In the five centuries since conquistadors first imported vines from Iberia, Chile has enjoyed a distinguished winemaking tradition. The fertile hills around Santiago have produced award-winning vintages to make Old World winemakers choke on their Bordeaux.
The Elqui Valley, however, represents the new frontier for Chilean wine pioneers: an area that almost qualifies as a desert, with loose soil, steep slopes and a near-total lack of rainfall. Yet miraculously, bursts of greenery appear among this dry expanse. There are groves of slender cypress trees, shady fruit plantations and rushing streams that mysteriously emerge from the mountainside.
‘This valley lives because of snow,’ gesturing toward the eastern mountains. ‘The meltwater from the High Andes filters through the rock and irrigates our vines.
Along winding country roads are thatched-roof farmhouses where Tibetan prayer flags hang in the gardens, and sleepy market towns where the scent of exotic herbs wafts about,
Some say Elqui’s spiritual aura stems from a magnetic property in the soil, or that its power flows from the Himalayas on the exact opposite side of the earth. Cynics might ascribe it to the potency of pisco, the powerful brandy that has been distilled in Elqui for centuries and liberally consumed in pisco sours and other cocktails across Chile. Others say it is down to Elqui’s altitude and proximity to the stars – sure enough, telescopes and astronomical observatories dot the hilltops, taking advantage of some of the clearest skies on earth.
Whatever the cause, cosmic vibes are unquestionably in evidence at the Artisan Village of Horcon, set by a rushing river close to the highest point of the valley. Here, hammocks and wind chimes sway in the warm breeze while artisans paint mandalas and fashion dream catchers in tribute to the landscapes around them.
‘It is all magic: the silence, the blue of the sky, the white of the moon, the sound of the water in the river. It makes it a paradise.’