Carrera 1 No 15-27 Mompos, Bolivar, Colombia
This labor of love, originally intended to be its owner's vacation home, is now an elegant haven filled with art and history.
When you walk through the massive wooden doors of Portal de la Marquesa you may well feel like a marquesa or a marquès. You may also feel you've stepped into the late days of Simón Bolívar depicted in The General in His Labyrinth. Polished, time-worn floor tiles, vibrant white walls, elegant columns, high ceilings, and gentle river breezes create an instant sense of opulence and ease. You may be tempted to sit on a crisp white day bed and never get up again.
It wasn't always like that.
When Alberto Chueca visited Santa Cruz de Mompos, a historic town on an island in the middle of the Magdalena River in northern Colombia, it was love at first sight. Before long he'd purchased a massive Colonial home on the riverfront and begun what would become nearly two years of restoration and renovation to bring the structure, which was completed in 1735, back to its former glory and then some. Alberto dubbed the work "project onion" because so many layers needed to be peeled away. Originally built as the home of a rich merchant, the building had been repurposed over the years and each new incarnation left its mark. Restoration work had to be done carefully as well. Mompos (as everyone calls the town) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and heritage buildings, including Portal de la Marquesa, are subject to strict renovation rules and regulations.
Alberto and his restoration and renovation team were guided by two principles: 1) absolute respect to the original Colonial features of the building and 2) hiring village artisans to do the work whenever possible, drawing on graduates of a technical school around the corner that teaches locals the skills required for the maintenance and restoration of old colonial buildings including carpentry and masonry. Two windows with intricate wrought iron gates had to be recreated after a previous owner converted the windows into doors. A new ceiling had to be constructed using special wood from distant Santander province. All materials had to be arrive in Mompos via boat down the Magdalena River to the island city.
Ultimately, Alberto and his team were able to save many original architectural elements including arches, iron windows, floor and roof tiles (some of which are more than 300 years old), most of the original wood columns and pillars, and the original patios. They added now-expected modern touches such as stylish bathrooms, 500 thread-count Egyptian cotton bedding and towels, air conditioning, satellite TV, and Wi-Fi.
The hotel opened its doors in 2013, offering three rooms and one 710 square foot master suite with its own private plunge pool and outdoor shower. You can also rent the entire property. All rooms are set around the original central courtyard and garden which is now full of banana plants, lime trees and vibrant bougainvillea. Inside, rooms have modern furniture and modern art, including graphic red and black paintings by Ecuadorian painters José Luis Miranda and Manolo Caceres.
Limited room service is available. Very reasonable rates include full made-to-order breakfast served in the central garden courtyard, which includes eggs, fruit, juice, pastries, coffee or tea, ham, cheese, pancakes or arepas.
Though constrained by the size of the hotel and restrictions about how the historic building can be altered, Alberto has found creative ways to offer guest a more complete list of services. The small pool attached to the master suite is now available for all guests to use when the suite is not occupied (you couldsimply splurge for the impressive and very reasonably-priced suite and keep the pool to yourselves). Guests also have the use of a small but serviceable gym about 10 minutes from the hotel.
The mix of historic and modern at Portal de la Marquesa is seamless and the new guest access to the pool and an offsite gym make it more appealing to travelers looking for those amenities. However, Portal de la Marquesa is best suited to those who appreciate history and the chance to say they've slept where Simón Bolívar once laid his head. The Latin revolutionary hero passed through Mompos many times during his quest for independence from Spain and he spent the night in Portal de la Marquesa at least once.
Web Address: PortaldelaMarquesa.com
Total Number of Rooms: 5
Published rates: $58 - $80 BB
Review by Karen Catchpole, photos by Eric Mohl.