Simon Kane indulges in luxury at the end of the world.
THE SINGULAR PATAGONIA
The icy wind is breathtaking as the speeding boat cuts through the choppy surface of Last Hope Sound. It's summer in Chilean Patagonia, but the wind-chill factor adds a frisson. Mountains and glaciers loom on both sides. To the south, the extreme environment of the Tierra del Fuego archipelago is the last stop before Antarctica.
Sailing the fjords is one of the excursions available to guests of The Singular Patagonia. I disembark on The Singular's 170m-long pier, once part of the busy dock at Puerto Bories. It's the ideal vantage point from which to admire the hotel, a beautifully preserved early 20th century industrial building.
The former cold-storage and processing plant was built in 1906 by the Sociedad Explotadora de Tierra del Fuego to meet the needs of the region's fledgling sheep-farming economy.
Today, the hotel is a homage to that heritage and to the role of the British in this region's story, who from the early 1870s had colonised the area, introducing the first sheep from the Falkland Islands.
A sensitive restoration of the complex has created a home for the hotel's private historical collection. Guests can negotiate the steep slope down to the entrance and reception using the renovated funicular lift.
Here, at the heart of the site, the boiler and engine rooms have been refurbished and encased in glass, while the original machinery has been returned to pristine condition and recalls its roots, embossed with "Derby, England'', "Glasgow'' and "London''.
Glass corridors connect the cluster of buildings: in one direction are the bedrooms and a small spa with views over the sound. In the other, the former tannery has been transformed into the public areas.
The internal structure has been retained to create an expansive, open-plan bar-lounge-restaurant and a mezzanine breakfast area, making use of features such as the triple-height ceiling and an original wooden staircase. Comfortable sofas and chairs take the edge off the industrial interior and create a relaxing space for a pre-dinner pisco sour.
Stars of the restaurant menu are seasonal, local ingredients such as succulent Magellan lamb and king crab.
Chilean Patagonia can be reached from the north only by boat or plane (unless you cross in and out of Argentina). A three- to four-hour flight from Santiago, followed by a three-hour drive, brings you to a place so remote that the locals have more in common with their Argentine neighbours than their countrymen. Five minutes away from The Singular, Puerto Natales has the air of a frontier town. It's also a pleasant hub for the area's big draw, Torres del Paine National Park.
The Singular has a team of expert guides, and guests have exclusive access to the hotel's two private reserves. For an authentic Patagonian experience, a day's walking in the Sierra Baguales includes a visit to a working ranch. Alternatively, the hotel's high-speed boats will transport you for a guided hike to the end of the Serrano Glacier.
The 54 rooms and three suites are in the only new addition to the original building, but bespoke construction has paid off. Every room has a view of the Patagonian fjords, thanks to 6m or 12m windows that invite guests to connect with the natural environment.
After a day's hiking, cycling or horseback trekking, guests need to give their limbs a little love and there's plenty of room to spread out in the spacious standard rooms; suites also come with living areas. Bathrooms are large and luxurious, with deep tubs and walk-in showers, and toiletries made from olive oil and lavender aid rejuvenation.
The philosophy is simple luxury. Carpets that bounce underfoot contrast with the industrial, concrete-slab ceilings. Decor is neutral, with earthy coloured feature walls and pieces of traditional, dark-wood furniture providing a colonial touch. Prints of original photos working men, gauchos and vaqueros adorn the walls and bureaux. And every room has a view of the pier a deliberate visual connection to this historic monument's past.
Cox & Kings offers a 10-day tour of Chile, from $8147 per person, including two nights' full board at The Singular Patagonia, three nights' full board at Tierra Patagonia, three nights' B&B at the Hotel Lastarria in Santiago, flights from Heathrow via Madrid, transfers and excursions. For more information, visit chile.travel.