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Lino Sauro’s Travel Black Book

Chill in Chile

Italian chef Lino Sauro, whose wife is Chilean, goes there once a year to enjoy the seafood, scenery and lovely architecture

Who: Lino Sauro, 45, Italian owner and chef of Gattopardo Ristorante del Mare Italian restaurant in Tras Street. He is married to translator and interpreter Constanza, 39. They have two children, Noah, three, and Liam, 1 1/2.

Favourite destination: Santiago, Chile

Why: It is where I met my wife, a Chilean, when I was backpacking there in 2001. We go back at least once a year to visit family.

Favourite hotel

We usually stay with family when we are in Santiago, but outside of the city, I highly recommend Huilo Huilo resort where my sister-in-law was married. It is in Huilo Huilo Biological Reserve, which covers more than 60,000ha and is in the middle of the Chilean Patagonian Rainforest, with views of the Andes Mountain range.

The cabins and treehouses, made of wood and stone, blend into the landscape. The resort is committed to sustainable tourism and the conservation of nature and culture.

Everything used in the construction and decor is natural; the wood is free of chemicals and preservatives, and electricity is generated by solar and hydro power. It looks rustic on the outside, but the resort offers five-star luxury in the middle of the deep, green forest.


Favourite restaurants

Being from Sicily, which is known for its seafood, I am naturally interested in Chilean seafood and how the restaurants serve it.

La Mar (Av. Nueva Costanera 4076, Vitacura, Santiago; tel: +56-2-2206-7839; lamarcebicheria.cl) is a seafood restaurant run by Gaston Acurio Jaramillo, one of Peru's award-winning chefs and an ambassador of Peruvian cuisine.

His Peruvian-style ceviches are particularly good as is the uni from Chile which has much more salinity than Japanese uni and tastes very different.

The food is good and the restaurant's happy energy keeps me going back.

I also like Aqui Esta Coco (Calle la Concepcion 236, Providencia, Santiago; tel: +56 2-2235-8649; aquiestacoco.cl), which means "here is coco" - the owner-chef's name is Coco Pacheco. He is also a well-known cookbook author.

The restaurant focuses on seafood, though Pacheco has more of a classical Chilean style. I like how his dishes are so simple, but so good.

One of my favourites is Coco Rice, which is like a seafood risotto with all kinds of Chilean seafood. It is full of flavours and Chilean spices, such as merken, a Chilean paprika.

Meals at both restaurants cost about $50 a person without wine.


Favourite museum

Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino (Bandera 361, Santiago; tel: +56-2-2928-1500; precolom-bino.cl/en/) is the best place to understand the history of Chile. It comprehensively tells the story of the Mapuche, the indigenous people of Chile.

I like taking a walk in the downtown area to admire the architecture. The European architecture is very well-preserved in the financial area. There are vibrant communities of Germans, Italians and English in Chile.


Favourite tourist site

Palacio de La Moneda, also known as La Moneda which means "the coin", is the seat of the President of Chile. (Moneda S/N, Santiago, Region Metropolitana, Chile; tel: +56-2-2690-4000; gob.cl/historia-palacio).

During the military coup d'etat on Sept 11, 1973, the Chilean Air Force attacked the palace and though reconstruction and restoration projects were completed in 1981, you can still see some of the bullet marks that have been preserved.


Favourite afternoon activity

My family and I like to head to Parque Bicentenario, where many families go to relax. We pack picnic baskets and lounge around while the kids entertain themselves at the playgrounds. We can spend an entire day there.

Mestizo (Av. Bicentenario 4050, Vitacura, Santiago), a very hip bar and restaurant, is situated at the edge of the park. It is bustling with music and is where the local hipsters hang out.


Best shopping

Santiago's Mercado Central is one of the best markets in South America. You can find mostly food items here - seafood, vegetables, breads and jams as well as stalls serving classic seafood dishes such as ceviche, fish head soup (caldillo de pescado) and parmesan baked clams (machas a la parmesana).

Be sure to eat lots of crabs while there. In Chile, they tend to be small with short fat legs. A great way to taste them is a dish called Pastel de Jaibas.

