Chile’s Maipo Valley is home to some of the most recognized wineries in the country. Arguably one of the most famous is Viña Santa Rita which is not only one of the oldest and largest wineries in Chile, it is home to one of the most spectacular hotels we have ever had the pleasure of staying at.
Like many of his wealthy Chilean counterparts, Domingo Fernández Concha was initially exposed to fine wine while travelling in Europe. He fell in love with it and decided he wanted to have his own winery in Chile. He bought a large piece of land just 30km south of Santiago, at the foot of the Andean Mountains, within a region now designated the Maipo Valley. He settled on that particular site thanks to the advice of French winemakers he had enlisted to help him get started that recognized the potential of its terroir.
Domingo founded Viña Santa Rita in 1880, 17 years after his cousin Melchor established Concha y Toro not too far away. Soon after he bought the piece of land for the winery, Domingo decided he needed a house to oversee the business on site as his home in Santiago was too arduous a commute (pre modern transportation of course). He commissioned German architect Theodor Burchard to build him a residence that combined his love for European design while still paying homage to his native homeland.
The result is a stunning Chilean masterpiece with Italian Pompeiian style reflected in its painted ceilings and considerable columns bordering the building’s veranda.
With a father as a Priest, a brother a Bishop and his sisters both Nuns, Domingo also asked Burchard to design him a Chapel. He chose a classic Gothic style for the exterior of this special project, along with a Roman interior featuring classic vaulted domes and arches. The purpose of having a Church on the property was not just for the enjoyment of the staunch Catholic family, but also to ensure the local town residents had a place to attend Mass each Sunday.
The Santa Rita estate stayed in the family for almost a century before being sold to Ricardo Claro of the Claro Wine Group in 1979. Claro rebuilt part of the house in 1984 and converted it into an exclusive hotel in 1996. When Casa Real first opened, it was only accessible to people related to the wine world such as clients, friends of the family, journalists, and suppliers. In 2016, the owners decided to open it to the general public, and it has since become one of the most sought-after places to stay in the country.
Situated within 100 acres of parkland designed by French landscaper Guillaume Renner, Casa Real is ensconced within its own private oasis on the estate. Renner was careful to preserve the land’s 19th Century heritage while adding in details that even the most discerning eye would appreciate. Large portions of the park consist of wide-open grass fields and an impressive selection of native flora and fauna, peppered throughout with Italian sculptures and French fountains.
The Hotel Casa Real consists of 16 rooms not including the dining rooms, salons and sitting rooms. While the rooms have retained their classic old-world regal elegance and original fittings, they’re not so ostentatious to the point of pretention, and the contemporary bathrooms are welcomed over 19th Century plumbing! Every room has a view of either the park or the inner courtyard and feel as personalized as if you were a guest of Don Domingo himself when it served as his summer home.
Other than the winery, hotel and park, the estate also houses a restaurant, a cafeteria and very noteworthy Andean Museum. The museum’s collection includes several thousand artifacts that provide a rare and comprehensive glimpse into the pre-Columbian way of life.
An afternoon walk around the expansive grounds provided just the type of soothing calm to prepare us for our pre-dinner cocktails on the veranda. A glass of champagne and a pisco sour primed our palates for the exquisite meal we were about to enjoy by candlelight in one of the private dining rooms. We entered the dining room to see a long table with a white cloth cover sitting under a substantial chandelier. Large candelabras were at each end and the table was perfectly centred to the large window overlooking the park, with its long drapes tied back exposing the splendid view.
Paintings and tapestries adorned the walls and a side table revealed the lineup of wines we were about to enjoy with our meal: a 2016 Carmen Semillon (Carmen is also part of the Claro Wine Group portfolio), the 2017 Santa Rita Carménère (their flagship wine), and finally, the 2013 Carmen Cabernet Sauvignon.
After a meal fit for royalty, we moved to the billiards room for a couple of games and an aperitif before retiring to our rooms for the night. Uniquely civilized and likely not too different than what those guests before us enjoyed over a century ago.
While staying at Casa Real is certainly an extravagant treat, it’s not often you get the opportunity to step back in time with such comfort and opulence and personally experience a national treasure. It’s well worth the splurge, particularly if you value an experience over somewhere to just spend a night.