The Plaza de Armas in Talca
With the end in sight, I thought a few days relaxing in wine country would be a great way to relax, and so it proved to be. I took a two-bus combo to get from Pucon (JAC from Pucon-Temuco; CLP2,200 followed by Tur-Bus from Temuco-Talca; CLP6,900) which turned out pretty well in the end and about half the price of the direct service. It took most of the day as I left at 8am in the morning and we finally got to Talca around 5pm. I was dropped at 'Cruce Talca' on the Panamerican as that bus didn't go into the town itself. It was fine as I caught a cheap cab to take me straight to my hostel for the next few days, Los Cabanos.
Our little two-carriage narrow gauge train for the Maule Valley route
I was met by Ricardo and Veronica, the lovely couple who run the guesthouse. They immediately made me feel welcome and made sure that I had everything I needed. They pointed in the direction of the train station so I could investigate getting to Constitucion on the coast - a plan for one of my days here.
As it turned out, I went to Constitucion the next day as 8th Dec is a public holiday in Chile (for the Immaculate Conception) and so a lot of places are closed, including the vineyards that I had planned on visiting. I had read about this train journey from Talca to Constitucion (CLP1,400/£1.80/$2.50) and it didn't disappoint. It was an early start (the morning departure is 7.15am) and I was half expecting it to be a totally tourist train like the Devil's Nose experience in Ecuador, but it was different.
Rio Maule, Maule Valley
People clearly use this is a genuine means of transport (its cheaper than the bus, which is a first!) and I was the only gringo on the thing. It was only two carriages long, but we chugged down the Maule Valley, with fantastic views of the vineyards and Rio Maule along the way. A nice relaxing way to spend 4 hours. I got to Constitucion at around 11am and had a wander round. To be honest, there's not a great deal to do and see, but it was real Chile, just normal people in a seaside town going about their business. I stayed about two hours and wandered down to the waterfront before catching a bus back (CLP2,300) as it was quicker. Veronica and Ricardo were around for a chat when i got back and you can see they really want their guests to see everything and have a good time whilst they are in Talca.
The Rinconcio in Villa Alegre
Talca itself is a pretty ordinary town - the Chelmsford of Chile in my mind - with plenty of shops and good services, but nothing particularly to see. The Plaza de Armas
is nice enough and I spent a few hours reading my book with a bottle of wine in the sun (a decent bottle costs only CLP1,500/£2/$3 at the supermarket!!) - I was taking things easy as you can tell!! As any of my friends will tell you, I'm not much of a wine drinker, but the stuff out here is so damn smooth I have been converted!!
Veronica and Ricardo helped me plan my day for the wineries the next day and after a bit of a lie-in, I set off to their recommended choice, a place called Balduzzi in a village called San Javier, about 25km from Talca. Rather than take an expensive tour, they advised me to take the local bus there (CLP750/£1/$1.
The Balduzzi vineyards, San Javier
50) and then ask for a tour directly at the vineyard. I turned up and found they had just completed a tour in English, and because I was on my own, they weren't going to be doing another until the afternoon (they will organise tours there and then if you have a group of, say, 5 people). So I decided to take Ricardo's choice for lunch, which was to go to the next village along, called Villa Alegre (about 6km from San Javier) - a lovely laid back place with old buildings and even older residents! I went for a typical Chilean cazuela
(set lunch with salad to start and a chicken & veg soup for mains - CLP2,000) at a place called Rinconcio, owned by a guy called Pablo. That set me up for the afternoon and after catching a collectivo
back to San Javier, I returned to Balduzzi for the afternoob tour.
The best bit, the tasting!!
There weren't any other tourists so Alejandra gave me a personal tour - brilliant! It was fascinating learning about their production process and the history of the vineyard, which dated back to 1906 when the Italian Balduzzi family first started growing here. originally it was just for family and friends, and wasn't until 1980 that they started producing wine commercially. They now export 90% of their wine to Europe, although as not as yet to the UK. That's a shame I did some tastings of their reserva
wines after the tour (CLP7,500/£9/$14 tour + 5 tastings) and they were pretty damn good! Their main product is the Carmenere
which is a grape variety now only found in chile due to the pholloxra virus wiping it out everywhere else. However, I have to say I prefered the Cabernet Sauvingon
, went down so well I purchased a bottle afterwards! All in all it was a great afternoon and I felt fully relaxed as I prepared to hot-foot it up to Santiago
for my final two days in South America.