We decided on a full day tour of Vina del Mar and Valparaiso. We booked the tour through Viator and were picked up at our Santiago hotel, the Hyatt Centric Los Condes and greeted by a great English speaking guide, Carol, and her driver.
This post is about Vina del Mar. We have another post on Valparaiso. Vina del Mar is only about 5 miles away from Valparaiso. The Spaniards used Vina del Mar as farmland. The major vineyard was built primarily to support the churches and was important until a storm destroyed it in 1827. Valparaiso was the major port city. They considered Vina del Mar more of a beach town after the storm.
In the early nineteenth century some lands were sold and leased for small parcels or country homes, which began with the development of its land. In 1855, the railroad opened that connected Santiago to Valparaiso. That put Vina del Mar on the map. It became a separate municipality of Valparaiso in 1874 and they made the first buildings around the railway station. The town became known for its industries such as shipyards and arsenals, where iron bridges were built for the transportation of the railway line from Santiago to the south of Chile. When Valparaiso suffered from the earthquake in 1906, wealthy families moved to Vina del Mar. While Valparaiso was being rebuilt, Vina del Mar was considered the better of the two cities.
Rio Tinto Vineyard Store
We stopped for a wine tasting at Rio Tinto vineyard store where our tour guide, Carol, knew the owner. This store wasn’t the traditional vineyard stop, it was a place to taste wine and purchase it. The vineyard is a boutique one and the owner is a former football (soccer) star who played against Pele in his prime. His name is Don Elias Figueroa. We tasted a Reserva Sauvignon Blanc, a Homenaje Gran Vino (red) and a Reserve 2015 Merlot. We finished with a Marcela Rose (2018) which was dedicated to his wife.
On the back of the bottle, he dedicated a short passage to his wife which loosely translated said:
I was fifteen years old when I first saw you. Your eyes were shining, and I fell in love immediately. From that day on, I woke up early just to watch you. At a party I finally gathered up the courage and invited you to dance. You disarmed me without even knowing my name and told me that you knew we were going to get married. Now, my love Marcela, some fifty years have passed. We have children, grandchildren and great grandchildren and I still love you.
What a tribute to his wife!!
We then went to another store nearby where we had a taste of Chicha which is fermented grape juice that comes from the native Mapuche. In Chile there are two main types of Chichas: they produce apple Chicha in southern Chile and grape Chicha in central Chile. We had the grape version.
Both are alcoholic beverages with no distillation, only fermentation. Chicha is mostly consumed in the countryside and during festivities, such as Fiestas Patrias on September 18. Chicha is usually not found in formal supermarkets unless it is close to September 18. However, you can still get it in many places as our guide was well aware. She told us that many locals still make it in their homes. The Mapuche culture is still prevalent throughout Chile. Chicha has been prepared and consumed in communities throughout the Andes for thousands of years. The Incas, who were all over South America, used Chicha for ritual purposes and consumed it in vast quantities during religious festivals. They found mills in which Chicha was made at Machu Picchu. During the Inca Empire women were taught the techniques of brewing chichi and the tradition continues today.
With our Chicha we had some small cigar shaped pastries. The wrapper was very delicate, similar to Phyllo pastry but of the consistency of a Communion wafer, so it melted in your mouth. The inside was dulce de leche. We first had this in Mendoza, Argentina. The Park Hyatt, Mendoza offered it as an accompaniment to waffles or bread. I had it with my crepes most mornings. I originally thought it was chocolate but after tasting it, it was more like caramel mixed with chocolate.
In reality, dulce de leche is sweetened milk. The most basic recipe calls for slowly simmering milk and sugar, stirring almost constantly, although other ingredients such as vanilla can be added for flavor. Much of the water in the milk evaporates and the mix thickens; the resulting dulce de leche is usually about a sixth of the volume of the milk used. The transformation that occurs in preparation results from very slow caramelization.
Argentina claims that dulce de leche originated in 1829 in the area of Buenos Aires. Two opposing forces in Argentina were on the brink of ending a war. Two Generals, Lavalle and Manuel de Rosas came together for a meeting to agree on a treaty. They met at a camp where a serving woman was preparing “la lechada” for the camp. “La lechada” was prepared by heating sugar and milk. The woman went to speak with General Manuel de Rosas and found the other General instead. She thought the enemy had arrived and found other soldiers to describe her surprise. Meanwhile, la lechada was still cooking. When she remembered and checked on “la lechada,” she noticed that it had become a dark brown jelly like goo. She tried the jelly and then dulce de leche was born.
Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Peru are just some of the countries in Latin America that claim to have invented dulce de leche. In 2003, Argentina attempted to declare dulce de leche as an Argentinian cultural heritage before UNESCO. They were unsuccessful. Uruguay also claimed it should a gastronomical Heritage of the Río de la Plata which is the name of the region that connects both Uruguay and Argentina. Dulce de leche is very good and apparently worth fighting for.
These cigar shaped pastries were named Vika for Natalia Lysytsya’s daughter. Natalia is Russian but married a Chilean national. She is always at the shop, and she offered the cuchufli pastries in many varieties for sale. Many people came to the store just to try them or purchase them. Some were chocolate covered and others had chocolate inside and out. All were very good.
We left the shop after our tastings and immediately found the truck driver blockade and the associated traffic jam. The port of Valparaiso was under a protest. A dockworker protest is common all over the world as the taxes, levees and other associated fees come into conflict with the domain of the workers and shippers. We navigated the traffic jam and soon were in Vina del Mar.
