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“Santiago used to have the reputation for being a boring city”, claims Agustin, who today is taking me round the city to discover three of Santiago’s neighbourhoods that have transformed most over the years. And it’s true, this poor reputation once had substance: just a few years ago, the bars closed early, there was very little in the way of recreational activities and the gastronomic offerings were very limited.
However, all this is changing very quickly. After decades’ worth of sustained growth and a lengthy political and social transition, Chileans are starting to transform their public spaces and place more importance on the arts, aesthetics and the avant-garde.
The following three neighbourhoods of Santiago de Chile are essential destinations if you want to experience these changes first-hand.
At the foot of San Cristobal is the most well-known artsy-bohemian area in Santiago which, since the inception of the Patio Bellavista project in 2006, has gone through an impressive rebirth, thanks to the restoration of a “cite” (a type of small neighbourhood with a long walkway acting as the centre) and several industrial warehouses. It is now one of the most interesting culinary and cultural centres anywhere in South America.
Bellavista’s ‘explosion’ can be seen not only in the plethora of upscale restaurants and bars that line the streets, but also in some of the gorgeous houses which have been converted into boutique hotels, as is the case with The Aubrey, which opened in 2011.
And to think that, in my day, people only came here to drink.
Located between four of Santiago’s icons (Plaza Italia – central to all sporting and political celebrations in Chile -, the famous Avenida Alameda, the Mapocho River and Santa Lucia Hill), few neighbourhoods are more authentic tan Lastarria. Despite the fact that it was founded at the beginning of the 19th century and that during the the 30s and 60s it was an enclave for the well-off, it was only during the 90s that it began to be seen as a cultural heritage site. This led to a the preservation of the facades of the neighbourhood, which resulted in its labyrinthine streets slowly filling up with cafes, bars and cultural centres, further strengthening its bohemian and intellectual character.
I would definitely recommend getting involved in the numerous interconnected activities that the neighbourhood has to offer, take in some live music in one of the charming bars or simply go for a wander and get lost in Lastarria’s cobblestone alleys that remind me so vividly of some of the artsy neighbourhoods in Europe.
Of the three neighbourhoods that I visited today, this is the one that surprised me most. Firstly because it reminds me of a modernised version of Buenos Aires’ Palermo and also because, unlike Lastarria and Bellavista, Italia simply never existed as it does today.
This part of the city, which is shared by the districts of Ñuñoa and Providencia, was once home to traditional bungalows, “cites”, car repair garages and furniture restoration workshops. It was only a few years ago that these buildings were taken over by young artsy types and chefs who began a silent revolution. Today, the area is ideal for taking a walk through its numerous squares which span this open-air artistic complex with its choice of independent boutiques, alternative galleries and shops that you wouldn’t find in any of the myriad of malls that can be found throughout the city.
I was particularly surprised by an art gallery called “Formato”, whose huge window looks out onto the street and in which original works of art from 30 artists in four formats and at four prices are displayed. Ivan Barreto, a successful Peruvian ex advertising executive who moved to Santiago decades ago, is the owner of the gallery and one of the driving forces behind the area’s regeneration. He told us that this concept has been very successful and the pieces get reinstated very quickly. It is an extraordinary way to make art more accessible to local people. And therein lies the fascinating character and spirit of Italia.
Time posted: 07:00
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