What’s so special?
This lodge is located in the Atacama desert in northern Chile, with flamingos flocking nearby and volcanoes lining the horizon. Atacama is the world’s top location for stargazers, due to the consistently clear night skies.
How they rate it
“The lodge itself is simple rustic elegance with tiled floors and wooden ceilings,” says Condé Nast Traveller. But “the space, freedom and freaky beauty of the landscape” is the real highlight of Atacama. During the day there are guided excursions, including an 18km “flat and fun” bike ride to Laguna Piedra, which is “a large salt lake fed from a spring where you can swim”. The lodge also has 20 horses, so you can take lessons or go riding on the trails, or even take a picnic to the thermal baths of Termas de Puritama, “where a pool is reserved especially for Explora guests”. Then at night, visit the observatory, where your guide will “focus you on the constellations” of the southern hemisphere.
Meals are often served outdoors, and include “quinoa, pataska (stewed vegetables) and turrón de chanar, a sweet sticky pudding made with honey”.
Four nights cost from £2,406 per person full board, including flights, transfers and daily excursions. See www.journeylatinamerica.co.uk, or call 020-8747 8315.
Hotel Castillo Rojo, Santiago
What’s so special?
This four-storey townhouse was built in 1923. After decades of neglect, this architectural gem has been renovated and turned into a 19-room boutique hotel. It’s ideally placed to enable you to explore the galleries, craft shops, cafés and theatres of the Bellavista area of Santiago, the Chilean capital.
How they rate it
Each floor has been renovated in a different style, says Mark Stratton in The Independent. “A Gothic stone staircase climbs to a lounge”, while “the velvet sofas, chandeliers from Buenos Aires and sparkling lapis lazuli crystalware evoke a Wild West bordello”. The bedrooms are on the top floor, “clustered around an original French wooden staircase”. Inside the rooms, “original features such as the wooden flooring marry with reproduction dark wood furnishings to create a restrained sobriety”.
The hotel has just opened, and currently only offers breakfast, but it’s a tasty meal with croissants sourced from the French manager’s brother’s bakery and “delicious jams”. A restaurant serving Chilean food is opening soon.
Doubles from £167 a night, including breakfast. For more visit www.castillorojohotel.com, or call 00 56 2352 4500.
Trips for chocoholics
France’s leading chocolate producer Valrhona recently launched La Cité du Chocolat at Tain-l’Hermitage, near Lyon (Citeduchocolat.com). It’s a ‘discovery centre’ devoted to teaching the public about chocolate, “housed in a stunning Modernist building… by French architect Pierre Barillot”, says Andy Lynes in The Independent. Current exhibitions include “From Pod to Square: Chocolate in Every Form“, featuring 15 chocolate sculptures.
If you’re willing to go long-haul to feed your addiction, visit the Tree to Bar experience at Boucan by Hotel Chocolat, in Saint Lucia (pictured, see Hotelchocolat.com). It’s set among the cocoa groves of the Rabot Estate. You can “pick ripe cocoa pods and learn about the chocolate-making process from fermenting to sun-drying and grinding the pods”. The hotel restaurant offers dishes such as “citrus salad with white-chocolate dressing” or “a cacao crème brûlée”. Alternatively, visit Oaxaca in Mexico. The city is at the heart of Mexico’s chocolate industry, and its mile-long Calle Francisco Xavier Mina is known as the ‘chocolate street’. Visit one of its small cafés for a hot chocolate and “watch cocoa beans being ground in the window of Mayordomo”.
Closer to home, learn all about Britain’s chocolate-making history at the Cadbury World visitor centre at the Bournville factory near Birmingham (Cadburyworld.co.uk), or learn about York’s historical role as Britain’s chocolate capital at York’s Chocolate Story (Yorkschocolatestory.com).