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Southern South America stunning to see

This is the first of two columns on travels in Chile and Argentina.

Stand at the top of Parque Metropolitano in Santiago, Chile, at 2,800-feet elevation, and you view this amazing vista of a city with some 6 million people, ringed by the enormous Andes Mountains.

It is hard to take your eyes off the Andes. The scale is so overwhelming, and even in Santiago’s early summer Ð they are opposite us in seasons Ð the Andes are snowcapped.



Santiago is the capital city and a good, safe place to stay. Its economy has been strong but is currently showing signs of slowing.

Chile’s new president, Michelle Bachelet, is quite savvy about Chile’s need to draw more U.S. tourism money and just last week announced a $40 million tourism promotion fund to attract worldwide visitors, with the U.S. dollar a prime target.




I stayed in Santiago at the Sheraton’s San Cristobal Towers, a business class hotel which I would highly recommend. Rooms online start at $185. I was part of a business group traveling together and the hotel knew how to take care of travelers with business needs.

Rooms have Internet access, butler service, bathrooms three times the size of mine at home and those wonderful spa robes that feel so good. The hotel has a great poolside buffet with fresh fish, fruit and salads.

If you love jewelry, Santiago is your place. Chile, Afghanistan and Russia are main sources in the world for lapis lazuli, that wonderful rich deep blue gemstone flecked with gold. In Chile they often combine lapis with gorgeous green malachite

and silver and the effect is stunning. After getting a feel for what “good” lapis is, I went with my Spanish speaking colleague, Liza Zimmerman, the ultimate haggler, down to the marketplace shops and for about $50 U.S. I purchased a nice looking silver and lapis bracelet.

Food and wine enthusiasts can’t miss in Chile. It has the best fresh strawberry juice and cherimoya, also known as custard apple, a white fruit they serve as juice and as dessert.

I had a yummy white fish at a French restaurant and found out it was congrio, a native Chilean fish in the eel family. If you look on a world map, you will see Chile is a long string bean of a country with 3,000 miles of coastline. Seafood is a major diet staple.

The cocktail of choice is Chile’s famous Pisco Sour, made from a local brandy. They serve it up frothed with egg whites, as an aperitif at lunch and dinner.

A day trip from Santiago is the Maipo Valley, a key viticultural region in which the Cousino-Macul and Santa Rita wineries are located. The Cousino-Macul family are the Mondavis of Chile, now in their sixth generation of making wines.

As part of a group of professional wine tasters, I had the good fortune to attend the formal celebration of their 150th Anniversary at their historic ancient cellars near Santiago.

It rivaled a state dinner in opulence, with French champagne, raw oysters by the bushel, a classical music quartet on the patio and lamb with a risotto made from Quinoa, a regional grain. Cousino-Macul unveiled its new, $60, high-end Cabernet-Merlot blend, the 2004 Lota, in honor of the anniversary.

The budget minded, however, will find a great value in the 2004 Cousino-Macul Finis Terrae, a Cabernet-Merlot blend at $20 a bottle.

Santa Rita winery has a world-class hotel on its grounds, a historic Catholic Church, a lovely restaurant and the beautiful new Museo Andino which houses an extraordinary collection of pre-Columbian art and gold artifacts.

It also has good affordable wines, notably its 120 line at $6 to $7 a bottle. I particularly like the 120 Sauvignon Blanc; always looking for a good white in a region known for its reds.

These are fruitier wines made to drink young, and with good flavor. They’re hard to beat at that price point.

In the heart of Santiago is Vina Santa Carolina founded in 1875. This original site, now used for cellaring and bottling only, gives you a chance to see ancient caves that are remarkably well preserved.

Egg whites were used in the walls which keep the cellars at a constant temperature hovering around 62 degrees. Santa Carolina, among other varietals, bottles Carmenere, a red grape that Chilean wineries are hoping will catch on with American consumers.

Santiago and nearby Maipo will keep you busy with good food and wines and the supersized Andes to nourish your soul.

ooo

Jean Deitz Sexton writes a column covering the Penn Valley area for The Union which appears every other Monday. Contact her at jeans@theunion.com via e-mail.


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