17 January 2018 by David Warne
This relatively recent addition to Chile’s luxury lodge scene is located near to the adventure capital of Pucon, a 90-minute drive from Temuco airport. This area of the Lake District has long been popular with Chilean holiday-makers, but until relatively recently has been short on the sort of remote luxury accommodation to tempt sophisticated international visitors.
Opened in October 2014 by Swiss owners Michael and Claudia Paravicini, the Relais and Châteaux-owned Hacienda Hotel Vira Vira has stepped in to fill this gap, offering an enticing get-away-from it-all combination of luxury and adventure. Located on the banks of the Liucura River, adjacent to its own dairy farm, it serves up an enticing recipe of fine-dining and superb accommodation with a wide range of trekking, mountain biking and horseback adventures.
The style is wholly contemporary but with a nod to the wooden homes and haciendas that dot the area. The hotel’s main building houses a small reception area, library, bar and restaurant, all of which enjoy glorious panoramic views over the hotel’s lake and gardens through floor to ceiling windows. Mapuche artefacts add some local colour throughout the hotel and on colder days there are roaring fires inside and out. An outdoor terrace provides comfortable seating directly adjacent to the lake during the warmer seasons.
The main building also offers a handful of spacious and well-appointed rooms, but the 12 riverside villa suites are the real reason to stay here, offering some of the finest accommodation anywhere in Chile.
On entering a villa suite the eye is drawn immediately to the huge windows that provide a wide-angle view of the river and forest beyond. And, while nature is very much the star of the show, the clever design of the villas still allows each one to be very private.
The light wood panelling gives the rooms a contemporary log-cabin feel and Mapuche artefacts and woollen soft furnishings bring a sense of a sense of place into the villas. The fresh scent of the wood panelling is still discernible. The split-level room has the bed at a higher level than the cosy living area, allowing you to enjoy the view from both the bed and the living area. A log burning stove and lambswool rug make for a homely feel and my wife and I spent an enjoyable hour curled up on the sofa with a glass of Carmenere simply enjoying the scene, with kingfishers flying to and fro and even a white horse appearing rather magically from the forest on the opposite river bank.
The bathroom area also has large windows, so a soak in the indoor tub also affords a view of the nature beyond, whilst still being completely private. There is also an enormous rain shower and outside there is a stone hot tub, built neatly into the private terrace.
A personalised welcome note from the owners sets the tone for the service, where a big thing is made of the small details. On arriving in our room there was also plate of chocolates and a ready-chilled bottle of sparkling wine in an ice bucket. The inclusive rates even include the mini-bar containing wine, beer and soft drinks, plus a Nespresso coffee machine and several bottles of water. Fresh cookies are also provided daily. I honestly couldn’t think of anything that could have made for a better first impression of the accommodation.
This emphasis on the small details is also a feature of dining at the hotel. Meals are something of an event, making evenings at the hotel a genuine pleasure. We were encouraged to try a pre-dinner cocktail each night, often using local produce to create interesting and unusual mixes. On one occasion we were invited to taste some of the Hacienda's own cheeses, including a superbly rich and nutty Parmesan-style hard cheese.
The vast majority of ingredients served at lunch and dinner are sourced from the property’s own hacienda. We enjoyed an incredibly succulent lamb rack and exceptionally tender fillet steak but perhaps the biggest surprise was the quality and range of delicious and heathy vegetable-based options. One stand out dish was a wonderful onion confit with roasted nuts and honey, I simply couldn’t have guessed how such a seemingly simple dish could be so delicious. All dishes were liberally sprinkled with delightful and unexpected combinations of fresh herbs from the garden. Fresh fish occasionally supplements the farm produce and on one evening we enjoyed a simply pan-fried corvina, a delicious white fish with a medium-firm texture from the coast near Valdivia. The hotel certainly delivers a fine example of farm-to-table dining.
The hotel has also made something of a name for itself with its extensive wine list. The inclusive programme includes a choice of house wines, which could perhaps be slightly wider, but there was no faulting the premium wine list, offering an extraordinary range of fine Chilean wines and vintages.
If you can tear yourself away from the restaurant the hotel offers a huge range of daytime activities. During our stay we opted for a half day mountain biking trip and a full-day trek into the spectacular Huerqueque National Park. Other activities on offer include horse-riding, trekking and bird-watching. Amongst the less strenuous options are tours of the farm's cheese-making facility and boat rides on Lake Villerica.
At the time of writing the hotel was waiting to take delivery of its own helicopter. Being able to be able to offer helicopter sightseeing trips (at extra cost) will provide a truly unique opportunity to see this stunning region of lakes and volcanoes from the air.
There are enough activities on offer to justify a long stay at Vira Vira but as most visits to Chile are multi-centre touring itineraries it is worth noting that this region combines well with a visit to Puerto Varas, a four-hour drive to the west and the island of Chiloé beyond. Indeed, the well-heeled will soon have the option of taking a spectacular helicopter transfer to combine the two regions in some style.
Hacienda Hotel Vira Vira is a wonderfully elegant property which has joined Chile’s select group of luxury adventure lodges - and really puts this beautiful region on the map for the discerning international traveller.