I didn’t expect to find an innovative, luxury hotel on a quiet, traditional street in Quito’s Old Town. There’s a hillside neighborhood, San Marcos, filled with homes and historical villas, craftsmans’ studios and bakeries. I joined my host from Latin Trails and to visit galleries, vintage antique shops, cafes and church plazas. Climatically, we stopped in front of a simple, elegant entrance with a starburst logo that glowed next to the door. This was my introduction and the entrance to the Illa Experience, a boutique and luxury hotel.
(Disclosure: I was hosted for breakfast at the Illa Experience Hotel but all opinions are my own.)
A historical ceiling detail in the Illa Hotel office
Creative revival inside the Illa Experience luxury hotel
It’s inspirational. The 1700’s family villa was opened to the elements which transformed the space. Each evening the universe is reflected in a lobby mirror pool inset with twinkling candles. The rear of the building opens to the rooftops and mountains of Quito, which also floods the deeply draped guest rooms with light. Many of the original building’s most unique features have been adapted and preserved. For example, in the office sitting room the ceiling is graced with imprinted tin and an antique convent bookcase features shelves that turn, revealing bottles of local wines.
Illa luxury hotel room with a traditional ceramic coffee maker
There are ten rooms on three floors with details drawn from periods in the capital city’s history: Colonial, Republican and contemporary. Local artwork and traditional ceramic coffee urns nod to the past and culture in each room. The guest suites also have views, from colorful Junin Street or to the famous Panecillo Virgin statue.
One of the breakfast trays inside the Illa Luxury Hotel
Each meal is a work of art aas I discovered at breakfast. In the petite dining room, I enjoyed fruit from the region, homemade butters, savory and sweet (sesame & chocho beans plus herbs.) Three different Ecuadorian cheeses and a smoked, carmelized jam with raw sugar adorned a silvery platter. All that was just one course of many!
Chef Alejandro Chamorro studied at the ground-breaking Nomo in Scandinavia and his passion for Ecuadorian cuisine infuses everything he makes. He and his wife, Piedad Salaza, run the award-winning Nuema restaurant together. They are magicians at presentation and craft exquisite fare from locally sourced ingredients. Daily menus include harvests from small farmers, foragers and artisinal fishermen. But, for all their innovation, the Illa breakfasts also offer traditional items like Quinoa pancakes with homemade syrup; “As grandma used to make,” Chammoro says.
Step inside the Illa and stroll the neighborhood in this video:
One corner of the private and curated wine cellar with some of the best wines from South America and the world.
One of the Illa’s inspirations are experiences tailored for guests. There’s a painting school in the neighborhood and you can work on your brushwork with a private tutor in a studio at the hotel. Perhaps you’d learn how to make traditional desserts, try a few dance steps or take a lesson from one of the other craftsmen in the area.
Inside the Madera Noble shop, pieces feature small inlays of bone, wood, and Tagua vegetable Ivory, a polished Amazon seed.
The traditional neighborhood whic has been home to generations of artists, writers, and musicians in a tight-knit community. There are small cafes and few cars. It’s a lovely place for strolling and admiring views of town and the hillsides. For all this, the hotel is only a five minute walk from Old Town’s central, Plaza Grande.
One house was previously owned by the artist, Suarez, born in 1918. A memorial tile plaque sits near the front door. It reads:
“The walls and wood of this house … are impregnated with her dreams and life.”
As we stroll, neighbors stop to say hello. I wish there’d been time to join one restaurant owner for lunch. His award-winning purple porridge is a favorite for Ecuadorian style Day of the Dead celebrations. The soup is made from a sweet purple corn and served with dolls and lambs made of bread. Our host says it’s one of the best restaurants in Quito.
A local fruit stand in San Marcos.
Another neighborhood cafe in San Marcos serves an afternoon special on Sundays. “By afternoon she’s sold out,” I’m told. The owner/chef stands in the doorway next to a grill filled with potato patties and pork that’s been oven roasted in a brick oven. Elsewhere small markets offers seasonal fruits from the region, the ingredients go from “cobb to pot,” they say in Quito.
Chef Chamorro in the kitchen. Photo from the Illa Experience website
My dream is to return to Quito and spend several nights soaking up the ambiance of San Marcos. I’d try my hand at watercolor painting and sip wine as gorgeous morsels fill my dinner table, but that fantasy will have to wait for another time.