The small city of Curicó, Chile is a laid back base for exploring nearby Radal Siete Tazas National Park and it’s challenging El Bolsón hike, experiencing a small but compelling wine region, and enjoying some 100% legit pizza. Make the most of all that and more with our comprehensive city travel guide.
Hiking around Curicó, Chile
Probably the most famous thing about Curicó is the city’s main plaza and its enormous palm trees. The palms are nice and the park is relaxing, but we wanted less landscaped nature, so we headed to Radal Siete Tazas National Park to welcome walking season with the challenging El Bolsón hike.
It took about an hour and a half to drive from Curicó to the Parque Ingles Ranger Sation in Radal Siete Tazas National Park. The road was well-paved until the final 25 miles (40 km) of dirt road, but that was undergoing a tremendous amount of maintenance and upgrading when we were there.
This area is home to a couple of waterfalls (including the ubiquitous Bridal Veil Falls, pictured above). But the star watery attraction is Radal Siete Tazas. This is is a series of seven descending pools and it’s the centerpiece of Radal Siete Tazas National Park. The pools are a favorite spot in summer when this area can get packed with visitors and the increasingly rough and narrow dirt road can get seriously backed up, especially on weekends. Plan accordingly.
If you want to hike the El Bolsón trail in the Parque Ingles section of the national park in summer, you really have to plan. Only 80 day hikers are allowed on this trail per day. In summer, hikers line up at 6 am to get a slot. During our visit in early spring, however, we simply walked into the Parque Ingles ranger station at 11 am, paid the 6,000 CPL (about US$8) entrance fee (up from 5,000 CLP in 2018), and hit the trail. You must fill out a registration slip before hiking and you must return the slip when you’re done. The ranger station also has clean bathrooms.
The El Bolsón hike, named for the El Bolsón refuge located at the turnaround point, is 7 miles (11.5 km) each way and the trail climbs 2,200 feet (680 meters) from the ranger station to the refuge then descends back down to the ranger station. The trail is in good condition and very well marked. The first 3.5 miles (6 km) of the trail has a fairly gentle incline and includes three river crossings. One is an easy walk over well-placed rocks and the other two are a bit trickier.
The remaining section of trail to the refuge is steeper and includes an even trickier water crossing. We were glad for our trekking poles for balance and for our water-resistant hiking boots. There are also some long sections of trail that are very rocky and a few sections covered in shallow springtime snow and ice melt. The final mile (2 km) is very, very steep up to the El Bolsón refuge which consists of two basic buildings in a spectacular bowl at 5,500 feet (1,676 meters) under a dramatic fang-like peak called Colmillo del Diablo.
We saw very few animals along the way (just lizards and small birds, really) and the trail was very exposed to the sun, so be sure to use sunscreen and wear a hat and bring lots of water. We did this hike in three hours up and three hours down, though the average time is four hours each way. We were tired but satisfied by the time we returned our registration slip to the park ranger. And now we’re truly ready for hiking season.
There are a few basic shops and restaurants and near the ranger station, but selection and hours are limited so bring your own water and food for the hike if you can. There’s also a private camping area near the Parque Ingles ranger station and a lot of other places renting basic cabins or operating camping areas outside the park boundaries along the road.
Wine tasting around Curicó
Technically speaking, the Curicó area is an inland part of the Maule wine region which extends toward the coast. However, winemakers in and around Curicó are beginning to feature and promote the area’s unique terroir. Some even call the wine area here “Sagrada Familia” to further distinguish it from Maule. We learned more during visits to two very, very different wineries in Curicó.
Miguel Torres is an extremely high-volume Spanish winery that’s been making wine since 1870 when the Romans planted some vines. Miguel Torres Chile has many hundreds of acres of grapes planted around Curicó (where they started) and in other parts of the country and it’s all farmed organically and to fair trade regulations. Miguel Torres recently bought additional land to plant in the Patagonia region, joining a growing number of wineries making a go of it in the extreme environment in the south.
The Miguel Torres winemaking facility in Curicó gets 25% of its power from solar panels and they use eco bottles which are lighter than normal wine bottles. All Miguel Torres wines are also vegan because they never add enzymes as many wineries do.
In Chile, Miguel Torres produces four main lines of wines. La Causa is the newest label and it focuses on traditional (and often ignored) grapes like Pais which they age in oak and the finished wine gives flavors of cherry skins and light fruits with a bit of buttery pomegranate after it opens up a bit. La Causa also produces blends and a 100% cinsault. The Las Mulas brand is always 100% organic (other lines may incorporate grapes purchased from non-organic vineyards). The Las Mulas 100% Carmenere was sweet and smoky with a minerally finish. Then there’s the Santa Digna line and the VIGNO brand (our favorite) which is part of a regional cooperative of wineries making high quality 100% Carignane wines.
Miguel Torres offers basic 1-hour guided tours (our guide, Pamela, spoke excellent English) which include a few show vines and parts of the winemaking facilities. Wine tastings are also offered in the on-site wine shop. You can also bike around the vines.
