Barrio Italia, Santiago's Secret Bohemian Neighbourhood
Away from the buzz and beer of Barrio Bellavista and the bankers of ‘Sanhattan’, Barrio Italia offers a Santiago city experience at a slower pace. It is a treasure trove of hidden courtyard cafes, kitsch restaurants and independent shops. A haven for food and design lovers alike, the city’s most stylish neighbourhood offers a tranquil spot to pass an afternoon, or two.
Established in the 19th century by Italian migrants, the neighbourhood has now flourished into a hub for bohemian bars, restaurants and designers. The first thing to recommend is to simply take a stroll and get a little lost. The streets are lined with postcard-perfect shops and many times, you will step through an unassuming door into a full arcade of designer boutiques. Exploring inside these little doorways is the perfect place to discover new Chilean artists or to get inspired.
For an afternoon break, head to one of the lovely courtyard cafes in the area. The lovely Cafe de La Candelaria on Avenida Italia is a popular choice for a fresh cup of coffee and slice of cake. Other great places are The Secret Garden, Rende Bu and Bugambilla, see if you can find them!
Whether it’s picking up a 1950s edition of National Geographic, a pair of wooden-framed designer sunglasses or a new cactus for your terraza, this neighbourhood has it all. Barrio Italia however is renowned in the city for being THE place to go for fabulous furniture. Calle Caupolican (from Girardi to Condell) is lined with furniture workshops selling everything from art deco tables, 1950s stools to antique desks and lights. As you stroll down the street you can watch workmen renovating pieces right on the street. For more modern pieces head to Amoble, which offers custom-made pieces and brightly coloured home decorations. RestaurArte is also great, with an array of upcycled and vintage pieces.
If however, your baggage allowance on your return flight won’t quietly stretch to include that 1960s wooden trunk, there are plenty more luggage-friendly shopping options. At the bottom of Avenida Italia there is the lovely Casa Originaria, which sells handmade clothing from Nepal, and a visit to Estacion Italia is a must. It is home to almost 50 independent boutiques selling everything from handmade soaps to Moroccan lamps. (It is also host to an array of events, check out their website for full listings. Finally, stylish Arte Cultivos boasts an impressive collection of plants and herbs lovingly displayed in brightly colourful pots. Who knew a souvenir cactus could be so appealing?
Food lovers will be spoilt for choice here particularly at lunch time, with many places offering great set menu deals. Head over to the Vegan Bunker on the corner of Fresia and Tegualda for great vegan fare and fruit juices. Check out their Facebook page (linked above) for the day’s set lunch menu, which includes drink and side for less than four lucas (four thousand pesos, US$6). Another great, more upmarket option, is the ever popular Casa Luz serving up modern experimental fare with a killer wine list at the top of Avienda Italia.
If you are craving a bit of Spanish fare be sure to look out for Tabanera Andalucia, set in a lovely shaded courtyard. It’s the perfect way to cool down from the Santiago sun. Head there for cheap cold glasses of Mahou and a fresh bowl of Andalucían gazpacho.
If however, tastes of Italy are on your mind, unsurprisingly you will not be disappointed. Da Noi trattoria is the go to place for homemade Italian grub. You can while away a few hours here with a glass of wine and big bowl of homemade pasta. There is also the Pasta & Pizza bar, with a great terrace overlooking Avienda Italia.
For an after-dinner sugar hit it has to be Xoco Por Ti, the neighbourhood’s very own chocolate shop.
As the night begins to draw in, head to Ruca bar for their top notch G&Ts. Look out for their happy hour deals, when you can grab one for just one luca (one thousand pesos, US$1.50). The Jazz Corner is the place to go for live jazz & blues; check out their website for full listings. For probably the best selection of craft ales in the city, take a left from Avienda Italia to Avienda Santa Isabel into Pepperland. With its eclectic mix of clientele and music, it’s advisable to get here early to snag a table as the place fills up quickly. You won’t be disappointed!