Lying in the shadow of the majestic Andes, Santiago, Chile's sprawling capital, is the most European of all South American cities. It is a city of boulevards and plazas lined with public buildings and churches ringed by parks. Skyscrapers in its eastern sector attest to a country in transition and contrast with classical buildings of downtown. The people are a sophisticated lot whose enjoyment of life quickly infects the visitor. Although the city is huge, with a population of five million, its centre, which hosts its most interesting sites, is relatively small. Santa Lucia Hill is the historical centre of the city and its most famous landmark. It was from the foot of Santa Lucia, on February 12, 1541, that Spanish Conquistador Pedro de Valdivia founded the city of Santiago. Downtown is the historical heart of Santiago. Around the sometimes narrow streets are classic remnants of Spanish colonialism. Today, these buildings house government departments, museums, art galleries and other centres of culture. The colourful Mercado Central, the historical centre of Plaza de Armas, houses the pedestrian mall of Paseo Ahumada and the Palacio de La Moneda - a former mint and presidencial residence. Plaza Mulato Gil de Castro has art galleries and antique stores. In Provdecia district, there are more art galleries and theatres, while Barrio Bellavista, across the Mapocho river from the city centre, is home to the wonderful Park of Sculptures and a lively arts and crafts scene. The number of parks and gardens in Santiago give the city its fresh, natural touch. The best is Metropolitan Park. It is one of the largest and most beautiful urban parks in the world, attracting more than five million visitors annually. It has swimming pools, cable cars, a botanical garden, picnic areas and a castle. Another park, O'Higgins, features El Pueblito, a life-size replica of a Chilean village. Bellavista, known as Santiago's 'Paris quarter', has hundreds of restaurants. It is a lively place with a bustling nightlife. For a meal with a view, visit Camino Real restaurant. A panorama of Santiago combined with Chilean and international food makes it a memorable experience. Other places to find eateries are along Avendia General O'Higgins, Plaza de Armas and the city's pedestrian malls. Santiago is one of the few cities in the world where you can visit ski slopes, beaches and countryside in one day. Only 50 kilometres away in the Andes are some of the best ski resorts in the country. The 'Garden City' of Vina del Mar, Chile's premier beach resort, is only a few hours from the capital. Also near Santiago is Maipo Valley, one of the country's key wine-growing areas.