Av. de las Amazonas via a Puyo, Km. 1 Ecuador
Housed in a 300–year–old building that was a Jesuit monastery, Samari Spa Resort is a handcrafted gem in the hot springs town of Baños, three hours from Quito.
Previously Hacienda San Vicente, abandoned for 20 years, this historic house always intrigued Dr. Jose Gallegos. Finally after much deliberation, he and his wife, Tania, bought the property in 1998 and renovation work on it began in 2000.
Seven years later, the Samari Spa Resort opened. The owners chose craftsmen from the town of St. Anthony de Ibarra, famous for their hand–carved wood furniture. The result is a unique and stunning interior. After years of hard work and a lot of money, their dream came true. They decided to name it "Samari," a Quechua word meaning, "enjoy and feel at home."
Architecturally, this classical-colonial resort has an interesting complex of buildings. Local materials are used in their construction, such as Eucalyptus wood and stones from the nearby Tunguruhua volcano. Several new guest cottages are constructed of adobe and wood, adorned with red-tile roofs. Yet a part of the main building's façade is inlaid with rocks and mortar, creating the appearance of an old English castle. Stained-glass windows enhance the effect throughout the structure.
Walking from the hotel and main building, stone pathways meander by flowers, pine trees and orchards, adobe and wood guest cottages, the convention center, spa, party house, outside swimming pool, tennis courts, and a Japanese sculptured garden. Samari Spa Resort extends over 10 acres.
Designed as a chalet-type hotel, Samari features a glass atrium roof covering the entire building. Common walkways lead to rooms on the first and second floors. An inner garden shares the courtyard with a gurgling stone fountain. The restored monastery (main building) is multi-leveled and enhanced with skylights. A high dome ceiling creates an impressive entry, with the reception room adjacent to it. A combination bar and breakfast room continues the style of adobe, wood, and wrought iron. You'll find more interesting details and touches as you settle in for a few days.
"La Casa de Piedras" (the Stone House) restaurant serves Ecuadorian and international cuisine which is well prepared and creative in presentation, with an extensive list of international wines. Chandeliers shine on elegant place settings with white cloth napkins, flowers and candles, Hand-carved chairs and tables fill the dining room. Servers wear elegant white shirts, bowties, and black pants. As expected, the service is excellent. Downstairs is the Taverno, an original tavern, with décor reminiscent of the crusades or the conquistadors. Next to it is a pumice stone poker room and a wine cellar.
Room types are in several classes, but your best options are either the spacious junior suite with its living area, fireplace, 2-person Jacuzzi and king bed, or the newer guest cottages scattered around the beautiful grounds. All rooms have TV, safe, Samari Spa toiletries, minibar, Internet access, 24-hour room service, and comfortable bed with goose down duvet. Special provisions are made for the disabled. Two laptops are available for guests to use on a complimentary basis.
The Oriental Spa's sizeable, heated indoor pool is bordered by fourteen rooms used for massages, sauna, Jacuzzi, steam and Turkish baths, full body treatments, and facials. At a reasonable $47, it's hard to resist the 90-minute "Lavender Relaxation Treatment."
If you are interested in the outdoor activities that draw many people to Baños, the Samari staff will help arrange tours. Local guided adventures include biking, bungee jumping, rock climbing, quad ATV riding, trekking, white-water rafting, canyoning, and horseback riding. For softer tours, you may want to take a Chivas (no doors) bus to waterfalls or visit Puyo, a town in the Amazon Rainforest. In case Tunguruhua volcano starts acting up, it's good to know that Samari is in the security zone of Santa Ana. Samari's Spa Resort is an exceptional choice in this attractive Andean town and is a chosen member of the Exclusive Hotels & Haciendas group in Ecuador.
Review by Sandra Kennedy