Lovely latinos

Continuing with my literary travel series – today it’s SANTIAGO, CHILE




With characters that sport green hair and yellow eyes, saltcellars that move on their own and ghosts that live amiably alongside the living, Isabel Allende’s first few novels, written in the 80s, are better known for their magical realism and fantastical scenes than their vivid descriptions of Chile. But it is this very magic found in her early novels, such as House of Spirits, Of Love and Shadows and Eva Luna, that allow readers to truly get under the skin of Chile and its Latino culture. Allende’s style is all in the detail. None of these novels are overtly set in Chile, for instance, but we know that it is indeed her home country that has inspired them.

Spanish Colonial Mansion
Spanish Colonial Mansion

She lived for many years in Santiago and many of the grand houses she describes in Of Love and Shadows are based on the colonial mansions found in the city. Alternating between bustling city and magnificent country scenes, her characters live in convents where ‘doves, thrushes and hummingbirds drink from a fountain of coloured tiles’; kitchens are the domain of women with ‘swirling cotton skirts and flying hair’ and whitewashed haciendas have views of the mountains beyond.



Images courtesy of and
Barrio Bellavista.Image above courtesy of and below with thanks to



While Allende does call on Chile’s rural areas for inspiration, it is Santiago that would be the obvious choice. Head to Barrio Bellavista, Santiago’s bohemian quarter. It’s teaming with hip new restaurants, boutiques, and avant-garde galleries, which occupy loft spaces and colourful mansions that punctuate tree-lined streets. In the evening, Bellavista pulses to the beat of music pouring from its many bars and on weekends, there is an evening handicrafts market that runs the length of Pío Nono.

Lastarria. Image – thanks to ask

The conservation area of Lastarria, meanwhile, is Santiago’s historic hub, dating back to the mid-19th century. It’s the perfect place to read House of Spirits, Allende’s epic family saga set during the time when the country was under military rule. This area is a cultural hotspot with eclectic restaurants, galleries and antique shops. Stop off at the Gabriel Mistral Cultural Center ( to find your own inspiration.



Chileans are mad about hot dogs and at the Dominó soda fountains (found all over the city,, locals line up for the Completo Italiano, a hot dog smothered in tomato, creamy avocado and mayo.


For something a little more traditional, then head to El Hoyo ( It dates back to 1912 and serves hearty, rustic dishes, such as arrollado, strips of pork loin marinated in paprika, cumin, garlic, and oregano, eaten to a soundtrack of live folk music.




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The Aubrey (book via, in the Bellavista quarter, is a converted Spanish Mission-style mansion turned into a boutique hotel. Its 15 rooms boast period features (exposed beams, wood panelling and parquet flooring) but have been vamped up with crystal chandeliers, velvet chairs and mosaic tiling. The hotel is small and intimate and has a decayed elegance about it. Very evocative – much like Allende’s novels themselves.



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