Chilean Nobel poet Pablo Neruda was a celebrity in his time, known for his poetry, his time as a Chilean diplomat, his communist beliefs and his lavish eccentricities. His communist party affiliation forced him to cross the Andes mountains into Argentina on horseback to escape arrest in March 1949.
His eccentricities are on full display in his three beautiful homes in Chile. These homes are decorated with souvenirs he collected from around the world. We were lucky to visit all three houses. The price of admission to each house includes an audio headset to guide you through. The audio tours are well done with actors playing the parts of different characters.
Santiago to Valparaíso
Our first stop was Valparaíso, about a 90-minute drive if you don’t stop along the way, but part of the fun of a road trip are the spontaneous detours you make when something catches your eye.
La Sebastiana in Valparaíso
Valparaíso, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is built on the slope of a steep mountain. This is a bohemian town with graffiti-art decorating the houses. Unesco cleverly describes the town around it as an amphitheatre-like setting, since it rises from the seaport on all sides.
The views of the colorful houses and the ocean are breathtaking from the top. Neruda loved the sea and he wanted a home with this view. He fell in love with this house (below) by the architect Sebastian Collao.
The decoration of each of Neruda’s homes is heavily influenced by Neruda’s love of the sea.
La Sebastiana is actually a small, tall house with narrow stairways. The curved wall on the fourth floor full of large windows makes the house resemble a ship. All three homes are full of souvenirs from Neruda’s travels when he served as an ambassador. These include old maps and portraits, a carousel house, and food and liquor from around the world.
Neruda designated each space of the house with a purpose: there was his writing area, his bar, a living room, etc., and you entered a space for a specific purpose.
When Neruda invited guests for dinner, they gathered in the dining room, waiting for Neruda to make his appearance. He enjoyed making a grand entrance to greet his guests.
Neruda told his friends about a particular house below where he claimed always watched a woman sunbathe naked. His friends spent hours looking out his window but they never saw her.
Valparaíso to Isla Negra
Valparaíso is just a 70-minute drive to Isla Negra if you drive without stopping, but who wants to do that.
El Totoral is a tiny town with a church, a farm store, even a museum and a few scattered houses.
Wherever you look, you find eggs that the hens laid, including in some of the flower pots. The caretakers have to hunt for eggs everywhere.
Fresh bread, jelly, eggs from the hens on the farm and craft beer are just some of the things we bought in the tiny town of El Totoral.
Isla means island in Spanish but this property is just a strip of land along the coast. The home at Isla Negra is just one floor with the rooms connecting one through the other. The narrow house stretches from north to south, just like long, narrow Chile.
Throughout the house, the windows look out over the Pacific Ocean. Neruda loved the sea and said that this was the house that most inspired him to write.
Neruda and his wife, Matilde, were buried here at Isla Negra, but their remains were moved to Spain in 1992 for lab tests to determine if the famous poet had been poisoned to death by the dictatorial government of Pinochet.
Isla Negra to Santiago
We returned to Santiago in time for my cousin Saverio’s birthday. Saverio is a geologist working in Chile.
Before visiting the final home of Pablo Neruda, we began the day at Saverio’s apartment where I prepared a delicious breakfast for the group: Cesar, a Peruvian who can talk to you in-depth and intelligently on a wide variety of subjects; Manuel, so accommodating that he was disappointed that we didn’t have time to travel to his hometown in the south of Chile; Ramon, a Chilean who fell in love with Venezuela years ago.
The breakfast consisted of the fresh ingredients we bought during our road trip and a few items we bought at Santa Clara, a supermarket around the corner.
La Chascona in Santiago
La Chascona is a Chilean word (from the indigenous Quechua language) which means a wild mane of hair. This was his nickname for his wife Matilde.
The home is located an a bohemian section of Santiago and it would be easy to walk past the entrance without even realizing it.
La Chascona is like the other houses in its dedicated spaces, its worldly souvenirs and its naval touches. The audio tour was just as wonderful as those of the other homes. Still, it was our least favorite of the three, without the beautiful sea in front and, perhaps being #3 of our visits, we were fatigued from so many excesses and eccentricities of this poet.
We recommend all three homes since Neruda was such an important figure in Chilean history. The short distances between the houses makes it easy to visit all three in just a few days. If you plan on driving, like we did, the routes are simple and the roads are good.