Monday, February 15, 2016

High in the Peruvian Andes: In Cuzco, sleeping with history at Belmond Hotel Monasterio. And in search of Andean Baroque architecture in and near Cuzco. A new view of Peru.

Peruvian Discovery: Come with me for a private visit to the historic Belmond Hotel Monasterio, Cuzco.

I was very fortunate to travel to Peru recently. It’s a dramatic and exciting geography, and a thrilling country emerging as an essential travel destination.

After visiting Lima, the capital of Peru, I flew to Cuzco, at 12,000 feet altitude the heart of historic Inca country.

Cuzco immerses travelers in thousands of years of fascinating Inca and Spanish history, architecture, art, landscapes, music, and crafts.

Peru was one of my most exciting trips. Come with me this week to discover Baroque chapels, the Belmond Hotel Monasterio in a former 16th-century monastery. And prepare to see a different Peru. Instead of lamas and costumed folkloric folk and hallucinogenic textiles, I’ll show you historic buildings, remote places, a pisco museum, and a hotel to remember.

In the heart of historic Cuzco, I stayed at the Belmond Hotel Monasterio. 
It's steps away from the impressive Larco Museum, and moments from the Plaza de Armas, near the most dramatic 16th-century churches and historic buildings. Discreetly private, on a serene square, the luxurious Spanish colonial hotel traces the rich story of this dramatic Andean region.

Peru is a country of rare discovery, once a well-kept secret for archaeologists of Inca treasures and academically minded explorers in the dramatic high Andes. Now travelers fascinated by centuries of Inca treasures and historic Spanish architecture are discovering the country’s rich patrimony.

Cuzco, at 12,000 feet altitude, is the former Incan capital city in the heart of Peru. Its formal plan of grand plazas and handsome avenues are framed with superbly crafted sixteenth-century Spanish baroque churches and cathedrals embellished with gold altars and dramatic paintings. Carved marble stonework and art works are equal to those in Rome and Madrid, but created with Peruvian flair.

A stay at the Belmond Hotel Monasterio, in the heart of the Cusco near historic museums, offers an opportunity to fully engage in the vivid culture of Cuzco.

The newly renovated hotel, with luxurious rooms, notable antiques, and spacious courtyards, is set in a former monastery built in 1595 on the site of the Inca Amaru Qhala Palace.

The ancient seminary is a splendid example of colonial Renaissance architecture and has been named a Peruvian national historical landmark. Gracious and ultra-private it houses one of the finest collections of Cuzco School paintings.

The hotel offers quiet comfort and luxury—in the essential integrity and character of the original structures. Near the entrance, a colonnaded former refectory is now a dramatic lounge and bar where guests gather at the end of the day. On the walls are the original hand-forged light fixtures and embellishments—along with a series of sixteenth-century Cusco school art works depicting vivid mythological figures and their lives of adventure. 

Perhaps the most exciting discovery for guests is an exquisite sixteenth-century chapel that is part of the monastery complex. The Chapel is decorated in vibrant Baroque style and gleams with magnificent paintings with carved and gilded frames. Guests at the Monasterio may be fortunate to arrive just as a children’s choir is practicing for an upcoming wedding or religious celebration.

In addition to such luxuries as locally hand-woven alpaca blankets (nights in winter may be chilly), all suites have oxygen automatically pumped in through air vents, to enrich the air and create a sense of well-being and ensure a perfect night’s rest.

After private tours to remote towns to visit 16th-century Andean chapels, I slept soundly.

What to See in Cuzco

The Spanish arrived in Peru in the 16th century—and immediately built elaborate churches, cathedrals, nunneries, monasteries, chapels, I was especially interested in 16th-century religious structures.

The city is also a center of traditional textiles, Cuzco School paintings, antiques, carving, gold, silver, and Andean Baroque religious architecture — one of the most exciting discoveries in Peru. The Andean Baroque is typified by highly gilded and embellished, carved and exuberantly painted altars and interior architecture. I’d enjoyed the hyper-ornamention in Quito, Ecuador, and found the Peruvian adoption of Baroque painting, carving and gilding even more dazzling. Every surface is burnished with gold (the Spanish arrived to save souls and find Incan gold)...and the effect is hallucinatory. In particular, the altars feature saint portraits and figures in niches that tower up the gilded and painted domed ceiling.

Andean Baroque Chapels

I hired a car and driver and headed 35 miles outside Cuzco to the Andahuaylillas region. 

Dusty towns, glorious Baroque chapels.

Note: Be sure to check opening times of each chapel. The towns are remote, and in each of them a family is caretaker/ticket seller/ guard/ flashlight holder, and photography is strictly prohibited.

Saint Peter the Apostle Church of Andahuaylillas, late 16th-century, has been called the Sistine Chapel of the Andes for the magnificent frescos adorning its walls. After a superb decade-long restoration by the Smithsonian and the World Monuments Fund, the interior is exceptionally dramatic and beautiful. It’s blazing with gold, murals, Moorish motifs, Saracenic carving, and a wildly overscale altarpiece that is so high and dizzy with elaboration it appears to be toppling forward. This chapel is exquisite and rare. It’s beauty and craft, by local artists and Spanish inspiration, are touching and overpowering. It is worth traveling to Peru just to see it. I was the only visitor at the time I was there. I entered and stepped back…stunned and moved by the beauty. 

