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Palacio Astoreca—Valparaíso

Calle Montealegre 149, Cerro Alegre, Valparaíso, Chile.

Emerging from a patient, careful restoration of a prominent 1920s building, Valparaíso has scored again with a stunning boutique hotel addition with terrific views and a top–notch chef.

The fact that Palacio Astoreca resembles a doll's house is fitting, as the story behind this 1920s red and white hotel resembles a work of fiction. It was built by a wealthy Croatian émigré as a gift to his English wife, Mary Constance, to help her feel less homesick. The most recent owners, however, are Swiss–Chilean couple, Vincent Juillerat and Francisca Joannon, under whose vision the palacio was converted from a crumbling ruin to a five–star design hotel.

It took two years, US $5 million and three local architects to complete the restoration. But, in August 2012, the stucco–and–brick palacio opened its shiny doors. Sitting high on Cerro Alegre (one of over 40 cerros, or hills, that make up the city of Valparaiso), Palacio Astoreca overlooks a pretty plaza and has sweeping views across the port.

Inside things are far from childlike: this is a seriously slick design hotel. Edge your way past the tourists gathering around the entrance taking pictures and dreaming of a bed within, and you'll find yourself in the spacious, light reception room. Original parquet flooring (found throughout the hotel) is dotted with elegant, brightly upholstered Art Deco furniture. A large black–and–white painting by contemporary Swiss artist, Frédéric Clot, fills the wall outside the library.

The 23 bedrooms come in different shapes and sizes; there are 17 suites, and all the rooms have large windows taking in views of the colorful city. Room 10, a junior suite, has a charming stand–alone bathtub in its bay window; and room 17 has the most windows and therefore, the best views.

There are elements of similarity between the rooms, such as contemporary wallpaper — think black and white flowers — filling the wall behind the large boat–like wooden beds. Also, there are unique but similar hand–painted ceramic tiles in the bathrooms, and the bed throws are woven by artisans from nearby Valle Hermoso.

The restaurant, Alegre, is below the reception with views over a small plaza. Food is a major highlight at Palacio Astoreca (and in a trip to Valparaíso for that matter, with restaurants like Pasta e Vino on nearby Cerro Concepcion keeping visitors very well fed and wined). The Astoreca just recently brought on Chef Francisco Araya as Executive Chef of their onsite restaurant Alegre. I had dinner at Alegre on my first night and was amazed how imaginative and varied it was. We had not one, but two amuse–bouches before starters: one was fish in a silver tin, and the other was a soufflé in an espresso mug which shrunk away when tapped with a spoon.

To start I had scallops, then sea bass with asparagus, and I finished with churros con chocolate, a rearrangement of a classic which arrived in a dark chocolate shell and included whisky–soaked bananas. It was only afterwards that I found out the chef's previous posting was at Spain's famous El Bulli restaurant. Then things began to make sense. Even if you don't manage to stay at Palacio Astoreca, a meal at Alegre should be factored into any Valparaíso visit.

The service is top–notch too. Attentive waiters all in black flock around the dining room (everyone speaks English), the reception is stocked with brunette beauties and upstairs the chambermaids are decked out a la French maids. Below the restaurant there's a wine cave, which can be visited pre'dinner so as to select something to quaff along with food; or specific wine tastings can be arranged.

The spa is on the same level as the wine cave, but at the other end of the building. With dark slate walls and an indoor pool, you'll find yourself gravitating to this lower lair after a day exploring the city. There's an outdoor wood–powered hot tub, an enormous hammam, and one very satisfactory massage room.

Cerro Alegre is a fashionable part of town, with coffee shops, smart restaurants and boutiques lining the cobbled streets. Next to Palacio Astoreca is the copper roofed Palacio Baburizza — also once home to a Croatian businessman, but recently reopened as the Museo de Bellas Artes.

A fresh wind is blowing through Valparaíso, with restorations taking place throughout town. The other five–star hotel, Casa Higueras, also on Cerro Alegre, still has the best terrace and outdoor pool, but Palacio Astoreca is the newest, freshest hotel in town — and not many places anywhere can boast a chef straight from El Bulli.

Web Address:
Total Number of Rooms: 23
Published rates: $230 to $490

Review and by Gabriel O'Rorke, photos by O'Rorke and Palacio Astoreca.