Tucked away in the red hills of Peru is a most luxurious getaway.
By Karin Tanabe
Peru’s Sacred Valley has long been regarded as a scenic detour between Cusco and the slow trains that take tourists past snow-covered precipices to the Incan ruins of Machu Picchu. A bit off what is humorously known as “The Gringo Trail,” Urubamba and its small neighboring towns beckon those set on visiting the Peruvian tourist trifecta of Lima, Cusco, and Machu Picchu – but hope to meander slightly from the tried-and-true route. Prior to 2009, there were no luxury accommodations in this idyllic region, which must have been a large part of the allure for the developers of the Aranwa Sacred Valley Hotel and Spa.
The first of five new properties to be built by the luxury hotel and spa chain, Aranwa plans to invest $36.5 million over the next five years
on hotels in the southern Peruvian regions of Cusco, Arequipa, Puno, and Ica, as well as one in the town of Paracas, just outside Lima. If the resort in the Sacred Valley is at all indicative, Aranwa will redefine luxury travel in a nation known more for attracting history buffs and adventure travelers grappling to great heights.
THE HOTEL: Overlooking the Vilcanota River, a small rambling waterway that cuts through the rust-colored hills of the Sacred Valley, Aranwa is a bit like coming upon a desert oasis. When your car pulls up to the property, an elegant blend of colonial aesthetics and modern amenities, you have to wonder, “Why here of all places?” After a few hours, however, you will fully appreciate a luxurious getaway amid a beautiful landscape with little else to distract you.
A 17th-century colonial structure houses many of the hotel’s spacious rooms. (The rest of the property was built recently but will have you thinking otherwise.) The resort’s centerpiece is a charming white church with ornate interiors, a perfect replica that is open to the public and holds frequent services. It is illuminated at night and serves as a perfect starting point for the hotel’s “river walk,” or a stroll with Aranwa’s two alpacas to an aviary filled with peacocks and toucans.
If ornithology isn’t your passion, give the parrots a miss and take in the owner’s extensive art collection. The modern two-story gallery contains works by Peruvian pop impressionist painter Enrique Polanco which hang alongside requisite images of Machu Picchu and landscapes by Gerardo Chavez and Pedro Azabache. For those who just can’t get away from it all, there is a business center and conference area along with a well-stocked library, a plush private movie theater, and Wi-Fi – of course.
SLEEPING: At some hotels, opting for a suite over a standard room simply means upgrading to a larger space and a complimentary fruit bowl. At Aranwa, however, the suites will have you calling your contractor to install a bedroom swimming pool or a bathtub large enough to swim laps in beside an exquisitely carved antique bed.
The Presidential Suite, the crème de la crème of the hotel’s 15 suites, sprawls over several floors with numerous bedrooms, enormous carved wooden doors, and a private rooftop pool. Its cathedral ceilings and grand piano beckon you to practice your best Plácido Domingo vocal stylings when not enjoying the entertainment and billiard rooms, infinity baths, and terrace complete with a barbeque and thatched hut.
The Lake Suite is smaller but nearly as luxurious with a chandelier-topped resistance pool just two steps from the master bed. Yes, there is a large swimming pool on the hotel grounds, and sure, it makes more sense to backstroke in the sunlight rather than in your bedroom, but the concept is so self-indulgent that it’s hard not to love it. The Lake Suite also has a spacious dining room, living room, and kitchen in addition to several bedrooms.
The 100 standard guest rooms may not boast baby grands or space for a 50-meter dash, but they are luxurious in their own right, with 18th- and 19th-century furnishings, marble bathrooms, and terraces.
The 17th-century hacienda, which houses many of the standard rooms, is a nice option if you want luxury but don’t wish to pay for a suite. It features a movie theater, library, billiard room, and the structure’s original kitchen (where the adobe stove is still used). Aranwa was careful to consider the needs of all of its visitors and the colonial hacienda has several fully accessible rooms for disabled guests.
DINING: There are three restaurants, a bar, and a sushi bar to choose from, but it was the latter that really sparked my interest. Peru is renowned for ceviche and I had almost impossibly high standards for raw fish after arriving from the country’s coastline. The sushi chef, who trained in five-star resorts in the Americas and Japan, is passionate about fusion cuisine. This translates into spiced yellowtail sashimi with lime and cilantro and fatty tuna, eel, and shrimp all cut with the expert training of a Japanese chef, but seasoned with local Peruvian ingredients. All fish are flown in from the nearby Pacific coast. If you’re looking for an experience that matches the best tables in Kyoto, this brand of fusion sushi may not make your mouth water, but nouveau sushi fans won’t mind a new twist on a perennial gourmet favorite.
More traditional South American fare is served in the other restaurants where the meat selections are not to be missed and the portions are sized to share. Note: Some travelers may be tempted to try guinea pig, a local delicacy, although most cringe at the thought. Aranwa, however, is a safe place to sample this dish. On the libations front, it would be a crime not to sip a few pisco sours by the swimming pool.
THE SPA: As you watch animals ambling slowly across neighboring farmland during your drive up the dirt road, you wouldn’t think that one of South America’s most luxurious spas was waiting for you at the end of a dusty trail. Aranwa’s Hamay Spa is certainly deluxe – and not just by Peruvian standards. The continent’s largest facility of its type (at 2,500 square meters), Hamay was built with tranquility in mind. Featuring cathedral ceilings, river front views, a meditation room, outdoor sauna, traditional Andes massage room, hydrotherapy area, steam room, sauna, massaging foot bath, private showers, gym, and a yoga studio, Hamay has every amenity for ultimate pampering and relaxation. More importantly, thanks to spacious wood and stone rooms and light-infused elegant spaces, it doesn’t just focus on a laundry list of services but delivers tranquility at every corner.
The facility offers the usual treatments as well as services reflective of the region. The “secret of the Andes” massage is done on a traditional hot stone bed and the oxygen facial will help combat the thin air at high altitudes. The spa also houses a stone-walled oxygen room with panoramic views and spacious chaise lounges that seem more South Beach than South Peru.
Indian, Myan, Japanese, Swedish, therapeutic, and reflexology massages are available in the spa’s 11 treatment rooms, but the signature 90 minute Hamay massage (a combination of all of the above), will leave you wondering how you can turn your vacation into a staycation.