Stéphane Chambelant is master baker for Orient-Express hotels, and trains, in South America. Like the late and great French bread artist Lionel Poilâne, Chambelant is similarly a poet. For each of his hotels he has to find a bread that expresses the soul of the place.
For Sanctuary Lodge at Machu Picchu, he must have breads that stress nature and organic. At Hotel Rio Sagrado in the Sacred Valley, he uses lots of maize flour.
The Hiram Bingham train is all about internationalism. In Cusco, the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu, the high altitudes mean 15 hours’ proving, he tells the gal.
He has three bakers at Hotel Monasterio by Orient-Express in Cusco, where he is based, and one at each of the other hotels. The Monasterio kitchens bake all the bread for the Hiram Bingham train.
Every day a supply is taken, straight from the oven, to Poroy to be boarded for the morning brunch service to Machu Picchu: at the same time, frozen dough is taken to be baked, fresh on board, for the return dinner journey.
Hotel Monasterio, a Leading Hotel, is one of the iconic luxury hotels of the world. You are staying in a building that dates back to 1595, and before that it was the site of the palace of Inca Amaru Qhata.
The 126-room hotel even has its own working chapel, dedicated to San Antonio Abad.
As soon as you enter the hotel, which fronts right on to Plaza Nazarenas in the centre of the old city of Cusco, you know you are somewhere special.
In the lobby, an antique cabinet is open to reveal help-yourself tea and coffee. An H. Stern vitrine invites you to buy a souvenir from this lovely place.
You are taken to your room, perhaps Royal Suite 230 on the ground floor, leading to the Pisonay patio.
I actually like 436, on the upper floor, reached by big stone steps. 436 is a long room, with one long wall all windows overlooking the Pisonay patio: the other has an inset love-seat niche wit gold and ruby cushions.
Since the oxygen level here in Cusco, at 11,207 feet above sealevel, is less than half of what one is used to down by the sea, this is one of the rooms that has extra oxygen fed in through the air conditioning.
Yes, some people do suffer from soroche, altitude sickness, at first, but there are many remedies, including hot or cold muña mint tea.
Everywhere at Monasterio, in bedrooms and public areas, there are amazing old paintings, now beautifully restored.
Cusco is such a religious place – every Sunday there are processions in nearby squares, and often on other days as well.
Some of the paintings here are enigmatic. Surely they must MEAN something?
The ideal luxury lifestyle would give an extra two hours every day, merely to research (by the way, I can save you some time – I speed-read 50 Shades of Gray the other day; the only people who should bother to read it are sex-deprived philistines).
This hotel, aimed at the ageless eternal student of the finer things of life, is not surprisingly almost full, year-round.
As well as people on their way to and back from Machu Picchu there are small conferences (a group of 30 telecom executives was flying in as I left).
But nearly all the visitors are out during the day. At lunchtime, therefore, the main courtyard, with its central centuries-old tree and nearby fountain, seems almost deserted.
Stay here if you love Gregorian chant music, as I do.
This pervades the breakfast room as you drink fresh orange juice, enjoy papaya – and Stéphane’s breads – and adds to the serene atmosphere at lunch.
The midday menu highlights a choice of tartines, with local potatoes or a salad, but I choose a salad-proper, which consists of organic greens and deep-fried local Andean cheese, and cape gooseberry sauce.
Next I have gone for the create-your-own pasta, namely tagliatelle with pesto sauce (I have to laugh when Tito, my server, in a crisp-white starched jacket, asks if I would like a side order of rice – has he guessed I will be climbing the 293 steps up to the Sacsayhuaman fortress this afternoon?).
Unasked, he has thoughtfully brought me a satellite version of condensed news from the New York Times, so condensed that those two sparring partners, Obama to the left and Romney to the right, have ended up on the cutting room floor.
Behind me is a lifesize portrait of Dr Juan Espinoza Medrano. I do not know who the good doctor was but he must surely, beyond the pearly gates, be delighted that people feel better being at, and eating at, Hotel Monasterio.