Vegans beware: we’re about to use the words ‘sheep’ and ‘processing’ in the same sentence. The Singular Patagonia, on the cusp of the Last Hope Sound in far-flung Puerto Natales – gateway to Torres del Paine National Park – is a former sheep-processing plant turned luxury Chilean hotel. On your way to dinner, you’ll slip past rooms full of intact machinery or the old tannery, preserved as part of the rustic-luxe design of the hotel. Despite its end-of-the-earth setting, all creature comforts have been thought of, including a vast spa and top-notch restaurant where Patagonian cordero (lamb) is the speciality.
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A bottle of Chilean wine on arrival, plus (subject to availability) early check-in
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £365.18 ($445).
Rates usually include a generous buffet breakfast. All-inclusive and half-board options are also available. You won't need to ask for a tax refund, rates include 0% tax as foreign visitors are exempt from paying VAT.
Learn more about the hotel's history at the on-site museum, where you can delve into the building's industrial past as a sheep processing plant. The Puerto Bories Frigorifico opened in 1915 to provide a full-service slaughterhouse, including meat, skins, wool and tallow. Sounds grim, but it brought lots of jobs to the region and created the nearby town of Puerto Natales.
The hotel is closed between 17 April and 27 September 2017.
The Singular is pretty easygoing about where you catch your 40 winks, with a choice of just Rooms or Suites. We’d pick the latter for extra space (all that outdoorsy gear takes up a lot of room) and views of the Fjord of Last Hope Sound. Similar to the russet-red exterior of the new building where the rooms are located, both options are decorated in earthy tones and elements that give a nod to the Singular’s industrial past: picture polished concrete ceilings and straight-from-the-factory-floor copper lights. There’s a TV too, but you won’t be needing it: the only widescreen you’ll want to check out is the double-width windows.
Under a polished concrete ceiling, the indoor pool looks out over Last Hope Sound through floor-to-ceiling windows. A line of loungers surrounds the pool, which makes a dog-leg under a window and out into the Patagonian fresh air.
The Singular Spa pampers walking-weary feet with decongestant leg massages, hydrotherapy and hot-stone treatments in its four treatment rooms. The indoor-outdoor pool, hammam and sauna all overlook the placid fjord.
Respect the building’s ruminant heritage with shaggy sheepskin gilets and hardy leather boots.
Despite its location, the hotel is surprisingly accessible for mobility-impaired guests. There’s a funicular to access the lobby, a lift to the restaurant and ramps to all rooms. There is one wheelchair-adapted room on the ground floor.
All ages are welcome, but the terrain and activities on offer mean the hotel is best suited to older children. Extra beds can be added to all rooms.
The Singular Patagonia was awarded LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification by the Green Building Council. The hotel has two private reserves spreading across 37,000 acres, maintaining the habitat of local plants and animals; it uses sustainable design elements such as water-conserving taps.
The intimate asador seats up to 40 guests and takes you on a culinary journey around Patagonia, with meats cooked on an open wood-burning grill. Try rabbit, lamb and guanaco.
Relaxed and casual – leave anything brightly coloured in your room.
In a wood-beamed room warmed by a log-burning fire, chef Hernán Basso’s the Singular restaurant overlooks the placid waters of Last Hope Sound from its two floors. Given the building’s history with sheep, the menu raises the baa (ba-dum-tish) when it comes to modern reincarnations of lamb dishes: chops with white beans, or glazed lamb shank with Roquefort polenta, for example. The menu may be limited, though there are some interesting options such as guanaco fillet with husked wheat, and conger eel with scampi. Herbivores don’t get the thin end of the veg: there’s a special section of the menu just for vegetarians, with options including lentils slow-cooked in red wine with Swiss chard and mushrooms, or avocado soup. A wide selection of Chilean wines accompanies the food. A second restaurant, El Asador, is located in the old blacksmith’s workshop, for intimate dining and traditional fare; empanadas and local rhubarb ice-cream are highlights.
Sip a Calafate sour (Pisco, lemon, sugar, Calafate juice) under the warm lights of the bar, located in the old part of the hotel that dates back to 1915. Post-Victorian architecture and an industrial-meets-maritime style complements the lengthy wine list of local vintages; there are 75 different Chilean wines to work your way through. We’ll say salud to that.
Breakfast is served from 7am–10am. The Singular is open for lunch from 1pm–3pm and dinner from 7.30pm–10.30pm; El Asador serves dinner between 7.30pm and 10.30pm. The bar is open from 10am until 11.30pm.
Served from 6am until 11pm, room service includes salads, sandwiches and charcuterie. The free minibar includes water and soft drinks.
The tiny hamlet of Puerto Bories was settled by the Brits who created a sheep-processing plant (slaughterhouse, meatpacking, tannery). Now home to the Singular, it’s just three kilometres from Puerto Natales, gateway to Torres del Paine National Park.
Fly direct to Santiago from the UK with British Airways (www.britishairways.com); indirect flights can be found with Alitalia via Rome and Aeroméxico via Mexico City. From the States, hop on a flight with United (www.united.com) or American Airlines (www.aa.com), both of which fly from a number of US airports, including Houston and Miami. You’ll then need to take an internal flight to Punta Arenas or, in high season, Puerto Natales. Regional flights are operated by Latam (www.lan.com) and Sky Airline (www.skyairline.cl). The hotel can organise return transfers from Punta Arenas for US$290.
