The incomparable view from my 8 Al Mar balcony.
At the end of an inauspicious road in a sleepy Chilean surf town sits the 8 Al Mar Bed & Breakfast. You won’t be faulted if you can’t initially find the place. The boutique hotel sits in its own isolated cove fronting the Pacific Ocean, tucked amidst white-paneled houses with such little signage that you’d think the owners preferred to enjoy their property in complete isolation. And maybe they do. The eight room structure of glass and wood, designed by the Chilean architect Igor Moraga, is a befitting of a profile in an interior design magazine. Each room enjoys panoramic views of the Pacific and private balconies from which you can spend hours watching waves crash against the rocky beach while fishermen scour the coastline for mollusks washed ashore. A sun-saturated wooden terrace is populated with sunbeds and furniture carved from driftwood. Across the way, three hot tubs are screened behind wooden fences, allowing for privacy where guests can enjoy a bottle of Carménère while listening to the sonorous ocean. Is this paradise? I think so.
Most people who reside outside of Chile have never heard of Pichilemu; I certainly hadn’t before researching surf communities within a three hour radius of Santiago. An hour west of Santa Cruz, widely considered to be the epicenter of Chile’s wine production, Pichiemu is a quiet beachfront community of 10,000 year-round residents. In the summer (December-March), it draws a lively crowd of sun-worshippers from the Chilean capital. Surfers in the know come here year-round to test their skill on nearby Punta de Lobos, said to be the longest wave in Chile.
I, meanwhile, was seeking a romantic weekend getaway within reasonable distance from Chile’s Colchagua Valley and its myriad vineyards. Viña Vik, Lapostolle Residence and other Colchagua Valley resorts on vineyards are priced upwards of $1,000 per night. Enter 8 Al Mar, the perfect solution for those who don’t want to choose between a down payment and a hotel room yet still want to experience the best of the Pacific coast and Chilean wine country. Colchagua Wine Tours or Ruta del Vino Valle de Colchagua will provide transportation and customize a private wine tour by grape varietals or whatever your whim.
But back to the root of my love affair with this particular slice of Chile: that little hotel overlooking the Pacific Ocean. 8 Al Mar is a haven for lovers—whether young lovers, honeymooners, or venerable couples entering their fourth decade of marriage, it makes little difference; everyone will enjoy the boutique equally for the solitude and peace of mind (children under 15 are not allowed) it provides. When you are tired of indulging in your room with a view, take a long walk along the coast past children building sand castles and surfers bobbing in the frigid water. When you are tired of walking, return to 8 Al Mar for a soak in the hot tub and some wine. When you are tired of moving at all, rest easy knowing that breakfast will be delivered to your doorstep in the morning.
A number of restaurants are within walking distance of the hotel. La Loba features a requisite menu of freshly caught fish, local wines, and pisco sours. Pulpo Bar and Restaurant specializes in pizzas, cervezas, and surfer-types. Do not come to Pichi (as it is fondly called) expecting consistency, however. Restaurant hours of service vary dramatically. Sometimes a place opens at 9:30pm for dinner although the sign on the door says abierto entre 18:00-23:00; sometimes a place won’t open at all with no reason offered other than “it’s Monday; the owner doesn’t feel like it.” But that’s part of the charm of a quiet town on the Pacific coast, right? Nothing is certain save the smell of salt in the air, the cry of seabirds overhead, the omnipresent sound of waves crashing against the shore, and the simple perfection of 8 Al Mar.
(http://www.8almar.cl; $140/night during the week and $180/night on weekends)