Beautiful though the lakes of northern Italy are, ringed by tall mountains and overlooked by luxurious villas and medieval castles, their allure pales when compared to the dramatic lakes of southern Chile. Travel to the world’s end and you’ll discover a fairy-tale region of shimmering blue water, emerald forest, Andean peaks, and steaming hot springs that bubble beneath smoldering volcanoes.
Journey through Chile’s Lake District, anchored in its north by Temuco and in its south by Puerto Montt, and you’ll encounter rare primordial beauty. The region takes its name from the magical lakes that spread across its entirety, their expansive, deep-blue waters lying serenely at the feet of soaring volcanoes. Picturesque towns, dotted with plazas and the spires of churches built by the German communities that settled here in the 19th century, overlook the lakeshores and make for romantic stopovers. Trails run from these towns to lakeside beaches of black volcanic and fine white sand, skirting around lush forest along the way. A barefoot walk across the sand, beneath green forest and dramatic smoking peaks, inspires a childlike delight; a sensation of closeness to nature that intensifies on sinking into the warm, mineral-rich lake water.
FORGET THE ITALIAN LAKES?
Loved by everyone from Roman emperors and the Romantic poets to Hollywood actor George Clooney, who owns a villa on Lake Como, Italy’s lakes have seduced visitors for centuries. Classical villas and turreted castles dot the perimeters of the lakes here and picture-perfect towns spill down to their shorelines. Close to Milan and Verona, they are easily accessed.
The region’s easy access means that it swarms with tourists come the high season, when restaurant prices soar higher than the surrounding peaks, driving tours of the lakes to turn into grueling ordeals, and cafés have standing room only. Wordsworth described Italy’s lakes as “a treasure the earth keeps to itself.” Unfortunately, this is no longer the case.
The best time to visit the lakes is outside the high season, which runs from early June to September. If you’re booking a stay at one of the bigger lakes, choose a small town with authentic Italian appeal rather than a resort – Malcesine on Lake Garda or Varenna on Lake Como is recommended. Consider too a smaller lake destination, such as picturesque Lake Iseo.
Getting There and Around
International flights land at Chile’s capital city, Santiago, from where flights depart daily for Temuco. Marquette Airport is a 4-mile (7-km) taxi ride from Temuco’s city center. Buses are a good way of traveling around the region, but a car is essential if you want to explore more freely. Bikes are great for exploring towns and lakeshores and horse-riding through forests can be breathtaking.
Where to Eat
Where to Eat Delicious regional specialties include freshwater trout and salmon, game and, in coastal cities, seafood. Have a quality Chilean wine or a local bock beer with your meal, followed by a German dessert and a glass of Pisco Sour, Chile’s national drink.
Where to Stay
Overlooking Lake Villarrica in Pucón, Hotel Antumalal (www. antumalal.com), built in the Bauhaus style, boasts a luxury spa and suites with stunning lake views.
When to Go
Visit between December and February, the southern hemisphere’s summer, when days are long and warm and the lakes look magnificent.
Where you can laze in hot springs that bubble up from beneath the earth’s crust. Horse rides on these slopes reveal virgin forests with hidden waterfalls, gushing streams, and ancient woods of monkeypuzzle trees. Hiking trails lead to the summits of the great Villarrica and Osorno volcanoes, sacred to the Mapuche, the proud native people of the Lake District. Peering into their bubbling craters at spitting gases and glowing magma, the sensation is one of gazing into the very heart of the earth.