Story and Photos by Melanie Votaw
Illa Experience Hotel
Junin E1-44 and Juan Pio Montufar
San Marcos, Quito, Ecuador
In December, I was the very first guest at the brand new 5-star Illa Experience Hotel opened by Latin Trails in the historic part of Quito just a few blocks from the Plaza Grande and surrounded by artists’ workshops. When you walk into the hotel, you’re greeted by an enclosed courtyard surrounded by stone columns. But this courtyard has no roof, so there is a shallow pool of water that reflects the stars at night.
Marcel Perkins, the owner of Latin Trails, has attended to every detail and made it his personal quest to turn the Illa into a true “experience” hotel that feels like home. Each suite is individually decorated but contains three items that Ecuadorian grandmothers have traditionally made for the birth of new family members - a sheep’s wool rug, a handmade embroidered cotton blanket, and pillowcases trimmed in lace.
Guests are also treated to hot chocolate before bed if they wish, which is a treat not to be missed since chocolate in Ecuador is an experience in and of itself. My room contained complimentary local artisanal chocolates as well, some of which were flavored with fruits indigenous to the country.
The “experiences” at the Illa include tailor-made courses or excursions for guests to get a sense of local lifesuch as visiting an artisan’s workshop or even painting with an artist. You might also get to taste a traditional dish made by an authentic grandmother just down the street. Perkins is dedicated to helping guests become a part of the neighborhood while also giving back to the community.
The small boutique property contains only ten suites on three floors with each floor representing a different era in Quito’s history - the Colonial floor, the Republican floor, and the Contemporary floor. Surprisingly, despite its size, the Illa also contains a private spa with a Jacuzzi that’s available only to guests, a wine cellar, a reading room, a gym with cardio machines, and a rooftop bar with views of the city.
A local artist has created distinctive wall paintings for the suites, some of which depict Quito landscapes, and the doors to the rooms are all different with their own histories. Much of the furniture has also been locally handcrafted.
My Colonial Suite Junin was on the ground floor, so I had an internal bedroom window that opened up to the courtyard. Opposite the king-sized bed were a sitting area and a large television in the wall that was hidden by a lace-work gate. The ample bathroom was behind the wall containing the TV and had its own shower room, a separate room with the toilet, twin sinks, and a deep, free-standing tub with its own little shelf that ran across one edge.
Of course, every suite in the hotel includes plush bathrobes, slippers, a duvet, mini-bar, safe, alarm clock, bathroom scale, hair dryer, and array of pillow choices. Additionally, the rooms have two heated blankets in the closet and L’Occitane amenities.
Dining at the Illa’s restaurant Nuema is its own experience. Nuema was an already popular and award-winning restaurant in Quito started by Chef Alejandro Chamorro and his pastry chef wife, Piedad Salazar. (The name was created by combining portions of their children’s names.) Latin Trails convinced them to relocate their restaurant within the Illa Experience hotel and provided them with a garden so that they could raise fresh Ecuadorian herbs and other produce for farm-to-table dining.
Chamorro trained with some of the world’s best chefs and returned to his roots, where he puts his own modern spin on traditional Ecuadorian dishes. Since I was the hotel’s first guest, I was also treated to a special tasting menu prepared especially for me. It began with lobster served with fresh Ecuadorian herbs from the garden, avocado cream, crispy sourdough, lemon juice, and a fruit that’s a cross between a lemon and a tangerine.
Next, I had braised octopus in chimichurri sauce with crispy potato skins and herbs. The course that followed was pork belly with cacao butter, picked vegetables, herbs, and pumpkin seeds.
The last two courses were Andean fruit with fermented mushrooms, herbs, and broth, followed by a dessert of an apple from the Andean city of Ambato, known as the City of the Flowers and Fruit, along with a small banana called an orito and a tiny tangerine on quinoa.
Even as a savvy traveler who has been all over the globe, I had never tasted flavor combinations quite like these created by Chefs Chamorro and Salazar. Breakfast at Nuema is equally creative with fruit juices that you won’t find in most other parts of the world (certainly not outside of South America), homemade breads, flavored butters, and the finest quality of meats. The kitchen is open, so there’s a good chance you could say hello to the Chef and ask questions about the cuisine.
If you aren’t fortunate enough to be a guest at the Illa, you can still dine at Nuema, provided you make a reservation. There are few tables, however, so if you want to have a meal, you should plan ahead, as hotel guests are given reservation priority.
Clearly, Perkins, as well as Chamorro and Salazar, take enormous pride in what they do, and it shows in every element of this exciting new property in Quito. The Illa Experience affords you the chance to stay within walking distance of the capital’s most desirable sites in a neighborhood that exposes you to local culture. I can’t imagine that you’d want for anything at this property, so I recommend it wholeheartedly.
© April 2018 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.