Angochagua, Provincia Imbabura, Ecuador
Hacienda Zuleta is a must for those with the time to go the two hours from Quito. You will be treated like family while experiencing life in this luxurious, restored 17th century manor. Adventures range from watching Andean Condors to horseback riding on countryside trails.
Situated on 4,000 acres in an Andean valley, Hacienda Zuleta's owners are the Galo Plaza Lasso (former Ecuadorian President) family. Descendants, such as Fernando Polanco Plaza (general manager) oversee the dairy and trout farms, sheep, cheese factory, Condor Rehabilitation Project, archaeological sites, a family charitable foundation, an embroidery shop, and their prized Zuleteno horses.
Driving up to the hacienda, you pass a circular stone-hewn driveway that once was used for bullfights. The main building is a one-level white adobe and tiled-roof colonial house. Potted plants as well as 60 hanging red geraniums adorn it. Inner courtyards with stone grounds and blue archways create sitting areas while birds are flitting through.
After a warm greeting, one of the managers or a family member will meet with you for an orientation of Hacienda Zuleta, while you relax on their comfortable sofas or chairs with coffee, tea or juice in hand. After settling into your individually decorated guest room, the manor house is yours to enjoy, including the two-level library with mementos, antique treasures, and 1,000 books. An honor bar and dining area are the other gathering spots.
In the restored original manor, nine guestrooms are available. Each room is named after family members, such as the "Marcela" corner room (great choice). A goose-down duvet, anti-allergenic beddings, window-coverings and even a shower curtain are embroidered. A wood fireplace will warm you while writing at the desk or you can enjoy the outside garden's blossoms with the windows open. The white-tiled bathroom is well-equipped.with tub and shower, bathrobe, soft towels, and fine toiletries including rose spray water, and sea salt face scrub.
Each evening at 5 PM, guests are invited to the spacious living room for wine, cheese and conversation. Soon after, dinner is served in a special dining room. A lengthy wood table is decorated with candles and elegant table settings. Your host will join you and other guests for the evening. Stories and legends add to laughter, or quiet moments as gourmet cuisine and fine wines are savored.
Hacienda Zuleta's meals are creatively prepared with homegrown foods from their organic garden. Soups are an Ecuadorian specialty, served in large caldrons. Fresh vegetables in salads and entrees taste succulent, full of richness. Entrees are delectable and beautifully presented.
Home baked bread; butter and cream from their dairy, jam from their fruit orchards and three choices of cheeses (from their cheese factory) grace the table. Delicious desserts follow this banquet of the finest flavors. Breakfasts, lunches and dinners are truly a gastronomic event.During breakfast, plans are made for the day's smorgasbord of activities. Often, guests ride Zuleteno horses, take a horse-drawn carriage, or go by mountain bike to the Condor Rehabilitation Project.
These huge ebony birds, with wingspans of 9-10 feet, are part of only 60 remaining Andean Condors in this region. Here, they are protected in an enormous aviary until ready to be released. Meanwhile, wild condors sometimes visit their recuperating fellow-flyers. You may even see a condor or two gliding in the shadows of the Andes or a bespectacled bear trudging through the wilderness.
Also interesting is a trip to Hacienda Zuleta's cheese factory. Initially, the process of making their semi-aged, handmade cheese is seen from a window. Next, you wear a white cap and apron with booties, for entering the sterile factory. Row upon row of golden, wax- covered round cheeses lay on wooden racks. When ripened, they will be shipped to vendors. A few steps away is the organic garden and orchard, filled with a multitude of flowers, plants, herbs, spices, medicinal plants, and vegetables.
The horse barn is home to 90 Zuleteno horses. Groomed, strong and beautiful, they are a rare breed of Andalusian, Thoroughbred and Quarter horses. You can choose your horse to ride from their 'Horse Catalogue.' Equestrian activities are especially important to the family and guests. Whether galloping or trotting, these elegant steeds will take you for rides in the 9000-foot lush countryside on countless trails and perhaps to Hacienda Cusin for lunch.
Perhaps you will decide to ride through the Eucalyptus-lined road from the hacienda into the nearby town of Zuleta. Near the entrance to Hacienda Zuleta, is "La biblioteca" or "the library". The Galo Plaza Lasso family continually contributes to this and other projects in the community. Hacienda Zuleta, your Ecuadorian home in the countryside, provides many unforgettable memories of personalized service, elegant luxury, and an array of outdoor activities. It is a chosen member of "Exclusive Hotels and Haciendas".
Web Address: www.zuleta.com
Total Number of Rooms: 14
Rates: $204 to $345 full board and including taxes
Review by Sandra Kennedy