Both the former capital of the Inca Empire and later the seat of Spain’s colonial presence, Cusco is resplendent with charm and history having one foot in the present and the other solidly in the past. As we walked the streets on our first night, we were struck by how one lane might be stuffed with tourists and backpackers, but then you turn the corner to see a group of Quechua women, dressed in their colorful wooly chalecos standing around chatting and you’re transported back centuries to the city’s founding in 1100 AD. What a treat to be able to live at the center of a UNESCO World Heritage Site for a couple of nights!
We began our journey to Machu Picchu with two nights at Belmond Palacio Nazarenas and the rest of this post could very well be a love letter to the hotel for their thoughtful transformation of a historic property into a modern-day national treasure. Originally the site of an Incan Temple, the first structure’s foundations are still evident in the signature Inca fine-cut stones visible in sections of the hotel’s walls. Later a conquistador’s private residence, and then a convent for Jesús Nazarenas nuns, Palacio Nazarenas stood mostly empty for several decades before Belmond undertook a 4-year renovation of the property. Our room, called The Nazarenas Suite, was originally the living quarters of the Mother Superior, and is capped by a vaulted ceiling covered in hundreds of hand painted roses, which provided the inspiration for the hotel’s overall color scheme. During the renovation, art restorer Julio Ninantay was commissioned to restore the many murals and hand-painted architectural elements (like the ceiling in our room) to their former glory. We were excited to experience a bit of Cusco’s architectural heritage as guests in such a magnificent home! The two gold-leafed chapels in the convent still hold mass several days a week, and you can see the devout walking to the chapel early in the mornings. I can’t think of a better way to preserve, protect and enjoy a historic property like this than as a hotel.
Each morning we were serenaded by a harp-player as we entered Senzo for breakfast. Their lavish spread was one of the best hotel breakfasts I’ve ever had, with 8 freshly squeezed juices poured from locally-made pottery and countless local jams and seasonings for customizing every pastry, toast, and dish. (Senzo has a strict food-miles policy, and many of their spices come from their own garden on the property.) Dinner at Senzo was even more spectacular, and we branched out to try local Andean dishes such as alpaca and cuy (guinea pig) – a Peruvian favorite!
Many of Cusco’s main attractions, including the Plaza de Armas, the Twelve-Angle Stone, and the San Pedro Market are a short walk from the hotel. We had so much fun walking the meandering side streets, poking into artisan shops to admire the bright textiles and fabulously soft baby alpaca sweaters. David decided to take advantage of Cusco’s elevation to do a little altitude training and got to see very off-the-beaten track neighborhoods on his runs – while I enjoyed the pool! While in Cusco, I learned of the incredible Rainbow Mountains of Peru which, I would have loved to visit if we had more time and the right gear!
If you’re planning a honeymoon in Peru, I highly recommend spending a few nights at Belmond Palacio Nazarenas. Our suite was so romantic, with a four-post canopy bed set in the center of the space, a deep soaking tub with numerous herbal baths to choose from, and an intimate balcony just large enough for a table and two chairs that was the perfect spot for observing the goings on in the town plaza below and sunsets over the city. Other small touches include Cusco’s first outdoor pool and the world’s first “soap butler” where you’re given the choice between two locally produced soaps upon checkin, presented on a hardwood tray and cut fresh in front of you. Thankfully, neither David nor I had any trouble with the altitude, but just in case you do, every room is oxygen-enhanced with systems that infuse extra O2 into the room, as well as a “herbal pillow menu” both designed to help guests acclimate to the attitude.
Thank you Belmond Palacio Nazarenas for an incredible stay!
All photos by David and Stacie Flinner for Stacieflinner.com