Tasting Pisco in the Elqui Valley

We only had 10 days to see the highlights of Chile so it was one of the hardest itineraries to come up with. The Elqui Valley sounded like a good place for us to spend some time given our love for nice sceneries, good weather (the Elqui Valley is known for having over 300 sunny days per year), and alcohol! 😉

Additional picture are available in our Chile gallery (Click Here).

Getting There

After a short flight (a little over an hour) from Santiago to La Serena, we rented a car from the small La Florida airport (fitting name!). Before heading to the Elqui Valley, we went for a drive along the coast to see the famous beaches and lighthouse of La Serena. While the ocean is always great to look at, the beaches were deserted.  Most of the beach-side restaurants and bars were closed (we were there in the offseason, early November).  It was still great views after being in land-locked Santiago.

The beach in La Serena - almost completely deserted except for two hardy Canadians
The beach in La Serena – almost completely deserted except for two hardy Canadians

It took us about an hour to drive to the small town of Vicuna in the Elqui Valley where we stayed in a B&B for two nights. We drove by some gorgeous countryside along the way – beautiful views of mountains and green valleys.

Vicuna

The town of Vicuna is really nice and has plenty of restaurants, shops, and bars. Our favourite restaurant was called Chaski, which felt like you were eating in a weird treehouse. We stayed in a really cool B&B in Vicuna, Solar de los Madariaga, which is located inside a museum! The hostess, Mitzi, was really nice and we had a great stay here (highly recommend).  While she only speaks a bit of English (granted, better than our Spanish), it was relatively easy to communicate.  You don’t get access to a kitchen, but a good breakfast is provided.  With a bit of sweet-talking, Mitzi even let us use her laundry facilities.

Tasting Pisco

On our full day in the valley, we drove to the small town of Pisco Elqui to taste some pisco. We had heard great things about a small producer, Los Nichos.

Los Nichos

We went there first and signed our names up for the next tour, which we learned are only offered in Spanish. We thought we’d be okay – how hard could it be to look like we understand the guide while we’re shown around a small production facility and taste some pisco? All we can say is, up to that point, it was the best pisco tour we’d ever been on.

The guide appeared to be hilarious, given the frequent hysterical laughing by the Spanish-speaking tourists (i.e. everyone except us).  The tour took us around some old buildings that clearly aren’t used any more, but we saw some old distilling equipment as we waited patiently for the tasting portion of the tour.  For all we knew, the guide was just showing us some abandoned buildings on the site, but since all the other tourists were taking pictures, we decided to do the same.

The Los Nichos pisco producer
The Los Nichos pisco producer
Abandoned buildings (?) at Los Nichos
Abandoned buildings (?) at Los Nichos
The still at Los Nichos
The still at Los Nichos
Mistral

After tasting some pisco at Los Nichos, we figured we needed a bit more instruction in the fine art of pisco-making.  We drove the few minutes down the road to the largest pisco producer in Chile, Mistral.  We enjoyed lunch (and a pisco sour of course!) and booked ourselves a private English-speaking tour. It was much better than the first for obvious reasons.  They gave us a voucher for a free pisco in their restaurant and two free pisco glasses.  Trying the different type of pisco (separated by how long they’d been aged in oak and alcohol content) was very interesting.  I’m sure the guide was less than impressed when we asked which pisco was best for a pisco sour…their youngest and least oaky.

We picked up a bottle of his recommended tipple, their Tres Erres pisco which was young and barely oaked.  The fact it is only sold at the distillery made it a bit more special.  You know what they say about souvenirs – make sure they’re practical…and booze is always practical.

Standing in front of aging pisco at Mistral
Standing in front of aging pisco at Mistral

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