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Introducing Southern Heartland

South of Santiago, squeezed between the Andes and the coastal cordillera, the central valley is Chile's fruit bowl, with a Mediterranean climate and endless orchards and vineyards – this region produces most of Chile's wine. The Andes in this sector are spectacular, with deciduous beech forests climbing their slopes and broad gravel-bedded rivers descending into the valley. Most of the large settlements here are agricultural service towns; though they're not filled with tourist sights, they make good bases for excursions to the hinterland.

The 8.8-magnitude earthquake that rocked Chile in February 2010 was particularly devastating to this region. In addition to the countless houses and offices that were destroyed in Curicó, Concepción and Chillán, historic landmarks like Talca's central market were so badly damaged that they may never reopen. The businesses that did survive suffered a chaotic period of looting and disorder; the city of Concepción had to enforce a widespread curfew for months after the quake.

Though the aftermath of the quake had a direct impact on the region's burgeoning wine tourism industry, the central valley was more or less back in business at the time of writing. There may not be as many accommodations and restaurants available to tourists, but new businesses are opening at a quick clip as the Chilean government pours money into rebuilding efforts.