A bit to the south of Valparaíso is Isla Negra, Neruda’s principal residence at the end of his life, as colourful as Valparaíso itself. Here in this seaside home set on a bluff with stunning views of the coast and the ocean, Neruda’s life comes to life more than forty years after his death. Though most famous as a Nobel Prize-winning poet, Pablo Neruda was also a diplomat who served as consul in such places as Rangoon and Barcelona in addition to his post as Chile’s ambassador to France. As is so often the case with people who have travelled, his home reflects an eclectic assemblage of unusual items from all over the world.
North of Valparaíso is Viña del Mar, home to the interesting Fonck Museum where displays of Easter Island culture complement the desert mummy from Chile’s Atacama region and shrunken heads from Ecuador. An Easter Island moai statue welcomes visitors to the imposing museum, one of many beautiful old buildings in the city; others include the Rioja Palace and the Museum Of Fine Arts, located in a former palace in the centre of the beautiful Quinta Vergara Park, which was the private park of the Alvares-Vergara family when the palace was their home. This exquisite garden would be better known if the even more impressive National Botanical Garden were not located just down the road. Though no longer a family compound, today Quinta Vergara Park is home to Viña del Mar’s annual International Song Festival.
The coastal towns become progressively more exclusive going north from Viña del Mar. The very welcoming Casadoca, a boutique hotel with only six rooms right across from the beach in Concón, makes a great base for exploring the area. Concón is known for its authentic Chilean restaurants along the coastal road, but guests at this lovely guesthouse need not leave the premises for a delicious local meal; Casadoca’s dining room serves excellent local cuisine.
The exclusivity of residential areas culminates in Zapallar, a beautiful coastal town where large holiday homes occupy privileged positions on the hillsides surrounding a wooded cove with a small but attractive beach. Here, the emphasis is on relaxing by the water, enjoying the company of friends, or strolling along the very scenic seaside path.