Poet’s Pacific paradise: Pablo Neruda’s homes in Chile

As a brand-new movie about Pablo Neruda gets a UK release, we see two of the Pacific-facing residences where the poet found inspiration: beachside Isla Negra and the crazy port of Valparaso

If we march up and down all the stairs of Valparaso well have walked all round “the worlds”. Poet Pablo Neruda was alluding to the cosmopolitan verve of Chiles second metropolitan, leader port and most romantic and likeable metropolis. He might also ought to have referring to the exercising you get hiking around Valpo as neighbourhoods dub it. Spread over 42 mountains, its manors, homes, shanties and steep, cobbled roads are a sea-facing sprawl. When you get lost and red-hot, its a aid to stumble on one of the four ascensores funicular elevates which cut out some of the climbing.

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Id been to Valpo before, to devour ceviche and enjoy fine wines from the nearby Casablanca valley, but this time I chiefly wanted to explore the ties between the city and Chiles Nobel prize-winning poet. A brand-new cinema, Neruda, starring Luis Gnecco and Gael Garca Bernal, goes on general UK release on 7 April. That and a new direct flight this year from Heathrow to Santiago international airport( an hour or so from Valparaso) is bound to revive those who are interested in Chiles second city.

I inaugurated my mini-pilgrimage 84 km south of Valparaso, at Isla Negra. This is not an island at all, but a exquisite beach place where, in 1944, Neruda started improving a residence where he had been able to work on his masterpiece, Canto General, and throw parties. It took two designers, with their demanding patron admonishing, around 20 times to terminated the members of this house. Neruda wandered around Chile and overseas as senator and contributing communist party member. He was also exiled for several years in Buenos Aires and Mexico. But, as Neruda threw it: The home preserved growing, like people, like trees.

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La Casa de Isla Negra, the poets beachside home. Photo: Alamy

Every 10 instants, up to 14 parties are allowed into his Casa de Isla Negra, which they tour with an audioguide. The commentary is academic in detail and, if unavoidably positive about Neruda, still enlightening. The mansion is a marvel, with rooms decorated according to the writers feelings. One living room is determined like a vessel, another like a train car. Huge figureheads jut out at every turn, and carries in bottles fill windowsills. Neruda was an avid collector, of bottles, shells, insects, butterflies and, from the examines of his wardrobe, tweed casings, ponchos and hats.

With its ship-like narrow hallways and steep staircases, colors paintwork, and mismatched and modernist furniture, the house doesnt appear dated at all. It stimulates a Neruda who was playful, whimsical and for a socialist a buff of luxuries. To entertain acquaintances, he had a large prohibit constructed, and he liked his guests to come in fancy dress, on themes he dictated.

Immature? Maybe, but as Neruda said: The soldier who does not play has lost the child within him.

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Luis Gnecco as Pablo Neruda in a still from the movie.

Outside the house is Nerudas tomb, and below it a startling rocky beach. Even on a daytime of low-pitched gale, channel-surf was gate-crashing, turquoise with lathering grey pinnacles, and the light-headed mystical. I expected a Brazilian maiden to take my photo and, unbidden, she poured forth her fondness for Neruda. Ive been in tears. This is such a magical plaza. Ive been wanting to come here for years.

Im not sure any European poet has quite this outcome on people. Nor can her rage be written off as typical of Latin Americans. A little subsequently, at the cafe( where Neruda-label wine was on offer ), a neighbourhood woman, when I mentioned my Brazilian friend, witheringly uttered, Que tontita ! How silly! Neruda divides sentiment, particularly in his house society. One neighbourhood told me at least a third of Chileans are pro-Pinochet, which stirs them anti-Neruda.

After lunch at a roadside eatery, it was on to Valparaso to visit Nerudas hilltop house, La Sebastiana( identified after its original owned, Sebastin Collado) where he braced a big housewarming party in September 1961. Neruda liked to celebrate New Years Eve there and, taking in the view from the top floor, I could understand why. By daylight, you view Valpos colorful wooden the homes and shanties scrambling down to the port; by night, they become a legion of minuscule suns, reflecting the Milky Way above.

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Pablo Neruda in 1952. Photo: Allstar Picture Library

This less cluttered, more sophisticated mansion( another good audioguide was) intimates further slopes of Nerudas personality. Antique maps and skill, and screens from Asia, tell of his exotic jaunts. A large description of Walt Whitman honours a major influence. Another, of Lord Cochrane, reminds us of Scotlands links with Chiles independence battles. An antique merry-go-round pony evokes the child again, or the nostalgist. The walls are coated in lively blue-bloodeds and pinks, to realise them dance, according to a lyric about La Sebastiana.

Sunshine pours into the higher floorings, and the eyrie-like find of his working room his chair stained with light-green ink reminded me of Dylan Thomass molted in Laugharne. Both boys were hedonists, womanisers, socially extrovert; both necessary hideaways to get down to writing.

I detect the tiredness of Santiago, he wrote. I want to find in Valparaso a little house to live and write quietly. It must meet certain conditions. It cant be located too high or too low. It should be solitary but not excessively so.

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La Sebastiana, Nerudas house in Valparaiso. Image: Alamy

His developers nailed it. La Sebastiana is the ultimate municipality home: quiet and aloof, but boasting a panorama of Valparaso. And its a jovial, colourful neighbourhood, too. But, as anyone will tell you, Valpo paucity major museums and other attractiveness. As well as being great fun and fairly inspiring, Nerudas poetic pads are obligatory stops for anyone keen to understand Chile and its most recent history. It was at Isla Negra that his poetry and politics came together. It was in La Sebastiana that he came to global prominence. The residences speak to their settles, melt with them, reshape them in their window frames.

I love Valparaso, wrote Neruda. Queen of the whole world sea-coasts ,/ True head office of curves and ships, I love your criminal alleyways.

I loved it extremely. From La Sebastiana, I made my channel back to my inn on foot downhill via paths and staircases, past walls erupting with street art, via tiny barrooms and shadow-filled plazas. The crazy port realise more gumption now; Neruda did too.

Isla Negra and La Sebastiana are not the only Neruda-linked areas in Chile. Santiagos Bellavista neighbourhood boasts a third house, La Chascona, likewise worth a inspect. Neruda was born in Parral, in the wine-growing Maule region, and was put forward in the southern metropoli of Temuco( which has a dedicated move ). As a diplomat, he spent time in Mexic, Catalonia, British-ruled Burma( I still detest the English, he wrote ), Ceylon, Java and Singapore. The eventual globetrotting troubadour, Neruda exerts a powerful appeal for travellers. But do go and inspect his two favourite coast houses, and his beloved Valpo. Even if you dont experience youve fairly circled countries around the world, youll have determined something of his poetry-filled world.

Ch $7,000 (8. 65) per person per residence; audioguides in English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish. More info at fundacionneruda.org

Neruda is released in UK cinemas on 7 April

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