April 2011: Natascha is gracious, fun and the owner of one of the best-stocked bookshelves I have seen anywhere short of a proper library. Tallah, Santiago, Chile.
Just like its famous provincial capital by the sea, Limache was once a beautiful town and a hub of economic activity – in this case agriculture and manufacturing. The stately main thoroughfare of San Francisco de Limache is still the most beautiful high street in Chile and its magnificent plane trees date back to 1856, when savvy investors bought urban lots laid out in front of the new railway line linking Valparaíso with the capital. The original town of Limache Viejo, founded on the other side of the river in 1828, could only look on with envy, but both were destroyed in the devastating earthquake of 1906.
The famous Chilean writer and politician Benjamin Vincuña Mackenna once referred to Limache as the Chilean Manchester. In fact, there were never more than half a dozen family-owned factories here and only one survives to this day. But it is true they represented the great wealth that was once generated in the valley and translated into the very fine houses and country estates built between the mid 19th and 20th centuries.
Limache in the 21st Century is a town in transition, where the past and the present are coming together in a renewed spirit of enterprise and a love of nature. The railway link to the capital was discontinued in the 1980’s, but a modern metro train now connects with the coast instead.
A new wave of entrepreneurs is filling the valley with businesses ranging from oriental medicine to organic vegetables, yoga and dance studios, to furniture, hand-made jewellery, and jam. This means infrastructure is reviving as well, and Limache’s citizens are trying hard to improve the quality of life here by taking charge of projects as divers as environmental clean-up campaigns and alternative schools, new venues for art and culture, and unique owner-operated accommodation and catering. The town is definitely Chile’s best-kept secret – but not for much longer!
One of the most interesting and fun things to do in Limache is go to the Sunday Market, where you can buy almost anything, but especially fresh fruit and vegetables.
Meanwhile, the village of Olmué, 8km/5mi down the road, is working hard on preserving the rural heritage of the valley, not least with its brand new Folklore Museum on what is known as the Parque de Caballos.
This is the place to go for rustic meals and to taste some authentic chicha (a bit like cider, except it is made with fermented grapes) at Viña Santa Laura. Other activities revolve around horse-riding and browsing the many art and craft shops.