Explora Patagonia

LOCATION: Explora Patagonia’s lodge is the only hotel within the limits of the Torres Del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia, and what a privilege this proves to be.

LOCATION: Explora Patagonia’s lodge is the only hotel within the limits of the Torres Del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia, and what a privilege this proves to be. Hotel Salto Chico sits on the banks of Lake Pehoe, the water of which, fed from a glacier, is an almost other-worldly cyan. The Paine massif rises behind, affording the hotel a view of superhuman splendour. At night, light pollution is almost non-existent, so star-gazers will be quite literally in heaven. Admittedly, I’m over emotional, but when I first saw the night sky from outside this hotel I burst into tears. Clients may query the benefits of Explora Patagonia against competitor Tierra Patagonia, and the answer is simple. Guiding, views and food are great at both; Explora is within the park so requires shorter drives to the main hiking hotspots and wins for convenience, Tierra is slightly further out, but at nearly two decades younger is a more beautiful, striking property architecturally.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Salta Chico doesn’t argue with its surroundings, standing back to the let the view do the talking. Externally the building is monochrome – white clapboard cladding with black accents – internally it’s a gentle mix of blond lenga wood and tones of pale grey, blue and green. Wooden walkways run around the hotel forming a short path for a stroll, and also leading down to the spa, which looks the other way from the main building. After a long day’s walking, there’s little more refreshing than soaking in the outdoor Jacuzzi, then braving an icy plunge into the glacier-fed lake.

THE FACTS: There are 49 rooms, all with the same stunning view and all perfectly comfortable. Design-wise, they’re classic rather than striking, but beds are comfortable, and bathrooms a decent size – and being honest, you’ll be looking out rather than in.The builders here weren’t daft, so most things have the view – the lounge, the restaurant – although a curving bar is tucked away, and down a flight of stairs an underground room is used for talks led by guides and experts.The all-inclusive package covers food, wine and excursions – spa treatments and some drinks are extra. The food is really very good – breakfast is a combination of buffet and a la carte; lunch in the hotel is three courses with wine, and on a full day trek you’ll receive a really good packed lunch, happily much of which is carried by your guide. Dinner is a three-course affair again, with plenty of choice, and the wines by the glass are truly excellent – and flow freely.

A GOOD BASE FOR: Explora Patagonia’s enviable position as the only hotel within the park is hard to beat, and works for hardcore hikers and the less able alike. Those who want to complete the famous ‘W’ circuit but don’t fancy camping couldn’t do better – transfers to the start and end points of each of the three-day-trek’s legs are shorter than from any other hotel. At the other end of the spectrum, those who want to see Torres Del Paine but aren’t in the best physical shape will relish the fact they can experience the park from an armchair, or merely take the short walks near the lodge. There are rides as well as hikes on offer, and the guiding is of a very high standard.

WOW: Every third day guests flock to Explora’s stables, located a short drive away from the lodge. Riding is on the menu for most, but only as an afterthought – the main attraction is the quincho, a gaucho barbecue. Underneath a huge central chimney whole lambs are butterflied and char in the flames, alongside chunks of Chilean beef. Empanadas – meat and cheese filled pastries – form a substantial starter, and are accompanied by local Austral beer and traditional pisco sour cocktails.

HOW MUCH: The minimum stay is four nights and starts from US$2,820 per person, twinshare, on a full board basis. The rate includes excursions, meals, drinks and airport transfers.