Escape the heat and explore Chile

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Parque Farellones Ski Resort in the Chilean mountain village of Farellones. (Photo courtesy: Lulwa Shalhoub)
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Panoramic view of Valparaíso from Chilean poet Pablo Neruda's La Sebastiana home. (Photo courtesy: Lulwa Shalhoub)
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The seafront of Valparaíso. (Photo courtesy: Lulwa Shalhoub)
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One of many sculptures at the urban Parque Bicentenario in Santiago. (Photo courtesy: Lulwa Shalhoub)
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Steep colorful steps in the quirky alleys of Valparaíso, Chile. (Photo courtesy: Lulwa Shalhoub)
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The view from a cable car at the Metropolitan Park of Santiago's Cerro San Cristóbal. (Photo courtesy: Lulwa Shalhoub)
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Fascinating sunset at a beach in San Antonio Province, Chile. (Photo courtesy: Lulwa Shalhoub)
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View from the 62nd floor of South America's tallest skyscraper, Sky Costanera. (Photo courtesy: Lulwa Shalhoub)
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View from Cerro San Cristóbal hill in Santiago. (Photo courtesy: Lulwa Shalhoub)
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Parque Farellones Ski Resort in the Chilean mountain village of Farellones, 36km from Santiago. (Photo courtesy: Lulwa Shalhoub)
Updated 03 September 2017

Escape the heat and explore Chile

SANTIAGO, Chile: As temperatures in the Gulf remain high, hitting the beach has become somewhat of a cliché. If you are looking to escape the heat and get an early taste of winter, however, you should try indulging in a Latin adventure in Chile.
The country stretches across the western coast of South America, bordering the Pacific Ocean, and offers tourists from the Middle East a chance to catch their winter season during the Northern Hemisphere’s summer season. You can escape the heat of the Gulf for the cool climes of Chile without having to wait until winter officially begins here.
Chile has a natural asset in its diverse terrain, offering visitors the chance to experience different outdoor activities. For those who wish to explore snow-capped mountains but cannot travel between November to February, Chile offers a lovely midyear winter destination.
Hopping from the Gulf’s hot summer — and typically warm autumn — to the snowy mountains of Chile is extremely exciting. It should be said, however, that the journey is a gradual one if you are flying from the Gulf. You will need to catch a direct flight from Europe, the US or a neighboring country in South America and although the total journey can take more than 20 hours depending on how you configure your flights — my total flight time was a whopping 22 hours — it is worth it.
Saudi passport holders are required to apply for a Chilean visa through the Chilean Embassy in Amman, Jordan, as Chile does not yet have an embassy in Riyadh. I assume that once the visa process is made easier for Saudis, more tourists from the country would be interested in visiting this South American gem.
Applicants should note that it takes an average of three weeks for the visa to be processed.
The city, the mountains and the ocean
Chile was my gateway into South America and from what I had previously heard, I was under the impression that the whole continent was a dangerous place for tourists.
However, being in Chile for two weeks, I did not feel unsafe. Of course, using one’s common sense is advisable — walking alone in certain neighborhoods at night is, for obvious reasons, not sensible. Tourists should also try to avoid using the metro in the capital city of Santiago during rush hour.
When I first arrived in Santiago, I was amazed at how modernized, clean and organized the city is. Chile is among South America’s most prosperous and stable countries and the city reflects that.
The Chilean capital was founded in 1541 and has been the capital since colonial times.
Santiago is encircled by green hills and the snow-capped Andes Mountains. Even on a misty day, you can see the silhouette of the mountains. Cerro San Cristóbal is one of the iconic hills in Santiago — it dominates the capital’s skyline and can be seen from different parts of the city. The hill, which is 2,890 feet (881 meters) high, is home to the largest public park in the capital, the Parque Metropolitano de Santiago (Santiago Metropolitan Park). A funicular or cable car will take you to the top of the hill where you can capture memorable pictures along the way of the greenery around you.
Cerro Santa Lucia, a small 230-foot hill, is also worth visiting for the beautiful scenery of the city it offers and its yellow and white façade that was remodeled by the architect Benjamin Vicuña Mackenna in the 1870s.
Luckily, I got to witness a rare bout of snowfall in the city this July, something which has not occurred for a decade, meteorologists said.
Visitors can also try skiing in the mountain village of Farellones, which is an hour away from Santiago and boasts a number of ski resorts. If it is your first time on the slopes, take a quick lesson and then enjoy a new challenge.
If you plan to remain in Santiago, hitting the parks is a great way to spend your lunchtimes and afternoons. Grab an empanada, a popular Latin American snack of meat, seafood or vegetables stuffed in a samosa-like pie, and have a picnic in the park.
There is also an ice cream culture in the city, even during the winter. It is a good idea to try different ice cream flavors, especially those that are unique to Chile. If you feel like going native with your choice of flavor, try lúcuma ice cream. This delicious fruit tastes like caramel.
On the urban side, Santiago is home to Costanera Center, the tallest skyscraper in South America. The building consists of a six-floor shopping center and restaurants. You can enjoy a spectacular 360-degree view from Sky Costanera on the 61st and 62nd floor, which is the highest observatory on the continent. Choose a sunny day when the sky is clear to be able to enjoy the scenery. The art scene — from modern sculptures, graffiti and murals to historical statues and monuments — is also very much alive in the city.
Exploring the life of a Chilean poet
A key Chilean figure worth understanding is the late politician-diplomat and poet, Pablo Neruda (1904-1973). The Chilean poet had three homes that are now open for the public to visit and explore. Each home has a different name and offers visitors a glimpse into Neruda’s lifestyle, interests and travels. I visited two of his homes, one in Santiago and the other in Valparaíso with a mesmerizing sea view. The third home is in Isla Negra in San Antonio Province.
Neruda’s home in Santiago is named La Chascona and he shared it with his wife Matilde from 1955 until his death in 1973. This house is located in Barrio Bellavista, which is the center of the hustle and bustle of the city where graffiti and murals color the walls around you. The house takes you on a quick journey of the places the poet visited through the souvenirs that fill the place.
Neruda’s La Sebastiana is a must-see if you are visiting Valparaíso and its historic port, which is less than an hour-and-a-half away from Santiago. After a relaxing afternoon walk by the seafront and perhaps a boat trip, find your way uphill to Neruda’s house. You can take a taxi, but walking, although tiring, is the best way to get to know the city. Walking through its alleys, enjoying the graffiti and colorful steps and gazing at the unequally-sized colorful houses make for an interesting journey through the city. Besides, it is good exercise!
When you are finally at La Sebastiana, you can take some pictures from the terrace or the windows of the top floor, where you get a beautiful view of the ocean wrapped with green hills, cheerful-looking houses and palm trees.
Before you go…
A pro tip before you visit Chile would be to invest in a Spanish phrasebook. English is hardly spoken in Chile and traveling with a local, or at least having some Spanish-language skills, can be useful. If you are traveling solo or with non-Spanish speaking friends, it is advisable to keep a pocket-sized Spanish phrasebook handy to be able to communicate and make yourself understood.
Bearing in mind that the seasons are reversed in relation to our corner of the world, the next time you complain about the weather or feel yourself yearning for a quick change of season, Chile is definitely an adventure worth embarking upon.


