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A hotel that used to be a monastery, in a city that was once the capital of the Incas, is always going to be something special. Add in the intensity of light and colour that is to be found 3,400 metres up in the Andes, and Belmond Hotel Monasterio more than lives up to its billing.
This sumptuous, beautifully preserved and aesthetically delightful slice of history is integral to the heart of UNESCO-recognised Cusco, and is protected as a national monument by Peru’s National Institute of Culture (INC). It sits in a delicate little cobbled square, the Plazoleta Nazarenas, alongside its sister hotel, Belmond Palacio Nazarenas. Both are just two blocks away from Cusco’s central Plaza de Armas, and only a 10-minute drive from the airport.
Cusco is an exuberant place. A cascade of rouged roof tiles surrounded by mountains, its ochre walls are intricately woven with paved lanes. It has one foot in the present and the other still deeply immersed in the traditions of the mountain empire which ruled from here in the 15th and 16thcenturies.
In Plaza de Armas, the city’s front room, Quechua mountain people, Inca-descended and extremely colourfully dressed in woollen chalecos, stand with their lamas, ready to be photographed. And up in the cafes of the picturesque San Blas district, behind the hotel, young travellers eat cake and update their Facebook pages, waiting for their bodies to adjust to the altitude in advance of hitting the Inca Trail. Overall, it is a place of excitement and anticipation.
Amongst all this, Belmond Hotel Monasterio is a sanctuary. The hotel cloisters itself around a generous arcaded interior courtyard, echoing with Gregorian chants, but there’s nothing monastic about the interiors of the 101 guest rooms (along with 15 junior suites, four presidential suites and two royal suites). Expect beamed and painted ceilings, gleaming tiled floors, and hand-painted decorative frescos which pick out key architectural features of the historic building.
Hardwood furniture is deep hued and highly polished, and cushions and fabrics echo local colours. Hand-woven alpaca blankets are to hand in the unlikely event the air-conditioned rooms get too cool, and oxygen can be pumped in on request to help negate the effects of Cusco’s high altitude. All rooms also have Wi-Fi access, a widescreen LCD TV and an iPod dock.
Belmond have been immensely respectful of the building’s origins. Architecturally, the hotel is a synthesis of the foundations of an Inca palace topped with Spanish ecclesiastical colonial renaissance stonework, built to last and restored with great skill. It also hosts one of Cusco’s finest collections of 18th-century colonial religious art, with original paintings both in the shared spaces and the bedrooms.
Parts of the building feel virtually unchanged since monastic days (its protected status makes sure of that), and stones around the entrance doors still bear the Spanish Arms escutcheon and the image of Bishop Monsignor Juan Serricolea y Olea. Most unchanged of all is the exquisite Chapel of Saint Antonio Abad, just inside the main entrance, its gilded baroque interior covered floor-to-ceiling in gold-framed paintings, mostly featuring scenes from the life of the saint himself. The chapel is an understandably popular location for weddings and is sometimes used for concerts, too.
But the Monasterio’s pièce de résistance is its jaw-dropping symmetrical courtyard, laced with walkways and flowerbeds, with a towering 300-year-old cedar tree in the middle. By day, guests can take tea or a light lunch from the Illary restaurant nestled in its cloisters. Or simply write up their diaries at shaded tables arranged around the central fountain. In the evenings the courtyard’s graceful arches are accentuated by beautiful lighting; when darkness falls those illuminated arches provide a glorious frame for the clear rectangle of starry night sky above.
It can be chilly at this altitude once the sun has gone down, so guests tend to gather around the roaring log fire of the lobby bar – a mundane name for a room that feels more like the manorial living room of a baronial castle in mainland Spain - to swap stories from the day’s experiences and plan for tomorrow.
The hotel’s more formal restaurant, El Tupay, is candlelit under an arched roof and it is easy to visualize monks eating here, albeit not on such luxurious furnishings, or choosing from a menu that sashays easily between European and Peruvian specialities, with the likes of crayfish ceviche and marinaded suckling pig in elderberry sauce. Diners here are regularly serenaded by Angela Medina, Peru’s leading soprano. Listening to Nessun Dorma in a monastery in the Andes is something that few visitors will be expecting of their stay in Peru.
Besides all this, the Monasterio has conference facilities for up 200 people, meeting rooms and a therapy suite where guests can choose relaxing aromatherapy or a reviving Thai massage from the massage menu. And the in-house pastry chef also produces breads and cakes for the Monasterio Deli, next door to the hotel.
Close by Cusco’s lively central square is Belmond Hotel Monasterio, a restored 16th-century monastery and important national monument. This delightful retreat, set around a stunning central courtyard with a 300-year-old cedar tree, is known for its exceptional architecture and a gilded chapel hung with fine works of art.
Belmond Hotel Monasterio has won numerous awards. In Condé Nast Traveler’s “Gold List 2014” it was named the number one hotel in Peru.Download Factsheet