Pucón, located on Villarrica Lake in Chile’s Lakes District, is a four-hour (at least) drive north from Puerto Montt, or a one-hour charter flight. In the spring and summer, the area is green and lush, with trees growing up the sides of rolling hills. In the winter, skiing takes place atop the region’s handful of volcanoes, including the magnificent conical Villarrica. The 22,000-person town, filled with rustic wooden buildings, has an alpine ambience and an adrenaline-sports culture that attracts tourists, backpackers, snowboarders and skiers, and New Age hippies in droves.
Twenty minutes east is Vira Vira (rooms from $1,650; Parcela 22a Quetroleufu; 56-45/237-4000), a hacienda hotel that opened in November 2014. Swiss owners Michael and Claudia Paravicini chose Pucón for its activities: horseback riding, hiking, mountain biking, river rafting, kayaking, sailing, boating, snowshoeing, fishing, birding, and hot springing, to name a few. But they designed their intimate hotel, with its 18 guest rooms, suites, and villas, to be blissfully secluded from the action in town, making Pucón a new Chile luxe stop.
“Why go to Patagonia?” Michael asked one afternoon as we strolled the property, which includes a vegetable garden and dairy farm. He doesn’t consider the Lakes District to be in Patagonia—a direct contrast to signs around the area marketing “Northern Patagonia.” He thinks the perfect Chile itinerary starts at the Atacama Desert in the north, then heads south to Santiago, Viña Vik, and Vira Vira. He likes that there is an excellent German hospital near his resort. Southern Patagonia, he tells me, offers very little in the way of medical help.
Regardless of Vira Vira’s location, its activities embody the Patagonia ethos. There is something for everyone, all within a half-hour drive of the hotel. Most people schedule two activities per day, one in the morning, around 9:30 a.m., and one in the afternoon, around 3 p.m., interspersed with on-property gourmet lunches and dinners (think chicken soup, tomato salad, fettuccine, pot roast, and carrot sorbet). In the evening, it’s all about relaxing around the lodge. Book one of the 12 villas, which are designed with Swiss precision. They all overlook the Liucura River, running behind the property. Each villa has a mudroom, a living room (with floor-to-ceiling windows), a rain shower, and an outdoor bathtub.
I picked fishing, snowshoeing, horseback riding, and cycling. My fishing guide, Philippe, had a wooden boat kitted out with reel and fly rods. It was spring, so we were trying to hook rainbow trout instead of summer salmon in the crystal-clear river behind the hotel with views of the Villarrica volcano at every bend. A different guide, Mario, took me horseback riding in a hilly forest at a stable run by a former coach of the Spanish Olympic equestrian team. He also snowshoed with me up the active volcano (which last erupted in March 2015 and, according to Mario, was safe to climb). He also took me mountain biking. As we got started, he said, “Look, it’s going to rain a little bit,” and pointed to some clouds. It started to drizzle. And then it started to pour. I told Mario I wanted to stop, but he dropped a bomb. “You said you came to Chile because you wanted to experience Patagonia. This is Patagonia!” By God, I biked on.
When I got back to the hotel, my hair was dripping wet and my clothes were soaked through with mud everywhere. “You look awesome!” Mario said. (It was hard not to feel awesome.) I went back to my villa and ordered hot chocolate. Housekeeping came to pick up my cycling clothes, which the hotel laundered in less than two hours. Drying out my shoes in front of the wood-burning fireplace, I couldn’t help but smile, thinking about what Mario had howled into the rain while we were biking: “In Patagonia, your spirit needs to be waterproof!”
Image Credit: VIRA VIRA Hacienda Hotel