There are many reasons to visit Chile -- to experience the rugged beauty of Patagonia, to taste the fabulous Chilean wines, to view the pristine waters of the Lake District. Here's another -- the power of the written word.
Nobel-Prize winning poet Pablo Neruda was born in Chile. If you're not familiar with Neruda's work (it's never too late to start reading his poetry), you may have seen the film Il Postino about Neruda in exile.
The Chilean poet was a writer, diplomat, dissident and all-round bon vivant. If you're a fan, pay homage to the poet with a visit to his three beloved homes in Chile: La Chascona in Santiago, La Sebastiana in Valparaiso and Isla Negra in Isla Negra. His spirit, personality and joie de vivre live on in all three homes.
None of the houses are what could be considered fancy, but all of them are decorated in a fanciful way -- filled with eccentric collectibles, mismatched furnishings, and memorabilia of importance to Neruda. Each house has a large photo of Walt Whitman; a shrine to the man Neruda called his "poetic father." And they all have the ubiquitous bar. The houses have a nautical theme décor but Neruda was the captain of the wet bar, pouring out libations for all his frequent guests.
The houses are now museums run by a foundation, Fundación Pablo Neruda, (tel. 56-2-777-8741; www.fundacionneruda.org/ing/home_ingles.htm). They are easily reached by bus (Pullman and Tur-Bus) in about an hour and a half from Santiago and an hour between Valparaiso and Isla Negra.
There are excellent tours of each home with wonderful guides but they show Neruda such reverence that the merriment that existed when he was in residence -- the laughter, the clinking of cocktail glasses, the banter among friends -- is missing. You'll have to conjure that up for yourself.
Isla Negra (Camino Vecinal/Poeta Neruda s/n, Isla Negra; tel. 56-35-461-284; Tour reservation required)
In 1939, Neruda was looking for a place to write in peace and quiet. He found this stone cottage by the sea and spent time here until his death in 1973. The house is decorated with collections of oddball items--bugs, shells, model ships, musical instruments, colored glass. (Neruda said that food and drink tasted better from colored glass.)
But the main décor is the view seen through huge windows facing the sea. As Neruda said, "The Pacific Ocean overflowed the map. There was no place to put it. It was so big, unruly and blue that it fitted nowhere. That's why they left it in front of my window."
Isla Negra, in the coastal town of Isla Negra, was Neruda's favorite house. He's buried here and, the minute you arrive, you'll understand why he would never want to leave. Although you can't move in, the house-museum has a restaurant, El Rincón del Poeta (The Poet's Corner). Install yourself at a lovely café table on the terrace. I recommend bringing a book of Neruda's collected poems in their original Spanish with English translations. Spend the afternoon staring out at sea and reading his poems aloud to other passing visitors!
La Sebastiana (Ferrari 692, Valparaíso; tel. 56-32-25-6606; Reservation recommended; From the bus station, taxi or local Bus O)
After coming to this hilly, port town for years to visit friends, Neruda finally got his own place in Valparaíso in 1961. He named the house, at the top of Florida hill with views of the sea, La Sebastiana in honor of the original owner, Sebastián Collado.
Neruda liked to entertain in this perch in the sky, with its 360-degree views of the sprawling, seaside town and the water. The décor is his usual mish-mash of personal memorabilia and nautical motifs. But there's a unique fireplace of his own design and it's thrilling to see the armchair he sat in to write and the makeshift writing desk-pad blotted with his signature green ink.
The house is narrow with winding staircases, but there are magnificent views at every turn, even from the bathroom. And, the rooms filled with knickknacks and curios give the impression that Pablo has just stepped out and will be back momentarily.
La Chascona (Fernando Marquez de la Plata 0192, Santiago; tel. 56 02 777 87 41; Tour reservation required)
This house, in Chile's capital city, Santiago, is decorated in the same eclectic style as the others, the only thing missing is the ocean views. Neruda built this "love nest" in 1953 for Matilde Urrutia, his eventual third wife. The name, La Chascona (tousled hair), referred to Matilde's unruly mane of red hair.
The property, on a cul-de-sac in the bohemian barrio Bellavista, has two main buildings said to represent a ship and a lighthouse. The rooms are filled with souvenirs from a lifetime of travel and distinguished service. And, in the Nerudian manner, flea-market finds are displayed along with works by Leger and Diego Rivera. The café, with its lovely terrace is a nice spot to sit and contemplate the life and works of this gifted poet.
There are gift shops (of course) and cafés at each location and a smattering of cultural programming such as poetry readings and stained-glass workshops.
Visiting these homes will not make you sad that the great poet is no longer with us. Neruda's spirit is so alive in all of the houses that you walk away from each one infected with his love for life.
Talk with fellow Frommer's travelers in our Chile Forum today.