Belmond Monasterio del Cusco, one of the world’s signature luxury hotels since what was then Orient-Express took over management in 1999, is rightly on those ‘places to visit before you die’ lists. Look at the Chapel of San Antonio Abad, above, says the gal. It is still integral with the hotel, it is still consecrated, so ideal for weddings. Come out of the church and you are right in one of the courtyards that formed the monastery which was built in 1592 on the site of the former palace of Inca Amaru Qhata. The local church still owns the 126-room hotel, which is leased to Belmond. Come in, from Cusco‘s Plaza Nazarenas, and you look ahead across a courtyard dominated by a 300-year old cedar tree. Turn right, and you look along a bar that, like the rest of the interior, is also an art gallery.
Here is a Must Do. There are 67 priceless 17th and 18th century paintings here, all showing how local artists adapted what was going on in Spain. Book a hotel art tour with Julia Olivera, a professional with charm and the ability instantly to realise what specifically fascinates you. First, Julia explains that in the 17th century, 86 children, and 36 teachers, were schooled here, in the monastery, in a bid to evangelise them, and perhaps grew up to paint some of these renderings of God The Father, God The Son, and the Holy Spirit (the first two are always identical, apart from stigmata, and the spirit becomes a dove). Thousands come to Huanca, near Cusco, every 14th September to celebrate the 1675 sighting of God The Father in a cave, the place shown by a painting. Here, in the hotel’s collection, Mary Magdalene might be surrounded by chubby cherubs holding, say, a tower, showing that the holy triumverate is the rock. A portrait of Archangel Gabriel shows ‘it’ – archangels are assexual, apparently – wearing a lace overskirt, and do look at its extraordinary stockings (is this where John Galliano gets inspiration?).
I found that having taken Julia Olivera’s fascinating hour-long tour I checked out every painting as I passed it. Even at breakfast, a cardinal looks down at the buffet. Try the made-here yoghurt, which is best drunk from a glass, and do order an omelette with local herbs. Belmond has a French baker, Stéphane Chambelant, from the Loire, based here, and the breads are superb – also, try Belmond‘s just-opened Deli Monasterio, right next to the main hotel (it is a kind of sports-cum-health bar, and ideal for quick lunches or snacks). Another insider tip is to book ahead for dinner Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday at the hotel’s main restaurant, Tupay. On these three nights, Peru’s champion soprano, the beautiful young Angela Medina, and her husband Moisés Mendoza sing – do buy a copy of their brilliant CD, Musica Lirica, available at the hotel. Opera Night is heavily sold by other hotels and tour advisors so make sure you get a table.
I was dining with Gustavo de Leon – or, to be legally correct, Gustavo De Leon here in Peru – a Montevideo man who, after running Jean-Paul Bondoux’s La Bourgogne restaurant in Alvear Palace in Buenos Aires, is now GM of this luxury hotel. In his honour I chose a Uruguay ribeye. We wanted a Uruguayan wine but they only had a white so, thinking of Mrs de Leon/De Leon, who is Argentinian, we had Achaval Ferrer Quimera 2011 IP Mendoza. Next visit here, I promised, I would take another art tour, to learn more from Julia Olivera, and I would also book the chef-for-a-day programme, starting with visiting San Pedro market to buy produce and perhaps finishing with another Opera Night dinner.
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