Exploring Patagonia, Chile
The remote region reinvents with a new crop of design-savvy resorts and camps.
There’s a palpable reverence for the surrounding wilderness in the new breed of Patagonia hotel. The structures act as observation decks for the world around them, whether they’re translucent geodesic domes or former industrial complexes outfitted with floor-to-ceiling windows. The designs draw heavily on the natural world and from a compulsion to protect it: Sustainably harvested woods cover interiors and exteriors alike; elevated outdoor walkways preserve the ground beneath them; everything from tender Magellan lamb to the Chilean Syrah it’s paired with is locally sourced. And these are not resorts for shut-ins—most offer robust wilderness-exploration programs that encourage guests to hike the Andes, fish the mountain streams and explore the arid plains on horseback. Despite the recent wave of new properties, there’s still no unified aesthetic, no identifiable archetype of Patagonian style. Enrique Concha—the prominent Chilean designer who transformed a cold-storage plant into a hotel—puts it this way: “Style doesn’t exist in Patagonia.”
Tierra Patagonia: High design at the edge of the world
Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park is a protected wilderness reserve flecked with stubbly sage grasses and thorny gray brush, where lazy herds of guanaco graze and giant condors float over the land. In this remote backcountry, the winds screaming off the snowcapped mountains run the show, flattening the forests and shifting the sand hills all the way to the edge of Sarmiento Lake, where Tierra Patagonia Hotel & Spa sits.
From the outside, it looks like a modern Noah’s Ark washed up on the shore. Cazu Zegers, one of three prominent Santiago-based architects who designed the hotel, took inspiration from the winds by integrating the undulating wood-and-glass hotel into a long bank of low-rising hills. Zegers clad the exterior and interiors in local Lenga wood from a sustainably planted forest. The exterior appears malleable, as though the winds are responsible for the exaggerated curves. The wood inside will keep its honey-colored hue, but over time the elements will cause the outside cladding to gray. The suites are done floor to ceiling in Lenga and embellished with only downy sheepskin throws and picture windows that frame the distant mountains. The restaurant, bar, lounge and library are all housed in one grand communal space.
But Tierra Patagonia is more than just a pretty crash pad. Wilderness excursions depart several times a day, ranging from light hikes around turquoise lakes and soft grassy plains to challenging climbs (all excursions included). The Pingo valley is one of the greenest spots in Torres del Paine National Park, and Tierra Patagonia’s guided journey there includes the magnificent Grey Glacier, pounding waterfalls and rock formations like nothing else on earth.
The Details: Rooms at Tierra Patagonia Hotel & Spa start at $2,460 for four nights, including excursions. To book or for more details, call 56-2/207-8861 or go to tierra patagonia.com.
EcoCamp Patagonia: A luxe tent city
Camping in Patagonia is a romantic notion complicated by a reality that includes blistering winds and occasional torrential downpours. Javier López and Yerko Ivelic tackled the problem by creating EcoCamp Patagonia, a string of 25 tent-like geodesic domes that are waterproof, wind-resistant and easy on the eyes. This luxury encampment in Torres del Paine National Park looks like a futuristic hobbit village and was inspired by the dome-shaped huts typical of Patagonia’s nomadic Kawésqar people. The suite and loft domes are sealed in green and transparent coverings that keep the elements out but let in views of the Andes and the stars. Larger domes house the lounge, bar and dining areas, and the whole camp is connected by a network of raised wooden platforms, which reduce EcoCamp’s environmental footprint and give the impression of living in the trees.
Like Tierra Patagonia, EcoCamp Patagonia offers a clutch of day trips into the wilderness. Local adventure experts act as guides on mountain fly-fishing expeditions to the icy Baguales and Serrano rivers; EcoCamp provides instruction, transportation and equipment ($555 a day, including suite accommodation). For the non-angler, there’s the Torres del Paine to Perito Moreno full-day sightseeing blitz, which begins with a sunrise breakfast in Torres del Paine and moves across the border into Argentina to Los Glaciares National Park for a boat tour of the Perito Moreno Glacier ($450 as day, including standard accommodation). Two countries and countless natural wonders later, you’re back at EcoCamp for cocktails and dinner under the stars.
The Details: EcoCamp Patagonia packages start at $920 per person for a three-night stay. To book or for more information, call 800-901- 6987 or go to ecocamp.travel.
The Singular Patagonia: A postindustrial revelation
It took ten years of renovations and remodeling, much of it guided by the renowned Chilean interior designer Enrique Concha, to turn a former cold-storage and sheep-processing plant into a 57-room resort and spa. Today the industrial behemoth’s massive buildings—essentially three-story refrigerators—are enjoying a second life as the region’s most impressive lodging. Concha kept things simple in the rooms with concrete ceilings, minimal furniture and walls painted mostly in taupe. The idea is to keep your eyes trained on the icy blue fjords and towering Andes visible through the massive panoramic window that constitutes the longest wall in every room.
The beating heart of the hotel is the restaurant, bar and lounge. The room recalls a soaring brick cathedral, if cathedrals served pisco sours to guests perched on oversized couches. Despite the enormous proportions, the dining room is cozy, sectioned off and shares its quarters with an open kitchen. Here, a team of regional cooks works under the helm of chef Laurent Pasqualetto, who trained at Fouquet’s in Paris. But it’s the hotel’s architectural heritage that makes it stand out in this recent wave of Patagonia retreats—you wander back to your room along ribbons of elevated glass walkways that amplify the powerful scale of the hotel’s historical bones.
The Details: Rooms at The Singular Patagonia start at $350. To book or for more information, call 56-2/954-0480 or go to thesingular.com.
Plan for at least one day en route in both directions. The first stop from the States is either Buenos Aires, Argentina, or Santiago, Chile. From there, it’s less than four hours in the air to Punta Arenas or Puerto Natales. Both airports are within driving distance of all three hotels.