Junin E1-44 and Juan Pio Montufar, San Marcos, Quito, Ecuador
This deluxe boutique hotel aims to introduce guests to Ecuadorian culture by offering the "experiences" that give the property its name.
Many upper-end hotels shelter guests from the local culture, cocooning them in a posh but generically international environment. Illa Experience Hotel, a 10-room boutique property in central Quito, takes an opposite approach, welcoming guests with experiences that introduce them to aspects of Ecuadorian culture.
Located in the heritage San Marcos neighborhood of residential buildings, small shops, and museums, Illa Experience Hotel opened in late 2017 in a renovated manor that dates to the 1800s. The hotel has retained many elements of the structure's colonial past, although the décor gets progressively more contemporary as you ascend from the first to the third floor.
Guests enter through the lobby, where a decorative pool is open to the sky. Coffee is set up in a small reception area off the lobby, which—thanks to an idea from the owners' son—has a secret "Harry Potter-style" door.
The hotel normally provides an "experience" for guests immediately upon arrival. One popular activity is ice-cream making. A local woman who serves as the property's ice cream expert starts with a giant pot lined with straw and ice. She pours in milk, a little sugar, and fresh fruit, perhaps locally sourced strawberries, and stirs, stirs, and stirs some more. Eventually, the ice cream begins to solidify into a deliciously soft and creamy frozen confection, which the señora serves in a cone.
Other experiences might include a traditional Ecuadorean toast with locally made sparkling wine and served with sweets, a walk to a nearby shop that crafts high-end versions of the straw hats known as the "Panama," or a painting demonstration by an area artist. These experiences are relatively brief, but they do provide a window into the region's culture.
Staff complete the check-in process in the guests' rooms, which are laid out with a plate of welcome sweets, a thermos of hot water, and a vial of the herb guayusa, said to help alleviate the symptoms of altitude sickness.
The guest rooms-three on the first floor, four on the second, and three on the third—are all decorated and furnished somewhat differently. The first floor, which is part of the original structure, is more colonial in style, while on the second floor, added in 1908, the rooms feel a notch more contemporary. The top story is new, added when the property was converted into a hotel, and the décor reflects this more modern style.
Despite these differences, all the guest rooms feel as if they're part of an elegant family home, with embroidered linens, handmade rugs, heated floors, and soaker tubs in many of the spacious bathrooms. Modern amenities such as TVs, minibars, and safes, are hidden discretely behind a screen or tucked into a closet. Some upper-floor rooms look out over the rooftops to Quito's famous hilltop Virgin statue.
On the property's lower level is a tiny spa with a massage table, a reflexology area, and a very small fitness room with a treadmill. A whirlpool tub is set in a window-lined nook with views into a lush pocket garden. Guests must make a reservation to use the Jacuzzi; only one party is allowed in the tub at a time. The wine cellar on this level can be booked for wine tastings or private dinners.
A highlight of an Illa stay is dinner at the hotel's 24-seat Nuema Restaurant, a contemporary Ecuadorian dining destination operated by Chef Alejandro Chamorro. Every evening, Chamorro creates a new tasting menu, typically available in three to six courses, based on what's available in the market or from his local suppliers. It might include a shrimp tartar, an updated take on locro (Ecuadorian potato soup), and a deconstructed version of an ecocado, inspired by the coastal dish of plantains, fresh seafood, and coconut milk.
There's no written menu, so the servers introduce each course as it's served. A minor quibble is that the staff, obviously more comfortable in Spanish, do not always explain the dishes as clearly to the English-speaking guests. With cuisine this good, though, it doesn't really matter how it's described.
The breakfast spread is more traditional but still quite lavish, starting with freshly-made juice, coffee or tea, and a platter of breads offered with cheeses, ham, pâté, jams, and manjar, Ecuador's version of dulce de leche. A selection of fresh fruit comes with honey-sweetened yogurt, and eggs are cooked to order.
Marcel Perkins and his family, who operate the Latin Trails tour company, own the Illa Experience Hotel. The company will package Galapagos Island trips and other Ecuador adventures with stays at their Quito luxury hotel. It's one more way for luxury travels to "experience" Ecuador.
Web Address: www.illaexperiencehotel.com
Total Number of Rooms: 10
Published rates: $459—$1,299 plus taxes and service charge
Review and photos by Carolyn B. Heller