Calchagua & Maule valley & Lircay National Reserve

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Being passionate wine drinkers the next destinations on our itinerary were the famous Chilean wine regions of Calchagua and Valle del Maule. Those are the two wine regions which dominate Chile’s wine production (ca. 80% is exported) and which provide employment for 100,000s of Chileans.

Our first stop was a rather random one which we just discovering by browsing through google maps: Viña Macaya. They did not offer any tour or wine tastings but they allowed us to wander around their fields and buildings and of purchase their wine. They mainly focused on Cabernet Sauvignons and we bought three bottles of different vintages. All of the them we’re super-reasonably priced with the most expensive one selling for 4200CLP (~$7). Our expectations were not high but to our surprise their wine turned out to be our Chilean favorite so far. Full-bodied with a fruity bouquet.

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The next wine yard was a little bit off the beaten track and we required Oscar’s 4WD skills again to reach the organic vineyard Emiliana. Unfortunately, all doors we’re closed and we learned – as it is the case with most wineries – that a reservation is required to participate in a tour and/or tasting. Nevertheless, the landscape was very beautiful and it was worthwhile a trip.

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150km southern of Calchagua lies the Valle del Maule were we stayed for a couple of days. The location was breath-taking: Our cabaña was planted in between a mountain range close to the Rio Maule.

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The Argentinian border was 120km away and we decided to head the next day towards it since we’ve heard about beautiful waterfalls, snow-covered mountains and cozy hot springs. We climbed up the Andes until we found the first snow on our trip:

Leo and Maja enjoyed a lot running around in the snow fields while we were starring at the beauty of the mountains 🙂 Due to potential avalanches the road was blocked at one point. As such crossing to Argentina was not possible. However, that was never our plan nor could we legally do it since we were still waiting for the official ownership documents for Oscar (“Padrón”).

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By luck we found the “Saltos del Maule” (km point 132 on Penhuenche Internacional), a waterfall which carried not as much water as suggested by pictures in travel prospectus (better to come during the snow melt season).

 

Our last stop for the day were the hot springs of “Baños Campanario”. The source was close to the Rio Maule located in the river valley. The water temperature was ca. 25-30 Celsius and it felt great swimming the first time in Chile! There was a very shallow, small but warm pool for Maja and a larger, belly-deep pool for Leo. The cover was super-cheap: 4000CLP for the entire family. All four of us enjoyed it a lot since night time temperature fell to nearly 0 during our stay.

The constant day-time temperatures between 15 and 25 Celsius (and the lack of frost at night time) are by the way one reason for the ideal growing conditions in the Maule valley.

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The next destination on our bucket list was the Reserva Nacional Altos de Lircay, a national park in the Andean foothills with numerous trekking opportunities. The most well-known trail is the Senderro Endradillo which leads up to a rocky plateau at 2,300m above sea level with spectacular volcano views. However, with two small kids this was unfortunately not an option and we sticked to smaller round trails with great miradors:

The park can be reached through a 27km long gravel road. The office where the entrance fee (5000 clp for extranjeros, 2500 if you have a RUT) is due and trail maps can be obtained is another 2km uphill from the main gate. This is a terrible dirt road with very rocky parts of the “road” and should not be tried without a good 4WD and good tires. As a matter of fact, Oscar climbed it but I would not do it again since the exposure to tires and the body of the car is pretty serious. Furthermore, the flexibility is lower since one has to be at the main gate again at 16:30h. So definitely advisable to park in front of the gate and hike the 2km.

Overall, we completed two and a half easy to moderate trails and spent five hours in the park. This was my favorite view.

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There’s also a camping site in the park which is a great base for multiple days of trekking but at the time of our visit we only spotted two tents there.

The next day we got the payoff for climbing the steep and rocky dirt road: Oscar suffered from his first flat tire! The air was not completely gone and our AirBnB cabaña helped us to refill the tire and advised us to have it fixed at a “Vulcanizacion”, a tire repair shop. We very pleased to hear that this could be done on a Saturday, at low cost (2,000CLP 🙂 ) and that we did not need to change the tire we newly put on 10 days ago. I doubt that the same action would have been taken in Germany or the US!

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On our way to the next winery we stopped briefly at beautiful Lago Colbún which again serves as a reservoir for generating energy. It was a pity though that most of its shore is under private ownership and hence shore walks were hard to perform.

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The only winery in the Maule region which operated without reservations was Viña Balduzzi, founded by an Italian in the late 19th century. The tour (9000 CLP/person) itself was rather disappointing since mostly the storage cellars and a bit of the vines were presented. The wine making process was not explained at all. As regards the tasting both Irene and Lothar were not amazed by the two whites (latest harvest and Cabernet Blanc) and the two reds (Carmeniere and Cabernet Sauvignon) and hence decided to take just one bottle of the Cabernet Gran Reserva with us. Overall, we would recommend to visit another winery – even if that means pre-arranging it.

As of the time of writing we’re now on our way to the Lake district where we will spend the next five days in a cabaña in the Villarrica and Pucón area.

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