Exploring what Barrio Italia has to offer

My first ever visit to Barrio Italia left me feeling refreshed and reinvigorated. I’d spent the entire day in the middle of the city’s mayhem — working, getting organized, sending things through the post, and doing my very best to pass through the slow-wandering crowds of people as quickly as possible. When I eventually got to the cross section of Francisco Bilbao and Italia, all of that stress seemed to just fly away with the clouds.

First impressions might lead you to believe that Barrio Italia is nothing more than a residential neighborhood — a tree-lined avenue, populated by low-rise residential dwellings, and a series of European-style street lamps. On closer inspection, Barrio Italia is a little city within a city, full of wonderful places to eat, drink, buy furniture, and cultivated a garden that would turn Alan Titchmarsh green with envy.

Barrio Italia is one of the few areas in Santiago where colonial architecture has been carefully married with modern development. I began by strolling along the length of Italia — the neighborhood’s central street — and I found myself drawn to the wonderful wares on offer inside the endless array of boutiques.

Arte Cultivos is a gorgeous plant store, selling an impressive cluster of plants and pretty pots to house them in. The modern furnishings boutiques — such as Ambienta Espacio — were full of household designs I would have easily picked up if only I’d had my own flat here in Santiago to decorate. I spent a good half-hour in an antique furniture market — similar to your typical long-standing flea market — and pottered around in a few restoration / vintage bazaars too. Taller Sofía was one of my favourites. Its designs were so pretty. 

Even though Barrio Italia isn’t the cheapest of neighborhoods, an emphasis is placed on style and finesse. I got a real sense of being amongst residents and professionals who share a love for history, tradition, culture, and patrimony.

After about an hour, I made a quick pit stop at Café Bosque. It wasn’t a particularly warm afternoon, but I decided to sit outside at one of their lovely parasol tables anyway .It made a nice change to sit outside, without having the rush of moving traffic and busy people by my side. I was amazed that I could see the sky in all four directions. The trees were plentiful and their color, a brilliant, vibrant green. What’s more, Café Bosque serves alfajores de maicena with dulce de leche (a smooth, sweet caramel filling)—  a delicious accompaniment to my double espresso.

Incidentally, if coffee and cake isn’t enough to kill your hunger, I recommend La Tranquera. It’s famous for many things, but in particular for its empanadas. I bought one to take home with me for late and it was one of the best I’ve tasted so far in Santiago — empanada de pino (minced beef, boiled egg, olives, and sultanas).

During the second half of my trip, I found a great studio called Espacio Imagine, which offers yoga, pilates, and zumba classes. Historians and those with an interest in Chilean Politics would definitely enjoy a visit to the Eduardo Frei Museum — Casa Museo Eduardo Frei. Anyone with a passion for modern art and cutting-edge Chilean artists should pay a visit to Galería Abraxas, also home to a fairly comprehensive artsy book store.

I made inquiries about the urdimbre weaving courses, offered by Marcela Polloni and had a ball browsing through the many designer clothing and accessories stores. Casa Malaquías, Dynamo, and Lupe — one of my favourite designer stores from Argentina — are three boutiques to put at the top of your list.

And if you love going out at night, Barrio Italia won’t let you down. It doesn’t offer the same kind of hype and action that you’re likely to find in the heart of Bellavista, but in my opinion it’s much better for it. The Único Pizza restaurant boasts a friendly, relaxed atmosphere, where you can get away with sharing a pizza without spending too much money. 

I went for the “a la Chilena” pizza, which comes topped with pebre — a traditional Chilean salsa made from coriander, diced onion, olive oil, garlic, and lots of spicy chilli peppers. The only catch is that it’s only served on Fridays, so book a table ahead of time to avoid missing out.

Barrio Italia is fast becoming the neighborhood in which I’d like to live.

About the Author:
Tracey Chandler is press and publicity manager for The Santiago Times and has worked as a freelance writer in Latin America since 2009. Originally from London, she left the UK in 2008 and has lived in Venezuela, Argentina, and Chile. She has written for over 15 different blogs/online magazines on subjects relating to Latin American travel and lifestyle. Contact her directly via tracey@santiagotimes.cl with ideas for possible long-term partnerships and/or creative projects.