Protected by mountains on all sides, this sun-scorched parcel of vines and orchards produces Chile's best red wines. Production started here shortly after the conquest in the mid-16th century with the introduction of vineyards by Jesuit missionaries. The mining boom of the late 19th century brought wealth and noble grapes of French origin, including Carmenere, which was rediscovered here in the 1990s after disappearing in Europe. It's now Chile's signature grape.
The town of Santa Cruz has a few good hotels and a picturesque plaza, and serves as your central departure point. But the real encanto (charm) here is heading to the countryside to learn about wine, visit with eccentric vintners and experience the lyrical pull of wine country.