The deluxe delights of Mandarin Oriental Jumeira

The hotel is located on Jumeirah Beach Road across from Mercato shopping mall. (Supplied)
Updated 06 December 2019

The deluxe delights of Mandarin Oriental Jumeira

  • New arrival justifies its place in Dubai’s already packed luxury hotel roster

DUBAI: Does Dubai really need another luxury hotel? If you had to pause to think about it, then you’re not Dubai. Four Seasons? We’ll take two, please. One&Only? Go on, give us two more. Ritz-Carlton and Waldorf Astoria? Oh why not, we’ll take two each. 

And yet, until earlier this year, one might say there was a gap in Dubai’s collection for a Mandarin Oriental, a hotel for all great hotel cities. 

It’s here now, located on Jumeirah Beach Road across from Mercato shopping mall and beside a drive-through Starbucks. It’s easy to miss the modern low-rise building perched just off the sidewalk because of its subtle (possibly a new addition to Dubai’s dictionary) daytime presence.

The seafront suite at Mandarin Oriental Jumeira, Dubai is one of a kind. (Supplied)

It is only after dark that it becomes more remarkable, when a forest of crystal trees lights up its lobby, and it sparkles like a jewel box through the glass from the sidewalk right through to the beach. 

There are further design delights in my deluxe sea-view room, which has a balcony overlooking the pool area. The centerpiece is the soaker tub in its expansive marble bathroom — which is almost the size of the sleeping area that it opens onto — complete with handily placed heated towel rack. My enthusiasm for the bath is momentarily dulled when sand-colored water gushes from the tap, but this is fixed by a few technicians who respond immediately when I call.

The hotel has luxurious bathrooms and interior. (Supplied)

Although I’m not usually impressed by hotel-room technology — too often fancy light switches only complicate a simple matter — this room has a few stand-out features. The curtains open and close automatically not only with a bedside button, but also when I go to part them; the lights in the walk-in closet turn on automatically upon entering; and even the blow dryer is touch-activated. 

It’s not just the technology that demonstrates attention to detail. The closet contains a yoga mat and beach bag. On the desk, there’s a small stack of books, including Peter Frankopan’s  “The New Silk Roads.” There’s also a box of coffee-table-sized books that turns out to be four hefty room-service menus: Middle Eastern, Asian, International and Healthy. All of which meant there was little reason to leave the room, if it wasn’t for a dinner reservation at Netsu, the hotel’s Japanese restaurant.

The curtains open and close automatically not only with a bedside button, but also when you go to part them. (Supplied)

An event in itself, Netsu is equipped with a glass-walled warayaki cooking theater, where chefs grill wagyu beef on a 900-degree fire. My friend and I are seated at a bar facing the glass, where we watch them stoking the fire with rice straw brought in from Japan. The tender meat is uniquely flavored, proving that it’s more than just a show for Instagram.

It would be hard to find more self-assured service than the kind shown to us by our waiter, Nick, who is definitive in his starter recommendations. “I won’t take no for an answer,” he tells us, and we’re pleased he didn’t. The Korean fried chicken, corn tempura and yellowtail tiradito are all worth their place on the signature tasting menu.

Netsu is equipped with a glass-walled warayaki cooking theater. (Supplied)

Breakfast in The Bay, the hotel’s brasserie-style restaurant facing the beach, makes less of an impression. While there was nothing wrong with the buffet, the staff seem oddly perplexed by my request to order à la carte. 

And while a peaceful day by the pool was threatened by a few loud teenagers throwing balls, the adult-only infinity pool on the rooftop, for hotel guests only, provided much-needed escape. At first it seemed odd that it was stationed outside the windows of Tasca, the Portuguese restaurant by Michelin-star chef José Avillez. But as the kitchen prepared for dinner, a waiter brought out small tasters, including avocado tempura, for the sunbathers to enjoy on our cushy daybeds with a vast view of the sunset over the Arabian Gulf.

So while Dubai might not need another luxury hotel, it can certainly use this one. To borrow the Mandarin Oriental’s slogan, I can definitely say: “I’m a fan.”