Travellers head to Santa Cruz in Chile’s beautiful Colchagua region, for the relaxing vineyards and a spot of wine tasting – and why not?
The rough plan from Chillán is to take the train to San Fernandez and on to Santa Cruz, for some wonderful wine tasting amongst Chile’s famous wineries, but also to hopefully seek some warmth and to relax.
Depending on whether everything is operating, you can choose to travel this route either by train or bus.
The train from Chillán to San Fernando started running again in April, after its closure due to the destructive earthquake of 2010.
At the time of writing, the train operates only twice per day, on a Tuesday and Saturday, at 0:700hrs and 16:30hrs.
Train tip: Buy your train ticket at least one day in advance as it is only a small 3-carriage train. If you arrive on the morning of travel, there is a good chance you won’t get on. Just as we arrived on the day of travel at 06:45hrs, to a completely full train.
Reluctantly, the 07:00hrs bus (Nilahue) around the corner from the train station is the only alternative to San Fernando, with Santa Cruz as the final destination (apparently).
The trip along flat Ruta 5 highway is uneventful, except for the fact of discovering that the bus company goes direct to Santiago – something not advised at the time of purchasing the ticket.
The bus driver’s schedule means that he just dumps passengers (us) along the busy 6-lane highway, if you need to stop before Santiago. Not only is this a little dangerous, but you have to walk ten minutes along the highway to then catch a taxi to the San Fernando bus terminal. Once at the terminal, you need to catch the half-hour bus to Santa Cruz, as it is around 43 kilometres (27 miles) away.
If you know all of this in advance, then it isn’t a problem. Although when you don’t, with only a little Spanish and not many people around, it’s hard to work out connections on a busy highway.
Bus tip: Confirm whether your ticket takes you all the way to Santa Cruz or just dumps you along the highway near San Fernando.
Which wine tour?
Lets talk about a wine tour as this is the main reason most travellers visit this gorgeous region.
With a plethora of companies offering varying tours at similar prices, a little research is required.
Settled with the Viña Santa Cruz in the Colchagua’s Lolol region as not only does this vineyard offer a memorable wine tour, but also several interesting activities to fill your time with, whilst visiting. Albeit the wine tour is a little pricy, but then what wine tour isn’t?
The guided tour includes a walk around the wine cellar and tank room, which is followed by what everyone waits for, the wine tasting.
Wine Tour and Tasting
The mini bus collects you from your abode for the comfortable half-hour drive through shades of beautifully winter-coloured vineyards and on to the Santa Cruz Winery. (Your transport also waits a couple of hours, to return you to your abode.)
This winery is extremely picturesque even though it is winter.
The crushing stopped and the tour consists of explanations of wine making and the tasting. Still, a tour around the wine cellar’s huge aged barrels complete with an explanation of how the tank room functions, is exciting.
The tour finally arrives at the sumptuous dining area, which overlooks the extensive valley and mountains in the distance.
Treated to four types of delicious wines delivered from the vineyard, accompanied with freshly-baked bread to dip in the vineyard’s smooth olive oil, and fleshy juicy olives from the spoils, completes the perfect tour.
The golden and rust-coloured hues throughout the vineyard encompassed by melting sunlight, provides a stunning backdrop of the Colchagua Valley, warming your soul.
Things to do whilst at the vineyard
After the wine tasting, you are free to wander and relax around the vineyard until your ride back to the city.
Try a self-guided tour using the cable car to the highest point of the vineyard where a tiny thatched hut is set up as the small Cerro Chaman museum, containing replicas of the indigenous Rapa Nui, Mapuche, and Aymara cultures.
Great expansive vistas from this vantage point on the observatory deck.
Once at the top, an added bonus is playing with the vineyard’s two Llamas, but watch your fingers – they can bite!
An Easter Island (faux Moai) statue is also planted at the top of this hill, which looks a tad out-of-place.
If you are lucky enough to visit on a Friday or Saturday night, the “Tour through the Cosmos” is offered from the observatory at the vineyard. This tour allows you to stargaze galaxies and constellations from the observatory’s high-powered telescope, which is its pride and joy, and the ‘most powerful telescope in Chile, outside of Chile’s astronomical observatory’.
Very few visitors around today so had the vineyard to ourselves. Not sure whether this is because it’s winter or just not a busy day.
The city of Santa Cruz holds enough interest for several days, even if you don’t wish to indulge in a wine-tasting tour.
Plaza De Armas is a popular meeting point for locals and offers many quaint resting areas amongst calming trees.
The burnt orange winter colours are just dazzling against the aged wooded browns. Lovely colonial architecture also adorns this plaza.
Since the 1800s, Santa Cruz was renown as a city of agriculture, with wine, tomatoes, and wheat as the main produce. Handicrafts also featured heavily in the city’s reputation.
Viña Laura Hartwig
A vineyard that is walkable from town is the Viña Laura Hartwig. Although closed during winter, you can still venture around the outside of the building and the beautiful grounds.
On this day, a horseman is training his horse and mesmerising to watch such skill, devotion, and patience. As I didn’t like to interrupt his concentration during his training, I’m not sure what this session was about.
Although this vineyard started its days as a family-owned crop farm in 1928, dairy and crops followed in the 1960s, then with the same family still owning this land, transitioning to a lucrative vineyard in recent times.
Relics of a bygone era adorn the grounds, which make for delightful photo subjects, especially in black and white.
Preferring to stay in Hostals (hostels) whilst travelling in South America, mainly because they are usually family-run, friendly, secure, and provide good accommodation for a lower price, Santa Cruz is no exception.
When thinking Hostals in South America, these are not typically backpacker-style shared dorms. Instead, this type of accommodation provides a private room with en-suite, and usually a communal cooking area. Occasionally, you even have the whole house to yourself.
Hostal Casa Familia provides comfy beds, friendly staff, a good breakfast, is a quiet home, with the added bonus of only a short ten-minute walk to town.
Leaving Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz provides an excellent break with valuable relaxation time, if you have been on the road for a while.
I recommend this stopover, especially, before the onslaught of Chile’s incredibly busy capital, Santiago.