Calle Palacios 136, Plazoleta Nazarena, Cusco, Peru
Occupying a historic monastary, complete with stone arches, courtyards, and centuries–old paintings, Hotel Monsterio is the most interesting and evocative hotel in Peru. It's also one of the most luxurious, provided you avoid the smallish standard rooms.
Sure, the piped-in oxygen option is kind of gimmicky and until the adjoining renovation is finished, there's no pool or spa. But this masterpiece of a hotel is a carefully restored 16th–century monastery and is clearly the prestige address in Cusco--if not all of South America. As a bonus, guests can move seamlessly between here and the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge via the luxurious Hiram Bingham train service. Located on the small Nazarene Plaza, a few short blocks up from Plaza de Armas, the setting is as convenient as they come here, though the whitewashed stone exterior gives few hints of the glory inside and none of the rooms have much of a view because of the low–lying architecture. Once inside you'll be stunned though, starting with a cobblestoned foyer and reception desk in front of a wall covered by Incan masks, with stone arches leading to a flowering courtyard and an imposing bar fit for kings. .
Along various hallways are original oil paintings from the monastary's original collection, some dating back 400 years. In good weather, cocktails and light meals are served here, around a large fountain and a tree almost as old as the paintings. Another doorway leads to the stunning lounge, where you can try Peruvian wines or sample one of the town's best Pisco Sours while sitting on plush sofas. The regal setting includes an ancient stone fireplace, a series of stone arches, massive wooden doors, and iron chandeliers. Coca tea and oxygen are complimentary if you need help with altitude adjustment instead of attitude adjustment. If you want to pray to get better quickly, you can visit the impressive on–site chapel from the 18th century, a smaller verion of the gilded and glorious churches in the main square.
Years of Orient–Express negotiations are leading to upcoming work on a spa and indoor pool in an adjoining building that was previously a nunnery. (Once it's really in place, we'll make an update here.) For now, you will probably find that climbing the hill up here from the main plaza is plenty of exercise, thank you very much. A concierge and a tour desk combine to provide most anything you need in terms of excursions or a car and driver, plus there is a beauty salon, several gift shops, and a business center for checking in on e-mail.
Your breakfast is served in a room that once hosted the resident monks and your usual favorites are joined by a welcome array of local dishes served with Peruvian pottery. If your timing is right, the once-a-week "Incan Feasts" add song and dance performances to dinner. The formal Illariy restaurant is the place to see and be seen, but only by the absolute upper crust. Prices are double its closest competitor, but that comes with the kind of attentive service, daring dishes, and deep wine list that is hard to find among all the other restaurants a block or two away.
Guest rooms vary in size and natural light quite a bit, ranging from cramped ones rooms on the bottom floor to sumptuous suites, so book carefully. The premium to be in a better space is well worth it here. If possible, avoid the newer wing and reserve a suite in the oldest section--even though many of the "suites" are just extra-large rooms with no separation between living and sleeping areas. If you are sensitive to noise get one away from the street, though others are amazingly quiet.
The two–story junior suites are some of the most attractive, with living quarters below and loft-like bedrooms above. Amenities, space, and personality are almost directly aligned with rates: in general the more you pay the better room you will receive. All rooms have rich Incan textiles on rustic stucco walls, plush carpeting or ancient plank floors, TVs with a DVD player, radios, and minibars. Marble baths have generous toiletries and many of the suites have a separate tub and shower. If you have the time, treat yourself to a "butler bath" with candles, scented oils, rose petals, and sparkling wine. An additional fee can get oxygen pumped into your room at night, though note that this can also stretch out the amount of time it takes you to adjust.
The multilingual staffers are the best outside Lima and are used to waiting on VIPs. Unless you end up with one of the smallest standard rooms, this will probably rank up there with your most memorable hotel stays around the world.
Web Address: www.monasterio.orient-express.com
Total Number of Rooms: 126
Published rates: $530 to $2,230 BB
Review by Timothy Scott. Photos courtesy of Orient-Express Hotels.
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