As far as South American adventures go, this one was pretty intense. The story begins in the 12th century when a family of Incas emerged from three little caves high up on a magical mountain known as Machu Picchu. Almost 3,000 years later, a little-known American explorer called Hiram Bingham rediscovered this incredible land and reclaimed it from the lush jungle which had totally swamped and engulfed the numerous terraces and ramshackle stone houses. A country so rich and diverse in its culture, with Spanish, Chinese and Mongolian ancestors, Peru posses eighty out of 120 of the world’s microclimates, which include the sea, the jungle, rainforest and desert. We start our week in Lima, a capital city so vibrant, so empowering, two days barely touches the surface. Celebrated as one of the current epicentres of the culinary world, Lima’s food markets present a colourful mix of every fruit and vegetable imaginable; intense chirimoya, aguaymanto, pungent passion fruit and mango, each one plump, ripe and ready to be picked 365 days a year. We enjoyed a morning culinary tour with the gorgeous Marisol, a local lady oozing passion and knowledge through her veins. The tour took us to Isolina, a buzzy, architecturally inspiring restaurant, named after the chef’s mother, which presents large traditional plates devised from ancient African and Spanish slave recipes, elegantly presented, to devour with friends and family.
Our accommodation, the beautiful Hotel B, located in trendy Barranco, impressed. The property began life in 1914 as a private summer house for a wealthy Peruvian family before remaining neglected for twenty years towards the latter part of the 20th century. The current owners, a group of arty friends, meticulously restored it to its former glory, inserting a ginormous injection of creative flare and soul. A magnificent collection of contemporary art and sculpture adorn the expansive walls. Noteworthy art nouveau light fittings dangle proudly in the main lobby and lounge. Just seventeen bedrooms and suites are elegantly presented with silky soft linen, quirky furniture and immaculate marble bathrooms.
Pisco Sour classes and a popular Peruvian afternoon tea await if you can bear to prise yourself away from the gobsmackingly brilliant Mario Testino museum-gallery, MATE, a short stroll down the road. Four more suites will be unveiled later this year and an in-house art gallery jam-packed next door will excite and inspire collectors the world over. Cala, a decoratively simple yet hugely atmospheric restaurant on the outskirts of trendy Miraflores, offers a brilliant three-course menu, which makes choosing easy. The staff are just wonderful and each dish, generous in size, is a celebration of flavour and authenticity. Their ceviche, the much-heralded Peruvian raw fish delicacy tossed in fresh lime juice, spices and herbs, is insanely good. A reservation at Central, in downtown Lima, is a must for all foodies. Although a tad on the pretentious side, the chef’s at this place are seriously inventive. So much so that it has been named one of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants.
A speedy 1 hour 20 min flight to Cusco, private or scheduled, means a climb to 3,500m above sea level. A number of interesting accommodations dotted about the Valle Sagrado, or Sacred Valley, include a few from luxury hospitality group Belmond, which has five properties in Peru and two trains. From May to December each year, the Hiram Bingham train, which evokes the style and grace of an original Pullman carriage, transports guests directly from a tiny station just outside Cusco to Aguas Calientes, the village below Machu Picchu, and winds effortlessly through the insanely mesmerising Valle Sagrado and beside the wide, fierce river. Adventure capitalists can choose an altogether different mode of transport; a 3-night hike can easily be arranged, during which you will be guided and assisted by an experienced Sherpa. Tarantula dodgers need not apply.
Here, it is the immensely spiritual Machu Picchu, or ‘big mountain’, that is the reason that millions make the pilgrimage to this remote land. A site so awe-inspiringly beautiful, so untouched, it is a place I urge everyone with a dreamlike imagination to encounter once in their lifetime. The journey from Cusco to Machu Picchu and an afternoon exploring the Inca history can be done in one day so a night at one of Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo’s pretty casitas is mandatory. Choose a larger casita or a villa near the main building and sign up for the early morning nature trail to get a glimpse of one of five endangered Andean bears that have been carefully reintroduced to the locale by the hotel’s dedicated environmental team, Inkaterra Asociación.
Keep two nights free to park up in the ancient city of Cusco. History and architecture beckon as we explore the winding streets, which lead endlessly into cobbled alleyways. We discovered a charming old gentleman selling original Peruvian artwork at a small stall by Plaza San Blas and make a few purchases. The achingly elegant La Casona, another Inkaterra property, is a former 16th century manor house located on the Plaza de la Nazarenas. Pre-Colombian textiles, original furniture and gorgeous Peruvian artwork fill this eleven-suite boutique hotel. Palacio Nazarenas, by Belmond, presents fifty-five pretty and spacious suites, scattered around an immaculately presented central courtyard of this 18th century reimagined palace. A small but pleasantly decorated restaurant, Senzo, overlooks a heated swimming pool and an atmospheric spa offers 3 treatment rooms, one with an incredible glass floor, detailing the original centuries-old water tunnels.
For those looking for a little more off-the-beaten-track adventure, without wishing to muddy one’s shoes, trusty Belmond will launch a brand new luxury sleeper train to rival Europe’s high-end Venice-Simplon Orient-Express this month. The Andean Explorer, beautifully crafted and immaculately upholstered, naturally, will offer guests a seamless journey whizzing through the extraordinarily stark foothills of the Andes mountains. Guests can select from three trips; one to two nights, and remain immaculate in the totally refurbished carriages. Welcome cocktails, full-board fine dining and sumptuous double-bed cabins await the lucky few. Just three hours from Lima by air further south to Iquitos, and a 3-night stay aboard Delfin’s ultra-luxurious Amazon cruise boat, you’ll encounter a world where Macaws play nosily in the dense rainforest and poison dart frogs pounce from one giant lily pad to another. Here, adventure and exploration reign supreme. Just don’t forget to visit Callao, a once poverty-stricken province close to Lima’s main port, but now rapidly emerging as a creative hub for contemporary art. As we strolled past the dilapidated grand townhouses, we were invited to sip local beer with some of the friendliest people on earth. You really need to get over there. Now.
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