Esquina Sureste del Parque Central, Granada, Nicaragua
Nicaragua's most storied hotel and one of the oldest European buildings in the Americas, the graceful Gran Francia has played quite a passionate part in the melodrama that is Granada's history.
According to legend, Granada's grand dame was first constructed next to the ancient plaza in the late 1520s, shortly after conquistadors claimed this land, overlooking Lake Nicaragua, as their own. Perhaps used as an impressively upscale inn even then, this hotel has hosted Spanish royalty here to enjoy (and exploit) the region's vast wealth and resources for centuries.
Its most famous guests would not arrive until the 1800s, however, a scandalous list that includes the murderous Duke Georges Choisseul Praslin, who killed his own bride and then fled his native France for Granada, which he considered the very end of the Earth. Later, the hotel would be occupied by the forces of William Walker, a US–backed mercenary and "President" of Nicaragua, whose intentions to conquer all of Central America for his pro–slavery benefactors were finally foiled in the 1856 Battle of Rivas. Humiliated in his defeat, Walker burned the city he claimed to love to the ground, including this very building, the seat of his short–lived rule.
But Granada and La Gran Francia, built of adobe, a clay–brick construction, could not be consumed entirely by the flames of Walker's rage. Thus they rose from the ashes to new heights, quite literally: A second floor was added in 1865, and furnished with polished–wood balconies just perfect for enjoying the city's vibrant street scene below.
Granada and its famed hotel once again fell into neglect during the turbulent 1970s and 1980s, and the tattered nation could not rebuilt her lakeside treasure for more than a decade after peace fell across the land. But in 1995, when the landmark's southeastern wall collapsed in a cry of neglect, city officials realized that it was time, once again, for Granada to rise from history's ashes.
The Nicaraguan owners called in renowned Costa Rican architect Ronald Zürcher, the innovative genius behind such deluxe Costa Rican properties as the Four Seasons Papagayo and Marriott Los Sueños. Using documents dating to the 1600s and techniques perfected in the reconstruction of similar Spanish colonial edifices in Guatemala and Panama, Zürcher was able to recreate an authentic historic monument, furnished with every luxurious modern amenity.
Glowing golden in the rich tropical sunlight, La Gran Francia now occupies two buildings on the southeast corner of the plaza. The first, and original, houses reception and concierge services, which can arrange any tour or activity you desire, as well as 21 faithfully restored Spanish colonial rooms. Authentic colonial style means rather dark accommodations (a boon in the days before air conditioning); the less expensive "classic rooms," though luxuriously appointed, are quite small and a bit claustrophobic. More spacious and comfortable colonial rooms and suites are well worth the extra cost.
All rooms feature hand–painted tiles, good bathrooms, fresh flowers, WiFi, and absolutely beautiful antique furniture and artwork collected by the owners from around Granada and Latin America. Rather than interior gardens (you'll go next door for that), this building is wrapped around a very pretty and entirely shaded gem of a pool, though guests uncomfortable with exhibitionism might feel a bit exposed by its proximity to the rooms and lobby.
The sister building, with a lush courtyard garden that lives up to the exterior's colonial promise, is home to the hotel's polished restaurant, El Arcángel, serving gourmet takes on classic Nicaraguan cuisine amidst elegant artwork in a flawless setting. Or head upstairs to El Balcón, an open–air lounge overlooking the plaza, perhaps the finest spot in Granada to enjoy a cocktail after a long day meandering the shops, churches, and museums that line Granada's colorful streets.
Web Address: www.lagranfrancia.com
Total Number of Rooms: 21
Published rates: $95 to $165, including tax and continental breakfast
Review and photos by Paige R. Penland.
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