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Hotel Santa Lucia — Cuenca

Antonio Borrero #8-44, Cuenca, Ecuador

Colonial bones combine with full service facilities to create an atmospheric place to stay that's as historic as the city itself.

The building that houses the Hotel Santa Lucia has always been important. Built in 1859 as an opulent home for the governor of the province, it remained in the Vega family for more than a century. In 1999 the Vintimilla family, one of a handful of families that pioneered tourism in Cuenca, began restoring the property. It opened as the Santa Lucia Hotel in 2002 and the restoration of the building has been recognized as outstanding.

As you would expect of a hotel that has created 20 rooms in what was a single family home (albeit a three-story monster of a home), none of the rooms are the same. Rooms on the top floor, for example, have an attic-like feel with steeply sloped ceilings, exposed beams, and small windows. There are also a handful of duplex suites which offer more space and bathtubs and are worth the splurge. All rooms either face the street or a parking lot behind the hotel.

In places it can feel like modern hotel amenities have been wedged into the Colonial space. Some bathrooms, for example, take on funny shapes and offer tiny showers, though the all-natural and locally made toiletries by La Botica are lovely. The hotel's "Dream Beds" are completely modern, however, featuring a memory foam mattress topper and two types of pillows. The bed is even more delightful after turndown when handmade chocolates are placed bedside.

Many of the furnishings and generally fascinating knick-knacks that decorate the hotel's public spaces were collected around the world by the peripatetic owners, including furniture from India. Those touches combine with the genuinely old bones of the building, which retains some of its original architectural features including wood floors and restored painted ceilings and wall panels.

The centrally located hotel has two restaurants and a bar. The interior patio restaurant Trattoria Novecento is the more formal restaurant while the café like Inti Restaurant, facing the street, is where lighter fare is served in a somewhat overbearingly "country kitchen" atmosphere. This is also you dine for the included breakfast, with a wide range of made-to-order selections and bottomless cups of good coffee.

International favorites like omelets and eggs benedict are available, but order the Morlaca breakfast to get a taste of Cuenca's beloved mote pilo, which is a kind of hominy cooked with eggs. In this case it's served along with a grilled thin pork chop. Or order the Costeña breakfast to taste coastal favorites including a green plantain bolon ball with fried eggs. Both are hearty portions and may hold you until dinner.

The warmly lit Moshi bar in the lobby offers happy hour from 3-7:00 with half-price cocktails.

The hotel seems teeming with employee and service is a priority. When I complained about the very slow Wi-Fi at least three staffers got on the problem. It took some time, but the internet speed did improve.

The Hotel Santa Lucia may strike some as more of a dowager than a dandy these days, but if you want your room to be as historic as the city you're exploring then this may be the hotel for you.

Web Address: www.santaluciahotel.com
Total Number of Rooms: 20
Published rates: $80-$159 including full breakfast

Review by Karen Catchpole, photos by Eric Mohl