It’s a given that Portland, Oregon is the “City of Roses,” but there’s another such city, much smaller and thousands of miles from Oregon. In what is called the Lake District of Chile, there is a delightful small town of about 41,000 fronted by the chilly Lake Llanquihue, with a backdrop of two snow-capped volcanoes.
The word “precious” is overused, but correctly applies to Puerto Varas, a popular tourist destination an hour’s drive from Puerto Montt. To reach it, one must fly or sail into Puerto Montt, then take a bus to Varas. There is a rail line, but the train cars purchased from Spain, are so uncomfortable and unsafe, that Chileans take the bus. It doesn’t look as though the train runs anyway.
The 450 ft. deep Lake Llanquihue, “deep place” or “lost place” (depending on your guide’s translation), is edged with dark volcanic sand. The lake, the third largest in South America, is used most often for sun-bathing and not for sailing, waterskiing, or swimming. The water is too cold, the season too short, and even the nicest hotels in town find it too expensive to offer water sports.
By Marisa Garrido/marisadechile – Own work, Public Domain, Link
The two volcanoes, Calbuco and Osorno, resemble rounded smokestacks with big dabs of snow on top, even in the summertime in Chile. December is the peak of summer in the southern hemisphere reversal from our winter. Calbuco blew its top, so it’s not as rounded as Osorno.
There’s a large casino here, responding to the bulge of tourism that makes Varas so popular.
But that isn’t what draws many to this City of Roses. It’s the roses. Hundreds of modern varieties, including a favorite—Double Delight. Bushes bloom along streets, in most yards, and surround the small park in the center of town. That park, in December 2007, contained a dozen trees decorated with Christmas ornaments, ribbons, and garlands. Evidently the city council sponsors a decorating contest for local organizations. North American tourists trotted from tree to tree, cameras at the ready, to capture the handsome trees.
Away from the park, casino, and small shopping area of stores and stalls, are hotels and homes, notable for the German architectural influences of the settlers tempted to this area by the Chilean government in the mid-l850s. Bavaria comes to mind as one travels the streets in Varas.
Those settlers established dairies, which today form the other important part of the area’s economy. Siding on homes are shingles, often made from the Alcera tree so the water will slide off. That tree is now protected.
About half an hour away is another town, Frutillar, which means “strawberry,” although other varieties of berries are exported from here. No roses in this small town, but there is an unusual open-air museum spread along a hillside, consisting of several houses, each which focuses on a particular part of the city’s history.
The blacksmith will try to sell you horseshoes. There’s a small, but well-stocked, shop. And restaurants across from the museum offer delicious pastries and chocolates with German traditional touches thrown in at no additional cost.
There’s a huge musical festival here in late January and early February as large red metal sculptures along the lake attest. January is also a good time to climb the volcanoes. Most towns here celebrate Oktoberfest in the German manner.
The road from Puerto Montt to these two towns is part of the Pan-American Highway; in fact, depending on which town is telling the story, the road ends in this part of Chile. Here the Andes Mountains begin their descent toward Cape Horn, to disappear into water, only to re-surface in Antarctica.
Three other nearby spots to visit: Petrohue at Esmeralda Lake, Tenglo Island, and Chiloe Island.
But it’s the City of Roses that brought me back for a second visit on a five-week cruise around South America. Despite the rain this second trip, it was still a magical place.