainwater from Patagonia or perhaps the petite wine-soaked, lemon-coated Chilean pears displayed on bonsai tree branches. The chef also creates a glacier freeze dessert which, when eaten, creates a “dragon-like” steam effect in the mouth (akin to the look of dry ice).

Many cruise lines call or embark/disembark at Valparaiso. If the sailing dates available from the pure luxury lines for 2015-2016 don’t work for travelers they might consider booking a top suite on a premium line including Celebrity Cruises, Holland America Line or Princess Cruises, which all sail along the western South American coastline.

For example, on Holland America Line’s Zaandam, the Pinnacle Suite has a living room; floor-to-ceiling windows; a dining room; and a master bedroom with master bath, walk-in closet and pantry. The roomy 1,296 square feet suite includes the private verandah. Suite guests also have use of the ship’s exclusive Neptune Club with concierge service.

Whatever ship cruisers sail on, and however long they stay in South America, though, Valparaiso, Santiago and the savory vintages of Chile’s wine regions await. For Chile travel information, go to www.chile.travel/en.

Advisor Insight:

Many cruisers embarking their luxury ship at Valparaiso fly into Santiago, Chile’s capital city, for a pre- or post-cruise hotel stay. If luxury customers seek “Old World Chilean” charm, luxury advisor Diane Bower, an independent affiliate of Avoya Travel/American Express Travel representative, in Charlotte, NC, suggests a pre- or post-cruise stay at The Ritz-Carlton Santiago. Its full-service spa has soothing “Jet Lag Massage” and “Rejuvenating Facial” treatments for those seeking to take the kinks out after a long flight southward.

Bower also recommends the W Hotel Santiago for those who prefer more modern styling in their hotel accommodations. She also likes that the W’s onsite helicopter pad makes for easy private heli-departures to the wineries. Guests can take a dip in the lovely rooftop WET pool with Andean Mountains views or enjoy a glass of wine while viewing a soaring wall of 6,000 wine bottles at the hotel’s El Mundo del Vino (The World of Wine).

For exclusive pampering, Bower recommends Santiago’s San Cristobal Tower, with such rich appointments as gold-ringed mirrors and mahogany chairs. Most importantly, Bower says the hotel’s butlers are trained by Lady Iris Spencer, who’s famed for training the British Royal Family’s butlers. We hear it’s in such demand there’s often a wait list of more than a year in advance.

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