A visit to Patagonia is an essential highlight of any first-time visit to Chile and where you choose to stay will determine your experience of this fascinating region.
Awasi Patagonia – the region's only Relais and Châteaux property – is located in its own private reserve, adjacent to Chile's dramatic Torres del Paine National Park. As with its sister property in the Atacama Desert, this luxury lodge operates on fully inclusive basis, with all meals, transportation and a huge range of activities on offer at no additional cost. But that only tells part of the story, as other lodges can claim to offer the same. The focus here is on providing a truly private and personalised experience both within the lodge and when out exploring.
Each of the 14 villas comes with a private guide and 4-wheel drive vehicle, which allows an unparalleled level of personalization and flexibility. That personalisation was evident from the outset during a recent stay with my wife; our guide, Diego, collected us from Puerto Natales, looked after us throughout our stay, lead all of our guided activities and at the end of our stay dropped us off at our next destination.
The daily excursions on offer are naturally geared towards showcasing the stark beauty of the region and its diverse wildlife, with trekking, horse-riding, mountain biking and photo safaris amongst the options. All excursions are graded by difficulty from low to high and organised into half day and full day options.
A full range of excursions within the Torres del Paine National Park is on offer - including the classic full-day trek to the base of the Torres - but the hotel's own reserve offers unique walks and some of the best opportunities for spotting the elusive puma.
The beauty of the Awasi formula is that with one guide and vehicle per room anything can be completely tailored to the whim of their guests. As part of our trip to Patagonia we were also staying at other properties in the region, so we opted to focus on treks within Awasi’s own private reserve.
And we absolutely made the most of the flexibility offered; we were able to adjust departure times and the length of each trek to suit our mood - and also the weather, which is notoriously changeable in Patagonia.
What really impressed me is how one morning Diego discreetly checked with us at breakfast whether we wanted to continue with our planned early morning walk in view of the unexpected rain showers. We opted to delay for an hour or two and were rewarded with a short but spectacular walk through Tolkein-esque Lenga forests, superb views over the mountains and the Torres beyond – complete with rainbows.
We also enjoyed excellent sightings of parakeets, condors and guanacos. Whilst we didn’t actually see any puma during our stay other guests reported seeing them and the evidence of their presence was all around in the form of guanaco and sheep carcasses.
Diego was extremely knowledgeable on the local flora and fauna but was also careful not to overload us with information, preferring to elaborate when he sensed we had a deeper interest. He also gave my wife and me space to enjoy the wilderness experience as if on our own, and yet was always close enough to be aware of our needs. This sense of when to educate us and when to be quiet and allow us to enjoy our own personal experience was extremely impressive.
Back at the lodge itself the 14 villas are discretely positioned to remain private from each of the others and still offer direct views of the Paine Massif. As the villas are scattered around the reserve, amongst the trees and wildlife, you really get the feeling of being in the wilderness rather than just seeing it.
Each villa has its own traditional wood-fired hot tub which is fired up ready for use on return from excursions. The hot tubs are discretely shielded for privacy, so guests can a warm soak in the early evening with a sundowner whilst soaking up the remoteness.
Inside, the villas are large and yet delightfully cosy. An entrance area provides storage for outdoor gear - very practical for keeping wet clothes and boots out of the living areas. This opens into a lounge area complete with log-burning stove, sofa and armchair (each villa is also equipped with central heating for those chilly Patagonian nights). Large windows allow in plenty of light and there are numerous power points for charging phones - not that you'll get mobile reception - and other equipment. A mini-bar with a range of beers, wines and soft drinks is included, along with a Nespresso machine and filtered water.
In the bedroom area, a large comfortable bed takes up the central area of the villa, offering views to the Torres even when lying down. Indeed, we left the shutters open all night to enjoy the night sky and subsequent sunrise.
A bathroom area comprises a large bath, also with a view of the Torres, a separate walk-in rain shower, twin sinks and a separate toilet. These villas offer one of the best examples of rustic luxury I have experienced anywhere.
The main lodge building, a short but steep walk from our villa, houses the reception, a homely lounge area, a small bar and the restaurant. Its elevated position provides spectacular 180-degrees views of the national park.
As you would expect from a Relais and Châteaux property, dining is an event in its own right, not withstanding the remote location which makes sourcing some ingredients rather tricky. Dinner is a leisurely three course affair, preceded by a delightful amuse bouche and cocktail of the day. The menu changes for each meal, and comprises a choice of two starters, mains and desserts - unless, of course, you have specified a dietary preference or requirement. Dishes are based on local Patagonian produce, so excellent lamb and beef feature regularly, as does Patagonian king crab - served in one case as a tasty ‘chulpe’, baked in a light cheese sauce. One of the unexpected delights we we enjoyed during our stay was a rich and gamey hare loin.
Wine pairings are offered with each course, but a wider range of included wines is available should you prefer to choose your own. The superb sommelier, Gabriela, delighted in having us sample other wines in between courses. As a result we enjoyed a number of genuinely interesting and unusual wines that we might not otherwise have chosen, including an earthy and rustic Las Monjes red from the pais grape, the first to be used in Chilean wine-making. Gabriela said this wine often polarises opinion but likes to offer guests the chance to sample it and it actually paired very well with the hare loin. The same grape is used in a Chilean sparkling rose called Estelado, which makes a lovely aperitif.
Perhaps most unusual was a 'sidra', a sparkling wine - not a cider as we expected - albeit fresh tasting with a hint of apple, not unlike a Blanquette de Limoux.
The lodge likes to present a pre-dinner cocktail each evening that uses local ingredients, such as the Calafate flower. And, with a good selection of digestifs also available, suffice to say we retired to bed each night thoroughly satiated.
During our stay the service was genuinely exceptional. All of the staff we encountered were warm and natural in their approach and couldn’t do enough for us. I felt they really took pride in what they do, often spotting the little things that make a real difference.
Indeed Awasi simply excels at rustic luxury and offers a level of personal attention that we simply didn’t experience anywhere elsewhere on our extended travels around Chile. This combination of personalisation, adventure and fine-dining makes it an excellent choice for an active honeymoon or for any couple simply wanting to get away from it all without compromising on quality.