E xclusivity and luxury do not exactly abound in Cusco so it pays to book early if you want to secure your rightful place in one of Cusco’s finer hotels. Thankfully, amongst the hundreds of backpacker dorms and budget hostels are some seriously luxurious establishments so there is no need to compromise on where you rest your weary head after a day’s sightseeing and an evening of Pisco Sours.
Three of Cusco’s best luxury hotels can be found on the beautiful, cobbled square of Plaza Nazarenas. This peaceful, leafy enclave is only a short stroll from the stunning colonial Plaza de Armas and as well as boasting what are arguably Cusco’s three best hotels, the plaza is also home to the excellent Museum of Pre-Columbian Art and is close to some wonderful restaurants. If it’s location you are looking for then Plaza Nazarenas is very hard to beat.
Belmond, formerly known as Orient Express hotels, has two properties on the square, both of which are a wonderful mix of Cusco history and contemporary comfort. The first, the Hotel Monasterio was once a convent, built on the site of the Palace of the Inca Amaru Qhala.
The current buildings date from 1592 and include a wonderfully sunny cloistered patio where you can take tea or sip cocktails and watch the resident hummingbirds in the 300 year old cedar tree. From here you can slip inside the hotel’s very own Baroque chapeland satisfy your artistic appetite by admiring the paintings of the Cusco art school with their distinctive scallop-edged gilt frames.
The Palacio Nazarenas is steeped in history and oozes luxury. Also previously a palace and a convent, the original chapel is now a lounge, and on the first floor there is a guest library which also features a collection of Peruvian artefacts.
To satisfy your culinary appetite there are two restaurants -The Illary serves breakfast and lunch in the cloisters and the patio. El Tupay restaurant is the place to enjoy dinner and as a very special treat, two of Peru’s leading opera stars will often serenade you as you dine.
The Monasterio has 122 rooms and suites of varying degrees of luxury. Some of the rooms and all of the suites can be enriched with oxygen to help you adjust to the high altitude and get good night’s sleep. Junior suites are on two levels – ideal for those who like to go upstairs to bed – royal suites have courtyard views and the top of the range presidential suites have private balcony or terrace and a separate living area.
If you can drag yourself away from your room, The Monasterio offers cooking classes, various tours or you can pamper yourself with one of the hotel’s spa treatments. It’s little wonder that The Monasterio has lured the likes of Richard Gere and the late John Peel through its heavy wooden doors.
Belmond’s second property on Plaza Nazarenas is the equally luxurious but slightly more intimate Hotel Palacio Nazarenas. The hotel is synonymous with discernment, famously having asked pop sensations One Direction to leave during their recent stay here. In fairness their expulsion was due to the noise from the hordes of fans that gathered outside rather than any rock-star antics from the band themselves.
Like sister hotel the Monasterio, The Palacio Nazarenas is steeped in history and oozes luxury. Also previously a palace and a convent, the original chapel is now a lounge, and on the first floor there is a guest library which also features a collection of Peruvian artefacts. Further historical accents can be found in the seven cloistered terraces filled with flowers, aromatic herbs and Inca-inspired stone water channels.
The 55 Suites are reassuringly luxurious and also feature oxygen enrichment systems and Peruvian marble bathrooms amongst the other luxury touches you would expect from Belmond. There is a spa, a bar and restaurant and guests are welcome to use the facilities at the Monasterio. And finally the Palacio Nazarenas’ biggest claim to claim to fame is its lovely pool. The first heated outdoor pool in all of Cusco no less.
Our final property in this luxury hotel hotspot is the Inkaterra La Casona. Although a member of Relais and Chateaux, La Casona doesn’t like to blow its own trumpet. In fact its branding and signage are so understated you could easily miss the hotel’s entrance entirely. But this wonderful anonymity is all part of its allure. Only guests and pre-arranged visitors are allowed inside and even tour guides are encouraged to wait outside in the square for their charges.
La Casona’s historical pedigree is also impeccable. The 11-suite hotel was originally a private colonial manor house, built in the early 16th Century on the site of a training ground for the elite army of the Incas. It was home to various important figures from the Spanish conquest and to no less than Simon Bolivar himself, who liberated much of South America from the Spanish in the 19th Century.
The building has been meticulously restored with whitewashed adobe walls, flagstone floors, heavy ceiling beams and carved wooden doors. Public rooms are luxuriously furnished with oversized sofas and armchairs, original artwork, textiles, artefacts and fragrant flowers.
Guest rooms are equally luxurious, and even the smallest are a generous 350 square feet, with huge king-size beds, open fireplaces and underfloor heating. Windows are triple-glazed and any evidence of modernity such as i-pod docks, DVD players and flat screen TVs are all discreetly hidden behind carved wooden doors to preserve the hotels classic ambiance. Bathrooms are equally spacious and come with a bath tub as well as large walk-in shower.
There is a fine, and very reasonably priced restaurant as well as a small spa, and you can even have your coca tea leaves read by a local shaman. La Casona really is something special. Rumour has it that the only reason Richard Gere stayed at the Monasterio rather than La Casona was because “his people” failed to find it.
So if it’s luxury, a taste of history and pampering in a quiet, central Cusco location that you are after, look no further than Plaza Nazarenas. You won’t be disappointed.