Gateway to Patagonia: Hotel Antumalal


Hotel Antumalal and Spa in Pućon offers the most authentic marriage of man-made structure and nature I have ever encountered within a commercial setting. The hotel is a mid-century modernist masterpiece with unrivalled views of Villarrica Lake and its namesake picture-perfect snow-dusted Volcano. Built in 1948 by Czech wartime refugees in a Bauhaus style from local materials, it was meticulously designed to enhance the natural contours of the 5-hectare park that surrounds it.

This is both indigenous Mapuche territory and a ski resort where the 16th century Spanish once mined gold. Waterfalls map lightning threads to cool rock pools in mossy grottos and vines now grace the distant volcanic slopes.

The hotel exists thanks to a series of fantastical chance events, culminating in the unlikely arrival of the Queen and Prince Philip on their landmark trip to Chile in 1968.

Catalina Pollak and her mother, Davita, recognised the power of this place in 1944 when having fled Nazi Europe, they opened a tearoom serving Prague delicacies to travellers on the site. It so happened that one day, the President of Chile, Gabriel Gonzalez Videla, stopped by for tea. Guillermo Pollak made the monumental decision to ask for his assistance in raising funds to build a hotel. Videla obliged, and Corfo, one of Latin America’s first national development banks, provided the loan.

Hotel Antumalal was built in a mid-century modern style and opened in 1950. It is intimate and inviting, with 16 rooms in the main building and three private chalets hidden in the grounds. The chalet that housed the Queen and Prince Philip has its own tiny waterfall.

The hotel was designed by Jorge Elton, a young Chilean architect influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright. Materials came exclusively from the surrounding woodlands and quarries. Most of the structure is built from Araucaria, or monkey puzzle tree, a large, dense, grained conifer that can live for 1000 years and grows on the slopes beneath the volcano. It forms the tactile heart of this gorgeous place, where simple luxury and texture reign.

Every bedroom has an open fire; heated concrete floors provide further warmth and textural polish. Huge picture windows facilitate open-mouthed analysis of nature’s majesty. The sumptuous warmth of the hotel’s interior tempers the astonishing vastness of the landscape outside. Soft rugs, indigenous weavings, and succulent, hot, puckered-to-bursting clam empanadas are key menu staples. Pisco Sours supply sustenance and a sense of elucidation; they are the ultimate hangover cure or après-outdoor exertion treat.

Secret pathways wend about the rocks and trees, facilitating many a magical meander peppered with plentiful romantic hidden nooks. Sculptural foliage and lush lawns are carefully tended to enhance the natural seclusion. Nothing has really changed in 70 years.

The hotel is still owned by the Pollak family, now in their third generation, who have recovered the original sofas and chairs several times over the years. Visitors used to arrive at the jetty by boat, but the boathouse was never completed. The foundations and curved walls have been repurposed to house a Scandinavian-style spa, perfectly in keeping with the philosophy of the space.

Black-and-white photos bear testament to many a sojourn by famed guests; Neil Armstrong, James Stewart, Isabelle Allende, and Emma Thompson have all tested Antumalal’s charms. Sebastian de Martino, a renowned producer of fine Chilean wine, even held his wedding here and has since planted vines on the slopes of Villarrica Volcano amongst the petrified lava flows.

It is impossible to see this place and not be moved by its authenticity and integrity; it is so very much more than the sum of its parts. It was influenced by the philosophy of the Mapuche, whose culture was forged by a timeless respect for nature, and many settled in Patagonia. The Pollaks found sanctuary here, too, somehow snatching peace from the abject misery of impending war.

Young Sebastian De Martino shares an affinity with the land; his volcanic vines grow achingly slowly at the furthest reaches of viticultural viability, just across the lake from the hotel where he sanctified his marriage. He, too, was drawn here, sensing its serenity and the possibility of a new viticultural dawn.

Hotel Antumalal may be reached by plane to Pućon from Santiago in season or by car in under two hours from Temuco, where flights run all year round. For more information, please visit

The Villarrica National Park facilitates anything from helicopter rides to skiing to a simple summer hike. The wines of De Martino may be sourced through Berry Brothers and Rudd.