The rich volcanic soils of the sierra surrounding Ecuador's capital, Quito, are home to some gorgeous haciendas which date back to colonial times. Built by rich families on land granted to them by the Spanish crown, these haciendas date back to the 17th and 18th centuries. Many of them are still owned by the families who built them, who - no longer able to rely on the serfdom of the local peasants - have converted their homesteads into country hotels.
Hacienda Zuleta, 70 miles North of Quito is currently owned by a family that has produced two Ecuadorian presidents, but it is still very much a working farm – albeit in a private valley at 9,000ft above sea level! Zuleta is paradise for horse-lovers (it has a stable of excellent horses and knowledgeable local guides who are only too happy to show guests the lay of the land) but it is also an amazing place to sleep, eat and be entertained by the current generation.
Nearby Hacienda Cusin and its accompanying monastery have been delightfully restored to create what must be one of the grandest haciendas in the country. Original artwork adorns the walls, local silverwork is abundant and the florid tropical gardens are a tonic in themselves. The breath-taking scenery around Cusin also offers excellent horseback-riding opportunities, but this is more of a hotel than a farm, and relaxation is the order of the day.
But surely the most amazing of all haciendas is Hacienda san Agustin de Callo. Less than 40 miles to the South of Quito, San Agustin de Callo is built atop the ruins of an Inca palace built by none other than Huayna Capac and it was also used as a base by the French Geodesic Mission to the Equator. There can surely be no better end to a day’s trout-fishing or horseback-riding than eating a gourmet, locally-inspired dinner in a room built by the Incas themselves.
Thanks to F. Delventhal for the title image of this blog.