We’ve experienced this hotel before, but only for a few hours, and it was quite different then. We were trying to get back, by a tedious and haphazard route, from somewhere in South America to Paris. For reasons too boring to go into (and which we forget most of the detail of), the journey involved multiple connections and six hours of downtime in the capital of Chile. After Googling “best hotel pool in Santiago”, the Grand Hyatt seemed liked the best place to kill time. And time was well killed by that pool indeed. Our bar bill was alarming and the flight back to Paris passed in a haze.
This is the arrival of heavyweight branded luxury
The swimming pool at Avenida Kennedy 4601 is still the best in the city, with a grandstanding volcanic-style rock formation water feature cascading refreshing cold water down from a sundeck in the middle of a stifling hot December day. When we visited this month, the rest of the hotel seemed nearly on par with the swimming. We say nearly, because it was still a month away from a name change. The Grand Hyatt branding was long gone, the notepads next to each bed bore no legend at all, and the façade of the rotunda-shaped building (nicknamed “The Washing Machine” by locals, for reasons which we suspect may be libellous to go into) simply bore the name “Hotel Santiago”. But from January 2019 it’s the Mandarin Oriental. Which, in a city of midmarket chains, is a big deal. This is the arrival of heavyweight branded luxury.
When we visited, the main entrance was still under construction, and reception had been repositioned into the bar, in a series of wooden counters reminiscent of a courtroom. The atrium area had been nearly finished, with the kind of superlative well-upholstered glamour offset with a small galaxy of overhead hanging crystal lights that you’d expect from the Mandarin Oriental. Many fancy chains – and the Ritz Carlton comes to mind here – are hit and miss depending on location, but we’ve never stayed at a Mandarin we didn’t love.
After a week of grittier digs in Bolivia, getting to the Mandarin Oriental Santiago was like landing on a giant feather cushion. Our room had a widescreen view out across the pool, the city skyscrapers and surrounding mountains It was so picturesque, we never drew the curtains. The interiors are now as upscale international-Asian-tasteful as you can imagine, with simple contemporary graphic carpets, giant landscape prints and textured perhaps-its-ponyskin on the walls. Beds are A+ for comfort, and bathrooms similarly swank. One nice, surprisingly quirky feature of the makeover: At the time of our visit, the tiered corridors of the atrium featured a 50/50 split of door style and room number; one side was minimalist, the other was restrained contemporary rustic. It’s quite subtle, but the effect reminded us of a Carsten Höller installation.
Service was still sticky in some areas, but stellar in other. Reception was flawless, and the concierge arranged our new favourite private taxi driver for meetings in Casablanca (without trying to upsell to a hotel car). When we were seen waiting to make a query about a late check-out, a member of staff approached and told us “consider it taken care of”. Service at the Thai restaurant and at the destination Nikkei dining room Matsuri was spotty and slow. But the food at both was consistently excellent – as you’d expect at a Mandarin Oriental. An evening at Matsuri paid surprising dividends: Despite being a partial building site when we visited, the hotel was still clearly THE place for a society wedding, and we had a 20-minute parade of wedding guests passing by the Matsuri terrace en route to the main party. The poolside scene at the old Hyatt was always good for people watching, but nothing gives us more pleasure than critiquing the dress sense of 100 strangers all trying to outdo one another. Hot take fashion report from Santiago: No fascinators or shrugs, but plenty of culottes with voluminous ankle length skirts layered over the top. C
Mandarin Oriental Hotel Santiago, Presidente Kennedy 4601, Santiago, Chile
+56 2950 3088; mandarinoriental.com