The nature show at the end of the Earth
Scenery that brings on goosebumps, and hardly any people. What could be better?
IF YOU’VE EVER WONDERED just how wide the world is, go to Torres del Paine. A place where mountains jag across the skyline like a Stegosaurus spine, this southern Chilean national park encapsulates high-mountain drama in the extreme. Enormous icebergs the colour of mint pierce vast lakes. Soaring cliffs appear to cleave off the end of the Earth. Thundering rivers create gashes through untouched grasslands. And glaciers bejewel peaks, reflecting the sunlight with piercing intensity. You can’t get much closer to Antarctica than this, and you feel the pull of the South Pole in everything you do. The weather is unpredictable at best, frigid at worst – even in summer. One minute the day is blindingly bright; the next, winds rip through valleys, towing with them a procession of inky clouds. Condors swirl in stormy thermal currents while guanaco, huemul deer and pumas scatter in search of shelter from the bullet-like force of the rain. In this rugged, spellbinding corner of Patagonia, nature tends to be a bit of a show-off. Somewhat inconceivably, this is the setting for a low-slung slice of luxury. The Singular Patagonia sits like a jewellery box on the banks of Ultima Esperanza (“Last Hope”) Sound, the hotel’s remoteness adding to its unexpected design drama: estancias (ranches) you might expect in this part of the world, but a 57-room retreat occupying a repurposed 1915 cold-storage plant? The architecturally arresting building in the middle of nowhere was used for its original purpose for 60 years. It was declared a national monument in 1996, became a museum in 2004, and finally a hotel in 2011. Local designer Pedro Kovacic preserved red bricks and exposed pipes in the reception area, as well as the old funicular that wobbles down to the main building. It’s steampunk, but without the whimsy. To reach the 57 guest rooms you walk past the heart of the former factory’s operations: massive post-Victorian turbines and machines, shiny pistons and cogwheels that once made everything hum. At the other end, accommodations are stylish without distracting from the real eye candy outside, with the Señoret Channel and its rickety pier glimpsed through six-metre-high windows.
This view, best taken from bed, is the only special feature you need. The hotel’s schedule of activities are all quintessentially Patagonian: hiking Torres del Paine, voted the eighth wonder of the world in 2013; cruising to glaciers; fly fishing; kayaking. One afternoon we zip across a fjord to La Peninsula Ranch, a working estancia where Chilean cowboys lead us on a horse ride across the Antonio Varas Peninsula.