I headed onward to the small town of Huaro located 4 km south of Andahuaylillas. Its white church dedicated to John the Baptist was built at the end of the 17th century. The Renaissance altar is among the oldest of Peru.

Canincunca Chapel in Urcos is more rustic. Dedicated to the Virgin of Candelaria it was built at the beginning of the 17th century to evangelize in the region. Indigenous saints and Catholic saints mingle. Fascinating.

Archiepiscopal Religious Circuit

 Four hundred years of historic stone cathedrals, elaborately embellished churches, and art-filled historic buildings.

Of particular interest are the Basilica Cathedral, the Archiepiscopal Museum, and the San Blas church with its gilded Baroque pulpit. San Cristobal Church, one of the first built in the first years of the Conquest, has a fine view over the city.

There is also Qorikancha, the Convent of Santo Domingo del Cusco, which has superbly preserved and presented Incan structures, as well as beautiful Cuzco School portraits and saint imagery.

Society of Jesus Church: The construction of the church began in 1576 on the former Palace of the Inca Huayna Capac. This stone church is one of the best representations of the colonial baroque art in the Americas.

Travelling Onward
The Hotel Monasterio, peaceful and resounding with history, is an ideal beginning for a journey of discovery into the high Andes and historic towns.

The hotel has a museum-worthy collection of Cuzco School paintings of saints. Guided tours are offered.

The hotel property also includes a magical 16th-century chapel, which is open to guests. The interior, with its portraits, sculptures, gilded imagery, and elaborate carving, often has a choir practicing. To visit at night, by candlelight, is a rare privilege.

From Cuzco, many guests continue on to the Sacred Valley and Urubamba to visit Inca fortresses, and take the historic Hiram Bingham train to Machu Picchu. Belmond will plan and reserve all itineraries and accommodations.

I’ll be writing about further travels in Peru in a future post.

Authentic Peruvian Cocktails
A friend introduced me to Museo del Pisco, a highly creative new bar/ distillery/ café started by three young Peruvian friends. The company distills its own pisco, a high-proof spirit that tastes somewhat similar to tequila. The bar serves dozens of highly creative cocktails with infusions of Andean herbs and botanicals; Colorful bottles of these flavor-enhancers are arrayed around the walls. The classic Pisco Sour is an authentic taste of Peru, and it’s superbly crafted here. On the menu: bites and ceviche and dishes, even crisp potato fries that work well with pisco.

The Joys of Belmond
I’ve been fortunate to stay at several Belmond hotels around the world, and I’ve written about them on THE STYLE SALONISTE and in many publications. The forty-six properties are in North America, South America, Europe, Africa and Asia.

Each hotel is in a rare and beautiful location, with exceptionally a sense of history, place and culture. The luxury, architecture, provenance, and style, inherent in all of the company’s properties, are individual to each hotel.

Belmont Ltd. is a hotel and leisure company that operates luxury hotels, train journeys, and river cruises around the world. In 2015 it had 35 deluxe hotels, 7 tourist trains, 3 river cruises and a restaurant in 22 countries worldwide. Belmond is based in London, UK. Included in the company’s portfolio are hotels I love including the Belmond Copacabana Palace in Rio, 
Belmond Hotel Cipriani in Venice (a dream), and Belmond Palacio Nazarenas in Cuzco. 

I’ve also written previously about the Belmond La Residence d’Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia, when I visited Angkor Wat. The hotel and the post on Cambodian temples was one of my readers’ favorites.

Perhaps my post most popular in six years was my post, three years ago, on my visit to Burma. I started that journey with a dramatic stay at the Belmond Governor’s Residence in the midst of gilded temples.

Readers may find these earlier posts by searching on Google:  THE STYLE SALONISTE Burma Governor’s Residence, for example. All of these posts are in my blog archive…easily findable via Google.

You will love to read these again, I am certain.


From Cuzco I journeyed on to the Sacred Valley including Urubamba and Ollantaytambo. I took the Hiram Bingham historic train to Aguas Calientes and the Hotel Sanctuario, and Machu Picchu.

I will be writing about these journeys in upcoming blog posts. I have exclusive images. I was fortunate that the weather was clear and sunny and Machu Picchu and my images are vivid.

See you soon with more on Peru. 


Belmond Hotel Monsasterio Images courtesy Belmond. 

Belmond Hotel Monasterio

Calle Palacio 136, Plazoleta Nazarenas
Cuzco, Peru
The Monasterio includes 120 rooms and suites, three presidential suites, and two royal suites, all with butler service. Wifi is complimentary.

Cuzco has a lively culinary scene. The Monasterio, El Tupay restaurant serves classic international cuisine. Charming folkloric opera performances by noted local talents are offered evenings in a theatrical candlelit atmosphere. The cuisine, highlighting local flavors, is excellent.

Chapel exteriors and portrait exclusively by Diane Dorrans Saeks, THE STYLE SALONISTE.


Cynna said...

Thank you for posting this gorgeousness!

sheilaa131 said...

Your trips are a delight to read. Its a pleasure to learn about such remote beautiful locations you visit; and through your experieces, we are able to see and experience these areas. Thank you for such a treat, as many of us are unlikly to see first hand these beautiful ancient areas and luxurious accommodations.

Sheila in SF

Mrs. Wright said...

I have been an admirer of your blog...You Lady Diane for many years and I must tell you how much I've grown and learned from your wealth of sharing such a beautiful life. Thank you from the depths of my heart!