1968 seems light years ago: a year of massive social and political upheavals all over the world, political assassinations, jungle print kaftans and the Beatles’ White album. But some things never change, and the official visit of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip to Chile, as reported in a commentary rich in deferential clichés on Pathé News, seems in some ways timeless.
This visit, which took place exactly fifty years ago in November 1968, had an extraordinary impact on the Chilean people. Chile has long been a friend of the UK, which is fondly remembered for the participation of renegade former admiral Lord Cochrane in the country’s war of independence. (Subsequent to the Queen’s visit, Chile was accommodating to British troops during the Falklands/Malvinas war and Britain also offered asylum to a significant number of dissidents during the Pinochet era). The royal visit took place during a relatively stable period under the stewardship of Christian Democrat President Eduardo Frei, a couple of years before Salvador Allende was swept to power in a democratic election, subsequently to be toppled in a military coup by Augusto Pinochet.
Photo: Archivo Casa Museo EFM
Hosted by President Frei, Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh were welcomed by huge crowds wherever they went, driving through the capital in an open-topped car. They also visited the port of Valparaiso. Following this the royal couple travelled by air (in what really does look like a museum piece) to Pucón in the lake district. At the time, this now dynamic resort on the shores of Lake Villarrica was a small, unassuming town crouching in the shadow of the imperious snow-draped cone of the volcano also named Villarrica. Tourism was originally given a boost with the establishment of the first hotels in the 1920s and completion of regional roads, but only took off in a modest way in the 1930s. Nowadays, with a huge range of summertime adventure activities to choose from - hiking, river rafting, horse riding, bird watching, fishing and canyoning, it is a popular destination for visitors on all budgets. In winter and spring you can ski or snowboard on the slopes of the volcano or visit one of the thermal baths situated a stone throw’s away in the Valdivian temperate rain forest.
The monarch was not tempted at the time to indulge in adrenaline-pumping activities but did stay at what is still one of Chile’s most iconic hotels, Antumalal. It started life as a Czech-owned tea room on a rocky promontory on the lakeshore 2km from town, but eventually a visionary architect was commissioned to build a hotel on the site designed in the stark Bauhaus style of the 1940s and 50s. Its modernist construction stands in contrast to the Patagonian features of many other properties in the region, but it does have a regional focus: embracing artwork and furnishings which defer to the culture of the Mapuche Indians, indigenous to the lake district. The Queen’s impending visit caused a bit of a stir; there are main anecdotes related locally: one being that the hotel management felt that Her Majesty could not be expected to sleep on a used mattress so a new one was shipped in – unfortunately on an open-backed truck, which resulted in its being soaked in the rain and had to be dried out over an open fire. It all went well however in the end and the Queen is on record for having commented that she found the property delightful.
With the panoramic views from the luxury guest rooms, the superb natural and ornamental gardens and now a spa, this property has attracted not only Queen Elizabeth but no end of dignitaries and celebrities including Neil Armstrong, James Stewart, Barry Goldwater and Emma Thompson. Why not add your name to the list of illustrious visitors?