After the crabs are cooked in water, all the meat is removed. In another bowl, bread is soaked in milk, then squeezed of the excess and turned into a paste. The crab meat is mixed in this paste and placed in a greda (terracotta) bowl, sprinkled with parmesan cheese and baked in an oven for 10 to 15 minutes until the cheese has melted until browned on top. You can get this dish for about 8,000 pesos (S$16) in the market.

If you are looking for a mall, head to the Costanera Center (Av. Andres Bello 2425, Providencia, Region Metropolitana; tel: +56-2-2916- 9200 Costaneracenter.cl). It is the tallest building in South America and the first six floors are a mall with a mix of international and local brands.


Must-try

Sandwiches are a big part of the Chilean lifestyle. They are humongous treats with many different types of bread and fillings.

Fuente Alemana (Avenida Libertador Bernardo O'Higgins 58, Santiago; tel: +56-2-2639-3231), one of the classic sandwich joints, is an institution. Order the popular Barros Luco, a hot sandwich of thin slices of beef and melted cheese named after former Chilean president Ramon Barros Luco.

Lornito (pork slices with mayo), Chacarero (steak slices, tomatoes, green beans and mayo) and Barros Jarpa (ham and melted cheese) are other Chilean favourites.

You can also get them at La Burguesia (Santa Magdalena 99, Providencia, Region Metropolitana, Chile; Facebook/La Burguesia), another well-known sandwich place in Santiago's Providence neighbourhood. The sandwiches cost 3,000 to 4,000 pesos.

Another type of Chilean food you have to try is the parrillada - a grill that sits in the centre of the table is piled with many different cuts and parts of beef, from prime steak to intestines and blood sausage.

One of the most famous places to have parrillada is El Chilenazo (Libertad 37, Santiago; tel: +56 2-2682- 4884; chilenazosantiago.cl). A traditional parrillada for two people, which can be shared among four, costs about 22,000 pesos.


Best place to watch the sunset

Go to Vina Del Mar, a beach that is an hour's drive from Santiago. You can see a nice sunset and enjoy great seafood at the eateries there, including Spanish seafood restaurant Txipiron (6 Norte 96, Vina del Mar, Region de Valparaiso; tel: +56-3-2211-4305; txipiron.cl) and Tierra De Fuego (Calle Ocho Norte 65, Vina del Mar, Valparaiso, Region de Valparaiso; tel:+56- 3-2299-3976; tierradefuego.cl), which is on the beach.

Every year, the city hosts the famous Vina Del Mar International Song Festival, one of the biggest song festivals in Latin America. Guest artists have included Tom Jones, Sting, Backstreet Boys, Jonas Brothers, Elton John and Cat Stevens who performed alongside Latin artists Ricky Martin, Marc Anthony and Carlos Santana.

Colombian singer Shakira came in third when she performed in the festival's song contest in 1993 and went on to international fame.


Best hidden find

In the Las Condes neighbourhood of Santiago, there is a handicraft market called Los Dominicos Handicraft Village (Av. Apoquindo 9085, Santiago, Las Condes, Region Metropolitana) where you can find very good quality handicrafts including copper and silver jewellery, weavings and alpaca wool that are often sold by the artists who make them.


Fun trips in the region

If you are there in winter, go skiing in the Andes Mountains. Chile has some of the best ski resorts in South America, such as El Colorado and Valle Nevado.

Chile also has a famous wine route, the Ruta del Vino (rutadel-vino.cl), which starts about two hours from Santiago. You can book a tour to take you there and to the different wineries.


Foodie souvenirs

Buy a jar of preserved papaya which has been cooked and soaked in syrup. A half-kilo jar costs about $10. Also pick up some dulce de leche - cooked condensed milk you can get in jars or in the form of a nougat. A bag of nougat-styled dulce de leche starts from $5, depending on the brand.

An interesting ingredient to take home is merken, a Chilean smoked paprika that is sometimes ground with toasted coriander seed and salt, and is made by the Mapuche communities in the south.

Canned Chilean seafood, such as abalone or clams, are also good. Look for brands such as Robinson Crusoe or Marco Polo. One small can starts from $10.


Travellers advice

The customs check in Chile is very strict about agricultural produce, so do not bring in any agricultural products or you may be heavily fined.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 03, 2016, with the headline 'Chill in Chile'. Print Edition | Subscribe