ExperiencePlus! Blog

Cycling through Chile’s Wine Country


As a geographer I am fascinated with the spread of European culture and landscapes in the new world, especially the landscapes of wine. And as a specialist in Mediterranean geography I find the migration of viticulture and wine making from Central Asia (the area of modern Georgia, as a matter of fact) to Mesopotamia, then Egypt, and on to Greece, Italy, France, and Spain to be one of the most interesting cultural landscapes there is.

The jump to the new world, of course, took almost two millennia, but jump it did. The result is pockets of pure “European landscapes” in such widespread places as the Napa Valley in California, Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Australia’s Barossa Valley north of Adelaide, and the wine country of Mendoza in Argentina and the Colchagua Valley near Santa Cruz, Chile.

So if you join us to bicycle through Chile’s wine regions south of Santiago in one of the last areas settled by the Spanish in the mid to late-16th century, you’ll find a surprisingly “European landscape” of small farm villages, country roads and manicured vineyards. This area, centered on Santa Cruz and the Colchagua River valley is often compared to Napa Valley. Indeed, the geography is very similar. Like Napa, Colchagua enjoys a Mediterranean climate, meaning it has a distinct winter “wet” season and a distinct summer “dry” season. The Pacific Ocean, just to the west, provides a moderating influence on temperature so it rarely freezes, and the coastal hills protect the vineyards from cold fog and too much rain.
So is this the next Napa? Come and see for yourself. This trip begins in Santiago, the capital of Chile. Come early and spend a couple days exploring this modern city founded by Spanish explorer, Pedro de Valdivia, in 1541 (and before you come be sure to read Inés of My Soul, 2006 by Isabel Allende, a great historical novel of the occupation of Chile by Valdivia and his conquistadores. After one night in Santiago we shuttle south to begin our bike ride.

Don’t get the wrong impression about this bicycling trip, though. Even though we begin in and around the grape-growing region of Colchagua in the historic towns of Zuñiga to Santa Cruz, by day 5 we head off to bicycle the Pacific Coast. So we leave the carefully manicured vineyards behind and pedal through coniferous forests to fishing villages, long deserted beaches and small seaside resorts: shades of the Oregon Coast, indeed.Map of the wine country surrounding Santa Cruz

We offer this Chilean bicycling trip in a seven and an eleven-night version. The longer tour ends in Chillán which is home to Chile’s largest handicraft market. Both tours end with shuttles back to Santiago, though the adventuresome might stay on in Chillán or head off into Chile’s lake district.

So if, as Frances Willard, wrote in 1895 you are “sighing for new worlds to conquer,” join us in Chile this November or April.