LUGARES MAGAZINE Nro. 58
Pags. 50 - 53
By: Julia Caprara
Photos: Carolina Aldao
To ski down the slopes of a volcano gives one a certain thrill, and more so if the volcano is active. On an earlier visit I had the chance to see the crater of the Villarrica volcano from a light aircraft."
It's like a wound in the Earth" I remember thinking at the time. And it was not easy to later plunge down the slopes without having fleeting thoughts of what was going on beneath my feet. It was however a very subjective sensation, because no one else in Pucón seemed to give a hoot about the possibility (however slight) that the friendly volcano may some day decide to show the world what it is holding inside.
But Pucón is not Pompeii and it is not about to disappear. Located 109km south-east of Temuco, which is some 677km from Santiago, this small Chilean town, maintains all its original flavour, and at times can have the appearance of a picture from a fairytale book, with its wooden houses and smoking chimneys.
The Villarrica volcano and lake is paradise for water sports and the beaches in summer are always teeming with youngsters. The same ones who in winter give life to the ski resort on the northeast flank of the volcano.
Located only 20km from the village and dominating the landscape, the volcano has a height of 1930m rising from its base at 600m above sea level.
But the distinctive quality of the ski resort in Pucón is no doubt its topographic characteristics, long ridges and "half pipes" that makes it a dream for snowboard fans.
But apart from the excellent snowboard runs, there is plenty for all: about 50km of slopes with different levels of difficulty and a skiing area of 1,200 hectares with consistent but heavy snow. Every day until October there are people coming and going up and down the ski lifts.
Pleasure on pleasure. The Hotel del Lago has, for the past three years, been the place to stay as it offers so much more than skiing and snowboarding toenhance the holiday with different activities.
I chose swimming, after having had a glance at the fabulous heated swimming pool, totally integrated with the landscape thanks to its glass and wooden structure. After a couple of hours there, a quick visit to the gymnasium and spa, including a good massage, sauna and sun bed, became my daily routine.
Another routine, which unfortunately I had no control over, was to devour every single morsel of delicious food laid on the table from morning to night. Various types of cheese, all kinds of seafood, forbidden desserts and other tempting dishes.
The different services provided by the enormous five-star resort make you want to stay there for ever. Inaugurated in 1997, it has a cinema, a reading lounge, boutiques, two swimming pools, a hairdresser and a casino.
It is not easy to tear oneself away from this luxury, but we were determined to see the town, and we walked down O'Higgins, the main street. We saw several travel agencies, and ski equipment rental shops. On one corner is the picturesque Cafe de la Paix, bustling with life, and la Suiza, on the next block, is a classic at tea time.
The younger ones hang out at the Bar del Pelado, where they make good cocktails and play music. That night we succumbed to the delicious "tapas" served in Puerto Pucón, which included shrimp, prawns, goat's cheese, country ham and oysters among others.
If you have the energy, a few hours of trekking to the crater will allow you to have a glimpse of the reddish flashes of the volcano, and to see the immensity of the cordillera and the Villarrica and Caburgua lakes and the Colilo lagoon by the Llaima and Lonquimay volcanos.
There are 50-minute tours through the volcanic caves formed by the lava rivers, at the entrance of the Viliarrica National Park at the foot of the volcano. Rafting is always available and the rivers Trancura and Liucura are especially challenging in winter. After so much action, the ultimate pleasure is to have a bath in the open air thermal waters of Huife while the snow falls all around.