Much like the geography of Chile itself, Santiago’s Barrio Italia is long and sinewy. Straddling the length of leafy Avenida Italia, it’s bookended by Avenida Francisco Bilbao to the north and Irarrázaval to the south. Low-slung, crayola-coloured colonial homes and European-style street lamps render it worlds apart from the soaring high rises of “Sanhattan” – a district in Chile socalled for its financial, New York feel. But the vibe in Barrio Italia is more akin to Buenos Aires’ Palermo or Williamsburg, especially at weekends, when locals pile into its shady courtyard cafes for the best brunch in town.
The doors of former historic mansions open up into arcades of shops, many design-centric, where you can buy everything from steel origami tables at Savia, to innovative lighting at Oofelia. This new wave of creatives, together with the area’s bookbinders and cuckoo clock repairers, are continuing the legacy of the area’s illustrious craft past.
Italian immigrants had already settled here in the 19th Century but it was the Girardi family’s hat factory, opened in 1910, that changed the barrio’s fortunes. The likes of Sermini spinning mills and Lucchetti briefcases followed, their former warehouses now transformed into gallery spaces, artisan coffee roasters and independent fashion boutiques.
Atmospheric Caupolicán Street (between Girardi and Condell) is strewn with antique desks, trunks, art deco treasures and men sanding down chairs as jazz crackles from gramophones. Many of these restorers have been part of the barrio’s furniture since the 80s, much like family-run Italian restaurant y Trattoria Da Noi. Bucking the Italian cliché, the neighbourhood’s gastro scene thinks outside the (pizza) box, with Peruvian cevicherias, Spanish tapas and high-end Chilean fare. Barrio Italia is where locals come for la dolce vita. We recommend you do the same.
A mini-arcade of sorts, vermillion-hued Casa Mestiza is laden with independent outlets, selling everything from shawarmas to specialist teas and handstitched
Chilean boots. A real gem is Uke Bkn de Tienda del Músico, the sole vendor of ukuleles in Chile. Its walls are lined with neon-coloured and caoba wood lutes that start from US$56. Defying its petit proportions, the shop also hosts live music events. Opposite is Bolaca, a collectors treasure trove of Star Wars action figures, vintage marvel comics and rare finds like a gizmo gremlin, or framed Nightmare on Elm Street posters.
Avenida Italia 1334, Santiago, +569 9083 0553, tiendadelmusico.cl
A FIVE-MINUTE WALK
Aromas of chocolate emanate from this organic bean-to-bar chocolatier, where you can see its Willy Wonka-style inner workings through a giant glass window. The life of an Obolo bean starts 4,000 kilometres away in the Peruvian Amazon, with a small co-operative of cacao farmers that Milwaukee-born owner, Mark Gerrits, discovered after an 18-month-long jungle recce. The former American Sociologist may have retrained as a chocolatier, but he still puts his background working for environmental non-profits to good use. Fill your boots with Chilean Cáhuil salt and Earl Grey-infused bars, 85 per cent cacao-dipped fruits and barks studded
with cranberry. The real sweetener, however, is knowing the products are 100 per cent ethically sourced and produced.
Avenida Italia 1584, Santiago, +569 8428 2812, obolochocolate.cl
A FOUR-MINUTE WALK
Shop for leather aprons, ceramic espresso cups and Easter Island-made horn cocktail picks at this Estacion Italia (a boutique shopping mall) newbie.Run by two local architects, Autoctona’s products, ranging from $3-$330, are handmade by Chilean artisans.
Paseo Estacion Italia, 1439 Avenida Italia, +569 9432 8572, autoctonadiseno.cl
A FIVE-MINUTE WALK
Bringing some French bistro style to Barrio Italia is this laidback lunchtime haunt, which opens out to a light-dappled courtyard and plant-festooned patio. Its quirky, upcycled interior (think mismatched furniture and antique typewriters) is as original as its farm fresh plates. The daily-changing menu includes dishes like Chiloe pork with pureed beans and red-wine risotto with lamb skewers. Owners Néstor Ayala (a premium sausage maker and self-taught chef) and Italian Patricio Pichuante, are avid foragers. The clue is in the restaurant’s name, which means wild. Ingredients are sourced on the doorstep at San Cristóbal Hill’s botanical garden, and further afield from coastal towns like Papudo.
511 Caupolicán, Santiago, +569 9156 9974
A FIVE-MINUTE BIKE RIDE
GIMNASIO CASA BOULDER
Concealed behind the ivy-covered façade of a grand old mansion, this North Face–affiliated gym is 250 square metres and six walls of Spiderman fun! Aspiring rock stars can book a two-hour starter class for $22, whilst more experienced climbers pay $15. There’s a cosy café serving vegan fare like quesadillas, brownies and natural juices to power your ascent to the gym’s exacting frogshaped boulder.
Avendida Italia 875, Santiago, +562 2839 1210, www.casaboulder.cl
A FOUR-MINUTE WALK
MAISON ITALIA 1029
Founded by two local sisters, Camila de Prada (a costume designer) and Marion de Prada (with a hospitality background), this effortlessly stylish micro hotel oozes Italian swag. Located on the corner of Marín and Avenida Italia, its modernist exterior stands out for all the right reasons. Inside, the entrance via
a tiled corridor of artisan shops, leads upstairs to five bijoux guestrooms, each a vision of raw concrete, blonde wood and copper detailing. Their gorgeous
suntrap terraces are a class act in urban design. Feeling thirsty? Head upstairs to the hotel’s bare-bricked terrace restaurant-bar, sink into a sage leather
chair and sip on a house cocktail. And if you fancy exploring your new (satisfyingly flat) locale on two wheels, there are free bikes at reception.
Avenida Italia 1029, +562 2982 8311, maison-italia.com
A SIX-MINUTE TAXI RIDE
Tango has found its way from the slums of Buenos Aires to all corners of the globe, including this theatre-bar-restaurant on Avenida Italia. El Cachafaz,owned by Argentine actor and comedian Jorge Alis, offers hour-long classes every Monday and Wednesday from 8pm ($7.50). The atmospheric venue also hosts stand-up comedy classes, swing nights and Wednesday evening Milonga – an old-school tango dance party with live music and table service. Order the chorrillana, a Chilean dish
of French fries loaded with beef, eggs and caramelized onions. And take a cue from the locals, washing it down with pisco sours.
Avenida Italia 1679, +569 7386 1881, elcachafaz.cl