On the other end of the wine spectrum is Viña Pons Raineri. Founded in 1850 by Don Juan Bozzolo, this is one of the oldest continually family-owned wineries in Chile. Bozzolo was an immigrant from Italy who succeeded well enough to build a regal home on his 750 acres (300 hectares) of vines. For a time, those vines produced a lot of so-so quality wine. Then the operation fell into neglect, but it never left the family.
Now, a fifth-generation is resurrecting the vineyard and modernizing the winemaking operation under the Viña Pons Raineri name. Since 2017, the winemaking operation is back in business being lead by Benjamin Pons Ranieri who is the great-grandson of Don Juan Bozzolo. The operation is now much smaller with a focus on quality, not quantity.
The vineyards are producing sauvignon blanc, syrah, pinto noir, cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot, malbec, carmenere, and semillon grapes. Out of those raw materials, the winery is making wine under three labels.
Proeza is their entry-level wine with a very pale, super-drinkable 100% sauvignon blanc that’s fruit-forward (mostly pineapple) with a bit of concrete but not a lot of mineral flavors. There’s also a Proeza 100% carmenere and a Proeza 100% cabernet sauvignon as well (we didn’t taste either of those wines).
Triada is their mid-level wine. The 100% Triada malbec has a lot of plum and pepper and a bit of acetone and tannins on the side of your mouth which makes it a bit lighter than the velvety Argentinean malbecs. The winery’s top line is called Cocoliche. The lovely Cocoliche 100% carmenere is buttery with hints of sour cherry and some tannins in the finish.
At the moment, all of the Viña Pons Raineri wines are single varietal, but they are planning some blends with their new French winemaker.
Like the wines, the tasting room is also a work in progress. The original home Buzzolo built, which is very much like a southern plantation home in the US, was badly damaged in two recent earthquakes. The original tower was lost and the entire structure was compromised. But the ground floor of the house has been rehabilitated including original tile and wood flooring, original furniture from Italy, original light fixtures, and other touches that give the airy space a European romance.
Convivial wine tastings (advance reservations required) are held in the dining room near a huge fireplace until the downstairs cellar can be upgraded for the task. And the family plans to renovate the top floor as well to create a handful of winery suites for tourists.
Sleeping in Curicó
Hotel Boutique Raices opened in the center of Curicó in 1958 as a government hotel. Eventually, it was bought by the family that still runs the place. Subsequent renovations modernized and improved the hotel which is the most stylish and full-service place to stay in Cuircó. In addition to comfortable rooms and suites, there’s a welcoming lobby with an enormous copper-faced fireplace, bicycles for guests to use, and a Thursday night wine and cheese mixer with live music for guests and locals (an area winery makes a bespoke wine for the hotel). All of the art in the hotel was created by the owner’s wife.
Eating in Curicó
After a hard day of hiking or wine tasting, treat yourself to legit pizza at Barolo Ristorante where owners Felipe and Constanza offer more than 15 pizzas all made fresh and baked in a beautiful red-tiled Naples-approved wood-burning pizza oven (6,500 CLP to 10,000 CLP or US$9 to US$14). The thin-crust pizzas run the gamut from simply traditional toppings to variations with unexpected nods to the Chilean palette. The El Campesino pizza is, essentially, a Napolitano with onions and Chilean peppers. Another variation is topped with beloved paleatada which is slow-cooked shredded meat which is similar to brisket. The wine list features local and Italian options plus Italian beer and cocktails including the sweet and strong house specialty made with pisco, passionfruit juice, lemon juice, and fresh basil over crushed ice. The restaurant is not in the center of the city, but it’s worth the trip to the suburbs for the pizza and other Italian favorites prepared by their Italian chef (from Santiago).
For a splurgy lunch, make a reservation for the 4-course tasting menu at the restaurant at the Miguel Torres winery (21,850 CPL without wine pairings and 36,150 CPL with wine pairings or about US$30 or US$49 respectively). Our lunch started with a fragrant soup served with Santa Digna sparkling wine. Beef carpaccio salad came with a light Las Mulas rose. An enormous plate of tender Osso Bucco on rice was paired with a peppery and deeply red 2017 Santa Digna cabernet sauvignon. The deconstructed key lime pie dessert came with a sweet but not cloying Nectaria reisling late harvest which was golden orange in color and had a hint of egg nog spice to it. The restaurant has an ala carte menu as well.
La Ostia Sangucheria puts a fresh spin on the beloved bulging Chilean sandwich. Choose from ample and varied toppings on your choice of meat: chopped beef, chicken, hamburger, or pulled pork which is smoky and tender and surprisingly legit. The sandwiches aren’t the cheapest meal in town, but they’re big enough to cover lunch and dinner if you’re not starving. There’s also craft beer on tap and the skin-on fries were good too.
Here’s more about travel in Chile