Inkaterra La Casona, Cusco: History, Exclusivity and Impeccable Taste
April 14, 2014
“Like stepping back in time” is such a cliché, but passing through the 500 year-old cedar wood door and stepping over the stone threshold that separates the outside world from the sumptuous interior of Inkaterra La Casona, really is like leaving the 21st century behind and entering a piece of living history.
Luckily for guests at what is reputed to be one of Peru’s finest hotels, Inkaterra La Casona also sensitively marries centuries of history with an understanding of the highest expectations of the modern day traveller. The result is one of those rare hotels that is a destination in itself. Even if Cusco did not have so much to offer, it would almost be worth making a detour just to spend a night or two at this fabulous hotel.
A History Worth Preserving
The 11-suite hotel was built in traditional colonial style as a private manor house in the early 16th Century. The elegance of the house has been preserved and restored with sympathetic attention to detail and many original features remain. The building surrounds a sunny patio overlooked by a two-storey arcade of stone and brick arches, and an ornate wooden balcony, from which lucky guests can access their luxurious suites.
La Casona’s suites lead off from the secluded interior patio
The site, on the peaceful Plaza Nazarenas, was once a training ground for the elite army of the Incas. Within a short walk of the magnificent Plaza de Armas, and less than ten minutes from the atmospheric and slightly bohemian area of San Blas the location is unquestionably one of the best in the city. Today the shady cobbled plaza is home to three of Cusco’s very best hotels and the excellent Museum of Pre-Columbian Art.
In previous guises La Casona has been home to many historically significant figures: to Diego de Almagro, one of the Spanish conquerors who came to Peru with Francisco Pizarro; to Juan Alvaro de Maldonado, one of the Spanish discovers of the Peruvian Amazon; and later to no less than Simon Bolivar himself, who ironically liberated much of south America from the Spanish in the 19th Century. Historical pedigrees don’t get much better than this.
Steeped in history: the patio at Inkaterra La Casona
Respect to La Casona’s illustrious past is down to the sensitivity and taste of the owners of the Inkaterra group – Jose and Denise Koechlin. Although even suggesting that Inkaterra’s properties are some kind of hotel chain seems vaguely insulting. Denise Koechlin has won awards for her interior design, the fruits of which are evident throughout the hotel. You notice it as soon as you walk into the eucalyptus-scented entrance hall with its flagstone floors, whitewashed adobe walls and heavy ceiling beams. It is furnished with antique wooden settles; an elaborately carved wooden candelabra illuminates one corner; a beautifully carved wooden picture adorns the wall facing the entrance.
In the adjacent salon, contemporary but comfortable armchairs and sofas complement yet more objects from antiquity, including a stunning Paracas culture wall hanging – all part of the owners’ private collection. Even the tableware and table cloths in the hotel’s restaurant and the toiletries in the spacious suites are all designed, unsurprisingly, by Mrs Koechlin.
Mi casa, tu casa: make yourself at home in the guest salon
Despite how much of herself the owner has invested into La Casona – or perhaps because of it – guests cannot help feeling at home here, or at the very least like a guest at a wonderful house party hosted by old friends. As soon as you arrive you are whisked off to your suite for your welcome drink – there is no reception area as such, that would be far too prosaic – and the staff are encouraged to engage, but not intrude, with hotel guests. And Inkaterra reservations staff also make a point of finding out all about the likes and dislikes of their guests before they arrive, just so they can try to add a few more of those special personal touches to your stay.
ENTERTAINMENT TIP: If looking for fun at night, or to watch sports during the day, or even a taste of home, visit the Wild Rover Hostel Cusco for great food, sports and beer! Entrance to their bar is free even for non-guests
Such is the comfort and welcome at La Casona that you could be tempted never to leave its embrace. In fact, you may be tempted never to leave your room. Even the smallest of La Casona’s rooms – the patio suites – are a spacious 350 square feet, which is big enough to leave plenty of room to manoeuvre around the vast double beds, which must be at least eight feet wide, and every room has a small dining table and chairs. The larger suites have sofas too.
Plaza suite, complete with open fire and comfy sofa
Rooms have all the features you would expect from a luxury hotel, and more. There is an open fireplace in every room – just call the staff if you’d like it laid and lit for you – and underfloor heating if you prefer. There are Flat screen TVs, DVD players, i-pod docks and a mini bar with complementary soft drinks. And in keeping with the faultless design of the rest of the hotel, all modern appliances are discretely hidden behind carved wooden doors. Even the hotel services directory comes in a decorative box which could be a collector’s item itself. Don’t worry about street noise either, even if you have a room facing the plaza. All windows are triple-glazed ensuring a quiet night.
Bathrooms are equally spacious and come with a bath tub as well as large walk-in shower and separate toilet. There are complementary Inkaterra toiletries and vases of those signature fragrant eucalyptus leaves.
Vast bed and hidden gadgets in a Balcony suite
A Well Kept Secret
Privacy and exclusivity are highly prized these days and although La Casona shares its location with several other top class establishments, it would be easy for the casual passer-by to miss it entirely. A discreet name sign and the Fleur-de-Lys logo of Relais & Chateau – of which La Casona has been a member since 2011- are the only clues to what hides behind the building’s rather unassuming façade.
Such “secrecy” is deliberate and visitors are only allowed inside if they are paying guests or are invited by guests or a member of staff. Even so, most visitors are not allowed past the entrance hall and tour guides are encouraged to wait outside the building for their charges. Nothing is allowed to upset the peace of La Casona’s delightful seclusion.
In addition to the wonderfully relaxing salon guests can also use the hotel restaurant which offers very reasonably priced Peruvian-international fusion cuisine such as crispy guinea pig confit and Andean trout in Brazil nut tempura. And if you need a relaxing massage after a hard day’s sightseeing there is a small spa. If you fancy something that none of your friends back home will have experienced you can have your wedding vows renewed or your coca tea leaves read by a local shaman.
The Bottom Line
Room rates start at US$390 plus taxes, which includes various complementary extras such as afternoon tea, bedtime chocolates, full breakfast of virtually anything you would ever wish to order and a welcome drink of coca tea with Andean mint which is supposed help you acclimatise to the altitude. And if the coca tea doesn’t help, the extra oxygen pumped into your room might do the trick. Better rates can be found if you shop around.
Most people will only visit Cusco once in their lives so if you want to make it a truly memorable visit, a stay at Inkaterra La Casona is highly recommended. Just remember that Cusco is a year-round destination and La Casona only has 11 suites. So if you don’t make reservations in advance, you may well be disappointed.