A plate of keys in a ‘private house’ in the centre of Cusco invites the question – do any of them date back to 1585? That is the date of the two-floor building in Plaza Nazarenas, directly across from Hotel Monasterio and Palacio Nazarenas, that is now Inkaterra La Casona.
The gal had heard about it, from its owners José and Denise Koechlin, the inspirations behind Inkaterra, and now she was able to see it for herself.
It is like my own home, says Denise Koechlin. She had been working for years on its restoration before it opened, as an 11-room luxury hotel in 2008. It had been privately owned, and individual rooms had been rented out to tenants. It was in a terrible mess, with some original stone columns and carved wood painted over.
The Koechlins cleaned it all up, and Denise brilliantly installed some of the many artworks that they have been collecting over the years (be lucky enough to be invited to their real home, in Lima, and you understand that these are collectors, with a capital C).
The exterior of the building does not indicate a hotel. The main door is always closed. Knock and it is opened. As Luisella Garmendia, the Cusco woman who runs the hotel says, it is like your home. There is no front desk or lobby.
Turn to your right and you are immediately in a living room with comfortable seating and fresh lilies and an enormous log fire, lit every night when the temperature drops, here at Cusco’s high altitude.
The central courtyard is as it was centuries back. A ring of old stones has been put in the grass in the centre. Sometimes, says Luisella, the whole place is taken over, for weddings and parties. Then it is even more like your own home.
All the rooms are full of character. All have real-log fireplaces that are lit for you at night, all have televisions and iPod chargers and safes and closets hidden away in original wardrobes. All have bathtubs as well as separate showers, and free WiFi.
There are some charming touches. Your notepaper and other bits of paper are stored in a box that is so collectible you really want to buy one to take home as souvenir. Some, like room six – a Plaza Suite looking over Plaza Nazarenas – have some original frescoes.
Most people stay three nights here, and they appreciate such freebies as the big bowl of help-yourself fruit that sits below one of the icons set on the walls around the courtyard.
Icon is actually the wrong word. These are religious paintings, going back several centuries. You are reminded again that Cusco is an extremely religious place.
Commune with the saints by going to morning mass in the Cathedral, a couple of blocks away – even dogs wander in, as if for a blessing. Commune with the spirits by heading up to the ruins of Sacsayhuaman (I have just found out that the lighting up there is sponsored by Philips).
Feeling well is an essential ingredient of the Inkaterra message, which is based, in the Amazon rainforest and in Machu Picchu Pueblo and here in Cusco, around nature. It is natural to feel well. Inkaterra La Casona has a charming spa room; its stones used for hot-stone massage are shaped like miniature feet.
During your stay here, breakfast is served off ceramic dishes designed by Denise Koechlin. There are selections of her designs in a room leading off the living room that acts as office and boutique.
There are dishes and bowls and fabulous fabric pieces. A couple of years ago I went back (to my real) home carrying Peruvian woolly hats with long ear protectors.
They might look all right here, on a small boy tending his alpaca and llama, but they look remarkably silly in Sarasota or Sydney.
The best souvenirs for luxury lifestyle are discreet, not sock-it-to-you. Actually ‘discreet luxury’ is the perfect description of what Denise Koechlin has created, here at Inkaterra La Casona.