Hire a car and the whole area opens up to you; a sturdy set of wheels is usually enough to cope with the area’s dirt roads; in winter, you’ll need a four-wheel drive. Petrol stations are few and far between, so it’s worth topping up the tank whenever you spot one, even if it’s still quite full. If you’re driving from Punta Arenas it’s around two and a half hours to the Singular; it’s also possible to drive from El Calafate in Argentina, which takes about four hours, depending on the border crossing. Hotel parking is free.
Worth getting out of bed for
Start on your front doorstep: the hotel’s history is worth delving into. On a one-hour tour you’ll learn all about the journey from sheep-processing plant to luxury hotel, which has been restored by descendants of the first pioneers that settled the region. Whether you’re into hiking or cycling, horse riding or watersports (or prefer to just hunker down with a good book), the hotel offers a huge variety of excursions. Trek out into southern Patagonia and view lakes and waterfalls; take to two wheels and cycle around the fjord; mount a sturdy steed for a day horseriding with the huasos (Chilean cowboys) on a traditional estancia (private estate). The hotel has bikes, kayaks and even a privately-owned boat to take you to the Serrano Glacier. With the Torres del Paine National Park an hour away, the possibilities for exploring are endless.
The night before we arrive at the Singular, Mrs Smith and I sleep atop a tangle of tree roots in a dark enclosed space that smells – sorry to lower the tone here – of feet. Mrs Smith calls this ‘a tent’, I call this: what have I done to make you hate me?
This was the deal. I get to go to a nice hotel, if we put in four days of hiking and camping beforehand. It’s a pact with the devil and I have paid with one, if not both, of my knees. Yes, Torres del Paine truly is one of the most beautiful places on earth, yes, I did see my first glacier and spontaneously burst into tears, and yes, the whole way through, my conversation is repetitive. ‘Where are we going next?’ I ask her. ‘The Singular,’ she says, for the eighteenth time. ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ ‘No, we are 83 kilometers away. By foot.’
When finally the big day comes and we are liberated from our tent, I use the very last of my cartilage to limp from our 4x4 towards the hotel. From a distance, the Singular blends seamlessly into its surroundings – the Scotland meets Mordor of the landscape, the monopoly houses of painted wood, the arctic trawlers skimming fish from the lake. And it should – it’s been there since 1915.
Formerly a cold storage plant, abandoned for 30 years, and then revived in an act of ambition and sheer magic by descendants of the former owners and architect Pedro Kovacic, it’s the only hotel in Chile that’s also a museum. Singular by name, singular by nature, it makes its bed perfectly between two reds – the rusty red of seafarers and the crisp, luxe scarlet of a red carpet.
We wander into a cathedral of corrugated iron. At first, it feels like a farm on sea, then, slowly the other side unfurls: gleaming glass, a team of concierge in ruby gilets, and – just what the knee doctor ordered – a working funicular. And so it begins, the curious unfolding of old and new, riches and ruggedness, heritage, hedonism and stop-all-the-clocks hydraulics (inside, the corridors runs like a river alongside stunning, herculean original factory machinery).
Patagonia derives its name from Patagon, a native people who were said to be double average human height. Our bath was made for such a person. This is my first destination. By the time our bags arrive on a gleaming porter’s cart, I have already had two baths, eight showers, another bath, and a final shower for luck. I take a moment to lie spread-eagled on the heated floor.
'I feel like I am being reborn,' I tell Mrs Smith.
We fall into bed. The glass of our window steams up like that scene in Titanic.
'I remember this…' I say, my hands roaming.
'You’re nowhere near me.' Mrs Smith says.
Our rebirth continues in the spa – Mondrian-esque lines of steel and glass – where the tip of an L-shaped pool slips you outside into the open air, and a cedar sauna toasty enough to scorch your septum saves you afterwards.
Rebirth part two happens at the bar, where its sextuple-height ceilings are held aloft by tall beams of 100-year-old slow-growing lenga, and cocktails made from calafate berries and rhubarb are so good they make you want to hold your lover’s hands.
Reader, the truth will out eventually, so I may as well say it now. I did not leave the hotel. OK so there was a touch of rain – the four-seasons-in-a-day Patagonia weather vane was stuck in a rut on our trip – but the truth is, I didn’t want to. As a great wise man (my uncle Charles) once said: follow your joy. Mine was here. Losing at chess by the Game of Thrones size fire. Spending hours trying to to take pictures of wild black necked swans for Mrs Smith’s mother, but uniquely capturing their bottoms as they ducked. Reading The New York Times international edition that was slipped under our door each morning. Slicing through some of my life’s best steak, seared to the point of transcendence in the Singular’s blacksmith BBQ.
Here’s the thing: the hotel is so part of the landscape, you feel a part of it even when you’re inside. Comforts, of course, abound – apricot walls, dark wood and emperor beds – but it’s clear in every architectural decision: the hotel was made to demur to the world outside it. The windows in our bedroom outsize a cinema screen, which makes our bed a front row seat to the blockbuster outside: velveteen hills, wild horses, low-lying clouds, the wind playing skip with telephone wires, the epic, tooth-like Andes. At night, the twinkling lights of cargo ships look like fallen stars. Even the words themselves are romantic: fjord, pampas, and the bay we look out on: the Last Hope Sound inlet.
Patagonia is the kind of place where if you love someone, you want to hold them tight. It’s the kind of place where you imagine if you had a compass in your palm it might just suddenly start spinning. When we first got in our car, we turned on the radio and it was broadcasting straight from the Falklands, 1930 – complete with cattle-rustling reports and sea shanties.
It’s the land of the unlikely, and there’s nowhere like the Singular to experience it. Indelibly linked to the land by its history, it never tries to dilute the weird, wild eeriness of the world that surrounds it – it embraces it. And, crucially, it kisses your knees better.