Plaza Nazarenas 144, Cusco, Peru
When it comes to unsurpassed hotel experiences and luxury rail travel, the name Belmond (formerly Orient Express) is synonymous with exclusivity. With its historic converted convent in Cusco, Palacio Nazarenas, Belmond surpasses even its own exacting standards.
The first inkling that this hotel stay at Nazarenas might be different comes when you receive an email from the man who writes that he is looking forward to being your butler when you arrive. The second comes when you actually meet your butler and he shows you your suite, complete with iPad.
Turns out the iPad–equipped suite is a first not only for me — and I have stayed in hundreds of hotels — it is a first also for Belmond; the company's newest property in Peru is also the one designated to debut the luxury hotel chain's latest amenity.
It stands to reason that a property in Cusco (also spelled Cuzco) would be chosen to kick up Belmond's game a notch. The number of luxury hotels and lodges in Inca country — both in the big city and in the Sacred Valley — continues to grow from year to year, driving individual properties to come up with new offerings to maintain a competitive edge.
Thus, another Palacio Nazarenas innovation is its heated outdoor pool, the first of its kind on the grounds of a hotel in Cusco. The pool is located in one of three compact courtyards around which the boutique hotel's 55 suites are clustered, in a manner that preserves the tranquil atmosphere of what was formerly a private colonial residence (and subsequently, a convent).
The suites themselves come in four categories, from chica (small) to two master suites, which are up to quadruple the size of the junior suites. The ultimate experience in the hotel would have to be in the Nazarenas Suite, with its hand–carved wooden ceiling worthy of the chapel of a nobleman.
Nonetheless, all suites come with the trappings that add up to a truly luxurious stay. Beds are king–sized, unless one opts for twin poster beds. Bathrooms are appointed in marble and feature underfloor heating, to combat those chilly evenings at over 11,000 feet above sea level. And speaking of the rarified altitude, oxygen will be pumped directly into guest suites upon request, to counter any ill effects of the thinner atmosphere.
The aforementioned butler service, provided 24/7, by superbly trained staff speaking excellent English, is standard, as well. (The hotel is currently experimenting with a "Great Affordable" B&B only rate, which knocks 10% off the rate if you forgo the butler service; to paraphrase the old saying, however, if you have to scrimp to save $55 at a Belmond hotel, you probably should be booking a different property to begin with.)
One of the butler's functions enjoyed by most guests is the bartending lesson given in mixing Peru's favorite cocktail: the Pisco sour. Long after it is over, and you have sampled your own creation, the well–stocked included minibar, snack station, espresso machine, and tea–making facilities remain to refresh travelers night and day — free of additional charge.
Naturally, all the other extras expected in a luxury hotel are there: bathrobe and slippers; satellite television with plenty of foreign–language channels; premium sound system; and wireless Internet access. You can log on with your own device, or the iPad that is standard issue, complete with the Palacio Nazarenas app.
Wending one's way through the courtyards to and from guest suites is all part of the fun at the Palacio Nazarenas, since every route will take you past fountains, colorful flowers, glimpses of Inca walls, and water channels carved into the rock. Your path may take you to the lobby lounge that was once the gallery of a chapel; the elegant library; the gift shop (whose wares can also be shown in the privacy of one?s suite, upon request); or the business center, equipped with computers, printer and scanner.
One popular destination within the cloistered grounds is the Hypnoze Spa, featuring its own brand of organic products, formulated from Andean ingredients sourced locally. Signature massages are offered in a choice of single or double treatment rooms.
As if there were not enough to distinguish Palacio Nazarenas from the rest of the luxury hotel pack, Belmond has also recruited one of Peru's most celebrated chefs, Virgilio Martinez, to head up the kitchen at the Senzo Restaurant, whose glass walls offer views out on the pool. Martinez, who is known for researching indigenous ingredients, has designed a distinctive menu based on the many kinds of potatoes and other unusual herbs that grow in the Andean plateau. Guests who enjoy experimenting with their cuisine will undoubtedly savor the adventure of a meal here.
Certainly, any visitor to Peru who has not budgeted enough time to indulge in the gastronomic delights of Lima would be well advised to taste Martinez' creations here, even if fashioned by one of his sous chefs. A meal at his signature restaurant Central, in the country's capital, is de rigueur for any gourmand.
If a visit to Central is in the cards — or you have two nights for dinner in Cusco — then an evening at El Tupay in the neighboring Belmond property, El Monasterio, is called for. The El Tupay Restaurant serves delicious classic continental cuisine and regional specialties, accompanied by vocal performances of opera arias or the strains of a string quartet most nights of the week. Meals at any of the Monasterio bars or restaurants may be billed to your Palacio Nazarenas suite.
Whether you have dinner at Senzo or not, don't skip breakfast there in your rush to sightsee. The Palacio Nazarenas "breakfast buffet at your table" is a winning combination of the best of both worlds: the choice and generosity of "all you can eat" with service at your table (and no juggling plates in a line). Take maximum advantage of the poolside fruit cart to order a fresh fruit plate and smoothie of a rich blend of tropical fruits.
El Monasterio itself. long the flagship property of Belmond in Cusco, is worth a visit, even just to marvel at the stunning main courtyard, as well as the exquisite chapel sandwiched between the venerable Monasterio and the newly minted Palacio Nazarenas. The lovely Plaza Nazarenas is just one block from Cusco's main square, flanked by impressive museums. It has bolstered Belmond' high–end travel leadership in the Andean region even more with what is now the greatest luxury hospitality complex of all of Peru.
Web Address: www.palacionazarenas.com.
Total Number of Rooms: 55 (all suites)
Published rates: Published rates: $1495 to $1,655 (BB)
Review and photos by Buzzy Gordon.