Last week I was in Central Chile visiting the wine-producing region of the Maule Valley. Now, this isn’t exactly a place that is on the radar of many tourists, although I think it must see a fair stream of visitors thanks to all of the agricultural industry in the region (including the local headquarters of many American-owned companies, such as Dole). From Santiago, many tourists head west to the seaside cities of Valparaiso or Viña del Mar, not south to the agricultural towns. But I am not one to follow most tourist itineraries.
In all fairness, I also went to Talca to visit someone I know. Above all, welcomed the opportunity to finally explore a different part of Chile than the north and Atacama desert. And also – to see rain! Although the region seemed relatively dry this time of year (we passed a number of nearly-dry riverbeds between Santiago and Talca), I experienced rain for the first time since I was in Canada a few months ago one morning. It was so refreshing to finally hear raindrops and smell the ground after a fresh rainfall. (Of course, it was also nice that the rain cleared up by noon and the sun promptly emerged!)
Talca was a pleasant place to stay for a few days. I enjoyed wandering around, especially through the pretty central square. I read that Talca was once known for its hats and leather goods, and although I didn’t see any fancy hats, there were still some leather goods and shoe stores. I also saw a lot of beautiful hand-knitted clothing – some just sold by vendors right on the street – and stores with beautiful yarns, many made of Chilean wool and natural dyes, that made me (almost) wish I knew how to knit.
Of course, this was an agricultural town, so I have to mention the fruits and vegetables. The summer fruits were in full swing, and many sidewalk vendors were selling blueberries, strawberries (one vendor even sold chocolate-dipped strawberries!), cherries and creamy, to-die-for avocados fresh from the farm. I also found lovely apricots and peaches at the grocery store. A rustic market was located in the center of town also selling fresh produce, honey and beeswax, beautiful carved wooden objects (I picked up a few hand-carved wooden spoons made from a Chilean wood for about $1 each), wool, flowers and even live chickens and turkeys! Needless to say, someone could eat a very fresh meal in this city.
What is noticeable around Talca is a lack of buildings that are very old. Most of the beautiful old Spanish colonial buildings seemed to have been damaged by the earthquakes that the region experiences. The 2010 earthquake (its epicentre was in the same general region) has certainly left its mark on the city landscape. I walked past many beautiful old Gothic cathedrals that were all closed because of the severe earthquake damage they sustained. Similarly, an old market building and several other homes and buildings throughout the city were shut down, abandoned, or have not yet been repaired. Therefore, the city seemed to be filled with stark contrasts: crumbling, abandoned old buildings, lots and houses next to brand new condo high rises or newly renovated office buildings.
Near the central square, I visited an artists’ co-op, with little shops selling fashions, shoes, paintings and weavings, most made in the region. I lingered in one shop in particular, where a woman told me all about the weavings she sells, most made from wool and natural dyes following traditional techniques.
Many locals told us there are a number of scenic drives around the area, but without a car our hands were a little tied. There are also some interesting festivals later in the summer: a wine festival in nearby Curico, as well as a festival in the nearby hills on the Argentina/Chile border. Again, this is not a tourist town (the one museum I saw was closed every time I walked past) but if I ever happen to be on a road trip through central Chile I would definitely stop there again.
And, because I am sure you must be wondering, yes, this was wine country, and yes I visited a winery. That will most certainly be the topic of my next post!