We were surprised to see how big Vina del Mar was. In my research, it was described as a beach resort, but the population was more than 300,000 people. Homes were dotted up and down the mountains so that the home had a seaside view. We drove around for a while and then stopped at a cultural museum. It surprised us to see a totem from Easter Island and the Rapa Nui in front of the museum.
The Carrasco Palace is styled as a French chateau or palace. It was built for a local businessman, Emilio Carrasco, between 1912 and 1923. It became the Cultural center of Vina del Mar, a library and an historical archive at different times.
The businessman died in 1923 and could not see the finished work, which ended at the end of the same year. In 1924 the heirs of Carrasco sold the property to several businessmen of the city. In 1930, the mayor of Vina del Mar bought it for the city.
The Carrasco Palace was badly damaged in the earthquakes of 1965 and 1971 and the building might have been demolished but the current mayor wanted to restore the building. The restoration was completed in 1977 along with the Fonck Museum which is behind the palace.
More earthquakes in 1985 and in 2010 have kept visitors away in order to allow the reconstruction. When we visited, the palace was not open to visitors, but it was a beautiful photo opportunity.
In the front of the building is a sculpture by the famed artist Auguste Rodin. It is called La Defensa and was created in 1878.
After we took pictures of the Rodin sculpture and the Carrasco Palace, it was time to walk over to the Fonck Museum. It was founded in 1937 by Francisco Fonck who was multitalented. He was a naturalist, geologist, anthropologist, and physician. It’s a small museum but it is packed with valuable exhibits.
The focus of the museum is Chilean Prehistory, Ethnography and Natural History. Somewhat similar to the Carrasco Palace, the museum is within a former mansion which was known as the Delano family residence.
One of the first things we noticed was the Rapa Nui culture exhibits. You can see Madeline and I in front of a large sculpture originally found on Easter Island. This Moai is located in the garden outside. They brought it to the continent in 1951. The Moai was exhibited elsewhere in Vina del Mar until 1988 when it was moved here.
The Fonck Museum has one of the most complete exhibitions on Rapa Nui outside Easter Island. Inside there are exhibits of pre-European cultures of Continental Chile such as Patagonia, populated by the Tehuelches, Patagones or “Aonikenk” as they called themselves. In addition, the exhibit covers the Onas or Selknam, original inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego, the Alacalufes, canoeists of the southern channels and the Yaganes, who settled the southernmost tip of the Americas.
The museum was all about Chilean cultural heritage and focused on the many indigenous tribes of Chile including the Mapuche. It also gave a very good history of Easter Island and the native Rapa Nui. Our guide translated the Spanish placards that were throughout the museum and gave us a very good understanding of how the native population evolved, the Mapuche fight against the Spaniards for hundreds of years, etc.
We were also very interested in the history of Easter Island and thought we should visit that sometime. It is far from Chile but is governed by it, primarily to protect it. Foreign governments took the totems as treasure as they navigated the seas. There are some in London museums that the natives want back. There are many similarities between the Rapa Nui, the Mayans, the Aztecs, and the Incas. It is evident that these cultures intermingled to some degree many years ago.
As we exited the museum and had the guide take our photo with the Moai, we saw another beautiful statue. It was of Gabriela Mistral. At the base of the statue, we read one of her most beautiful poems, dedicated to children. Gabriela was the first Spanish American author to receive the Nobel Prize in literature. She is one of the best-known Latin American poets of her time. Mistral defended the rights of women, children and the poor. Her poems were diverse, and her central themes included nature, betrayal, love, a mother’s love, sorrow and recovery, travel, and Latin American identity – particularly of the indigenous people all over the world. Her portrait is on the 5,000 Chilean peso bank note.
I’m glad we went to this museum. We want to go to Easter Island. We’ve been to the Galapagos Islands which is part of Ecuador, but we have not been to Easter Island which is part of Chile. Easter Island isn’t exactly close to Santiago, it’s more than 2,300 miles away by plane or about a 5 and one-half hour flight.
We then had lunch at an Italian restaurant called Fellini that was near the downtown Casino in Vina del Mar. Normally I would put this restaurant in a separate post of all restaurants in the area. However, we just went to this one.
There were a couple of restaurants recommended by our guide. This one seemed to offer a wide variety of menu choices and they had a tourist menu for a drink, salad, entrée and dessert for about $20 USD. We were one of the first people to arrive and received our drinks and salad in short order. Service from that point forward suffered because large groups of customers overwhelmed the few servers. We waited about 15 minutes for dessert and finally flagged down the head person to get some service. The food here was average for pasta. I would not recommend coming back to this restaurant.
We took some pictures of the nearby casino. They modeled the casino in the style of what we find in Monte Carlo. This casino, however, is city run. Thus, the profits from the casino go back into servicing the community.
We then got back in the car and headed to Valparaiso. You can read about our Valparaiso attractions in that post.
Madeline spotted this castle by the sea and took a picture of it from the car. I had to do some research on it. I turned out that it is called Wulff castle. A German businessman named Gustavo Wulff moved to Chile in 1881. He bought property and built a house in 1906. In 1917, he hired an architect to transform the house into a castle.
The city eventually bought the castle in 1959. Quite the story. Onward to Valparaiso! You can check out our Valparaiso post here.
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