Puerto Natales, Patagonia, Chile
A triumph of the architect's intention to partner nature with nurture, this starkly stunning hotel suffers one shortcoming—it's not remote enough.
Perhaps we come with expectations heightened by visits to the hotel's website but when, after a two–hour drive from Punta Arenas, we turn into the driveway just outside the town of Puerto Natales, we feel let down. Where are the expanses of rough desolation we imagined would stretch in every direction from the property? Traffic noise dims the whistling of the legendary Patagonia winds. There are pleasant views of broad expanses of water and the glacier–topped peaks in Parque National Bernardo O'Higgins, but the lights of town shine in the foreground.
Acclaimed Chilean architect German del Oro, inspired by the sheep farm buildings of the region, set the rambling low hotel in achingly natural surroundings. Our overall feeling is one of "be in awe, but keep your distance." Manager Hanja Razmilic and Matteo del Oro, the hotel's excursion leader and son of the architect, greet us with traditional Chilean cheek kisses. Tired from eight hours of travel, we are led down a ramp to our room with a view.
This is a hotel where form rules over function and we feel somewhat disoriented. The only seat in our room, for example, is a blunt square wooden cube before a built–in desktop. The floors and bathroom walls are tiled, amenities are spare, colors are vivid yellow and red on white. There's no television and no background music, the idea being that we listen to those endless Patagonian winds.
The pool and spa area are separated from the main building by a stepped outdoor walkway. Hallways surround a central courtyard, containing a few large boulders and native grasses waving in the wind––a hint at the Patagonian wilderness.
Public spaces ramble upward via ramps past cushioned benches which form conversational groupings around massive coffee tables and fireplaces. Stashed here and there are large–scale model sailing dinghies, glass cases of replicas of stone–art artifacts and bowls of grain. Local woods are widely used. Reaching the dining room, we find a low wood fire burning cheerfully in a chimneyed pit. Over traditional pisco sours and tasty appetizers, Matteo and Hanja help guests decide which excursions will suit their interests and abilities.
Options in the area range from easy to extreme. As at Hotel Salto Chico, equipment for hiking and climbing is available. While some guests opt for a hike to a mountaintop, we choose a day–long cruise up Seño Ultima Esperanza (Last Hope Sound) to visit Balmaceda and Serrano glaciers. Hotel guide Andreas joins us for a pleasant outing in good weather and shows us Patagonia's unique plant life during a walk to the glacier. To warm up on our return to the boat, we're offered neat pisco over glacial ice. We stop at a typical estancia (ranch) for a hearty lunch.
Our second day begins with a 2–1/2 hour minibus ride to view the highlights of spectacular 598,000–acre Torres del Paine National Park, a UNESCO biosphere reserve that features the youngest mountains on the planet—a mere 15 million years old. The trip is a bird and wildlife bonanza. We stop counting condors after spotting at least 20 soaring high in the updrafts or scavenging on the ground. Sweet–faced guanacos roam the valleys, red Chilean flamingos feed in a chilly lagoon. Ostrich–like rhea, known locally as ñandú, watch us quizzically, while pairs of gray and buff Upland Geese are everywhere.
Following a picnic in the wild Patagonian winds, we cross a hanging bridge and walk over a treed glacial moraine, then battle even stronger glacial catabatic winds to see huge icebergs driven from Glacier Grey to the windward end of the lake. Most breathtaking of all in a day of fabulous views is, of course, Torres del Paine (Towers of Paine) that rise vertically up to 9,400 feet above the Patagonian steppe. Nearby lie Los Cuernos (The Horns), 7,200 to 8,500 feet, beautifully carved from gray–pink granite with black sedimentary peaks.
As sunset approaches, we reluctantly leave the park and return to Remota to enjoy fine food, wine and conversation, leaving next day for the two–hour drive back to Punta Arenas airport. It's easy to understand why Remota has a three-night minimum and some guests end up staying for a week, doing fly fishing programs or more varied lake trips.
This hotel's unique architecture is an undoubted attraction and its services and programs are first–rate. As it has matured and adjusted to the needs of guests over the years, Remota has continued to get accolades from top travel and design magazines.
Web Address: www.remota.cl
Total Number of Rooms: 72
Rates: including airport transfer, all meals, open bar and daily excursions
$995 for three nights to $2,100 for seven nights per person, double occupancy
$1,125 for three nights to $2,450 for seven days, single occupancy
No tax for visitors in Chile if paying in US dollars
Note: Remota is 155 miles, about two hours, from Punta Arenas. Punta Arenas is a four–hour flight from Santiago. The hotel also offers complimentary transfers to El Calafate in Argentina.
Review by Lorie and Paul Bennett