A red-hot destination with Alpine charm

Travel writer, broadcaster and long-time presenter of TV’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ programme, John Carter gets a taste of red-hot Chile
When I paid my first visit to that elongated, string bean of a country called Chile, I was expecting all manner of wondrous sights and the kind of travel experiences that other countries had been unable to supply. After all, South America is a special sort of place and Chile occupies an awfully long stretch of it.
I was not disappointed. Chile provided all the wonders I had expected. But, oddly enough, one of my strongest memories is of standing on the shore of Lake Llanquihue and thinking how very much this region of Chile resembled Bavaria. Apart, that is, from the snow-clad slopes of the Osorno volcano in the far distance.
The Chilean Lake District is quite stunning. Mountains and forests and lakes (of course), foaming rivers and waterfalls – and those unexpected volcanoes.   But the wooden houses were definitely like those you see in Alpine villages, and the signs on the shops were in that distinctive German typeface – the style seen on the mastheads of old-fashioned newspapers.
And when I saw the church in Puerto Varas, I was convinced that a chunk of Bavaria had been transported to South America and fed on steroids to make it fill the space. In fact, I was not far out. Huge numbers of German immigrants arrived in that part of Chile in the 19th century, bringing their language and culture with them. They built the houses and that distinctive church in Puerto Varas and their influence remains strong to this day. One of the unexpected aspects of Chile that the brochures never seem to mention.
For anyone for whom “The Great Outdoors” is more than a slogan, the Chilean Lake District is bound to appeal. Huge tracts of it are designated National Parks and with very little effort you can head off the beaten track and find solitude. It is perfect for a walking holiday.
The aforementioned Puerto Varas was my base for that part of the trip to Chile, but my flight down from the capital Santiago had brought me first to the town of Temuco and afterwards to Pucon on the shore of Lake Villarrica. Though not, in my opinion, as attractive a town as Puerto Varas, Pucon is located close to the Villarrica National Park, which offers more stunning scenery for those prepared to put a little effort into exploring it.
That region of Chile alone would have justified my visit (it is, after all, a very long way from Europe and that means at least one night spent in Santiago to get over the jet lag) but I was determined to see what everyone had told me was an even more spectacular area – the Torres del Paine National Park at the southernmost tip of the country.
It required another internal flight – this time to Punta Arenas, the capital of the region – from where I travelled north to Puerto Natales and the Park itself.
Again, breathtaking scenery inviting exploration, the possibility of seeing giant Condors lazily riding the thermals, and the sheer magnificence of the granite mountains, the Torres del Paine themselves.
Unlike the Chilean Lake District, this is a place that could never be mistaken for anywhere else. A unique location which provided unique memories, especially of the days and nights spent in park lodges (which proved to be far more comfortable than I had expected) as well as in much simpler accommodation.
Before I went to Chile, friends pursed their lips and said it was an awfully long journey to a land about which I knew nothing.   Would it be worth the effort? It most certainly was.

Ramblers Worldwide Holidays offer a 16-day, Patagonian Adventure also incorporating the delights of Argentina as well as exploring and walking the heights of the world’s thinnest country.Price from £3,299 per person, includes return flights, half-board accommodation and the services of a tour leader.
Ramblers Worldwide Holidays – 01707 331133