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Located just 2 hours away from the Chilean capital of Santiago, Valparaiso is the sunshine town set on the coast that has long drawn city-folk escaping for a week-end break.  Once the principal port in the Pacific for trade, the town flourished during the 18-19 century and was one of the wealthiest ports in the world, with money pouring into aristocratic houses constructed on the sharp inclines overlooking the bay.  When the trade route moved to flow through the Panama Canal, Valparaiso fell into decline, where it languished for much of the 20th century- a shadow of its former self.  Until recently. While its inherent charm and rich cultural history resulted in Unesco declaring the city a World Heritage site in 2002, it has taken the last decade to evolve into the vibrant local composition of artists, writers and university students that characterizes the city today. One of the principal driving factors behind this is the Plan Rumbo, a plan initiated by the government at the start of 2010 in partnership with private companies.  The program aims to encourage tourism to the city and bring its cultural and artistic potential to the full, with investment funds in tourism set to triple up to 2015 a annual tourist figures to double from 60,000 to 120,000 per year.  The plan involves encouraging local culture and restoring the brightly coloured historic houses that encapsulate the essence of its golden past, now incorporated with the wide abundance of street art that lines the narrow streets.

Valparaiso is often described as a labyrinth, its tiny alleys twisting and turning, at once offering brilliant views of the ocean before plunging back into the city’s depths. Grown of its success as a ‘port’ town, the local culture has a strong link to the ocean and a cosmopolitan outlook, having long watched the arrival and departure of ships (which explains its popularity among San Francisans who, along with French, Argentines, Brazilians and Spanish, are most drawn to the city).  Now it is also defined by a young, vibrant population, who while active in its re-growth and development are still strongly connected to its history and past.  With a buzzing art movement driven by the opening of a host of new galleries, a recent boom in artisanal shops prizing intricate silverwork, and an emerging culinary scene, Valparaiso is most definitely on the up.

What not to miss:

Where to Stay: For old school elegance, Casa Higueras offers palatial rooms and an   terrace designed to take in the view over afternoon tea.  Zero hotel, a renovated 1880 mansion also located in the happening neighbourhood of Cerro Alegre, offers a younger, more modern option.

What to do: Explore the city’s burgeoning art scene and hop between galleries CENTEX; Casa E and Centro Cultural Ex Cárcel del Valparaíso.  Then explore the back streets on one of Valparaiso’s 15 funicular cars- a marvel of fin de siècle engineering constructed between the 1880 and 1925 boom, which wind through the narrow streets past vivid art work and heart-stopping views.

What to see: Of the three houses of Pablo Neruda’s you can visit in Chile, this is the most interesting.  As well as being able to wander around left largely to your own devises, you will be rewarded with spectacular sea views as you ascend up to Neruda’s office, a crow’s nest at the very top of the house where the poet penned his inspirational odes to the sea.

Where to eat: Santiago rejoiced when Valparaiso’s Pasta e Vino opened at boutique hotel the Aubrey in 2010.  After its recent closure they are flocking in droves back to the original, a Mediterranean gem credited with spearheading the city’s culinary boom, where diners can watch the chefs create fresh pasta with original additions, before being served plates combined with the freshest of seafood.

What to buy: Indicative of Valparaiso’s artisanal community, Art in Silver Workshop is run by the enigmatically named Victor Hugo, who specializes in handmade jewellery from silver and gems.

Out of Town: Set 40 minutes outside town, Casas del Bosque is one of Chile’s most respected wineries and the place to discover how a good Sauvignon Blanc should really taste while wandering through sunlit vineyards over a lazy afternoon.

Chile is fast becoming one of Latin America’s most interesting destinations- to make sure you experience the very best, contact Dehouche.

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