Constitución 299 – 317, Santiago, Chile. 56-2-940-28-00; theaubrey.com; rates with breakfast from $240. 15 rooms. No eco-rating.
Boutique hotels are still a rare breed in Santiago, where The Aubrey opened last March at the foot of Cerro San Cristóbal mountain. Decades ago, this 1920s estate was a centre of Chile's artistic and political zeitgeist: Statesman-poet Pablo Neruda was a frequent house guest and the dining room, now the hip Pasta E Vino restaurant, was home for 30 years to legendary weekly lunches, known as "Almuezo de el Jueves", thrown by owner Domingo Durán Morales for the country's political elite . The surrounding Barrio Bellavista, once Santiago's bohemian quarter, is now a mix of student bars, upmarket restaurants and fashionable shops. Still, the atmosphere that drew Neruda and his arty intellectual crowd endures on narrow streets winding into the hills behind the hotel, where "La Chascona," the house Neruda built for his lover, later his third wife, is now a museum that recalls those tumultuous years.
It took the owners, Australian Mark Cigana and Englishman Will Martin, three years to resurrect The Aubrey from two near-ruined mansions. To preserve the Spanish colonial mission and arts and crafts atmosphere, Cigana laid lush eucalyptus hardwood floors in the principal building, restored the original parquet next door and rebuilt the commanding arches and terraces surrounding the pool. From auction houses in Santiago, London and Paris, Cigana fleshed out the buildings' elegant old bones with 19th-century rugs, George III wall mirrors and erudite selections from the estate of a Chilean architect.
Each room is equipped with Wi-Fi, LCD cable TVs, bathrooms with Hansgrohe showers, European Duravit and Philippe Starck fittings and eco-friendly, if austere-looking, wall dispensers for soap and shampoo. "I developed very specific tastes over 18 years staying in every kind of establishment from five-star hotels to hostels, and I applied them here," Cigana says. Since he dislikes "nickel and diming," Wi-Fi, bottled water and breakfast are gratis. And don't bother searching your pillow for a chocolate; to Cigana, "that's passé." While every room bears the owner's personal stamp – many pieces are from Cigana's private art collection – they don't have numbers or names, so take careful note of where you're located, or leave a trail of breadcrumbs. For families or companionable groups, the Art Deco Suite, rumoured to be Neruda's favourite writing spot, is a gracious three-room cottage with its own stone entry, connected to the hotel by a series of passageways.
As befits a hotel evolved from its owner's distinctive vision, service at The Aubrey is highly personal, if not entirely effective. When a breakfast waiter noticed I was reading a two-week-old New York Times, he promptly offered an array of current newspapers, although sadly nothing in English. Since the staff's language skills range from fluent to sketchy, pantomime can be a useful tool, which means if you like frequent coffee refills or prefer courses served at a brisk North American pace, a seat near the waiter station will save shoe leather.
FOOD AND DRINK
The Aubrey snared the Santiago branch of Valparaiso's cult restaurant Pasta E Vino, where the expansive wine list has some extraordinary choices from surrounding Chilean vineyards and chef Veronica Alfageme's menu is a fantasia of handmade pastas. The night we dined, she presented eight types of gnocchi, along with inventive raviolis such as salmon in coconut curry sauce and an edgy Brit-style black pudding version with whole-wheat dough and fried leeks. It's best to book a table when reserving your room, as the restaurant is often filled three weeks ahead.
The Aubrey's elaborate "Brazilian" breakfast echoes the hotel's stylish concept, as well as its eccentricities. A bowl filled with meticulously carved fruit appears first, along with a parfait glass layered with muesli yogurt and a mélange of fresh pineapple, raspberry, banana, grape and kiwi juices. If you must have protein, snack from the plate of ham and cheese, but save room for the Tuscan olive oil rolls. The good news for caffeine mavens is the Lavazza coffee topped with elegant crema, each cup individually pressed, which is also the bad news if you require more than one. Egg dishes can be requested, and sometimes they appear.
The Aubrey's most atmospheric spot may be the expansive mosaic terrazzo with arresting views of Cerro San Cristóbal peak surrounding the pool, which is outfitted for sybarites with three lie-down Jacuzzi beds. Adjacent to the hotel is the mountain's Parque Metropolitano, where a funicular leads to a zoo, a museum and scenic hiking trails. Five minutes' walk from the hotel is a bright spot in Barrio Bellavista's commercial zone: Patio Bellavista, a courtyard filled with first-rate restaurants, bookstores and shops.
Staying at The Aubrey gives travellers a taste of the cultural forces that shaped modern Chile. The mansion's thoughtful renovation and the personal atmosphere make this hotel ideal for well-heeled individualists who will appreciate its pleasant quirks and the depth of its owner's vision.
Special to The Globe and Mail