Story and photography by Sharon King Hoge
Sumaq Machu Picchu Hotel
After a day trekking around what's called “One of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World”, Macchu Picchu's neighboring Sumaq Hotel feels like one of the Five-Star Wonders of the Modern World. Its elegant sophisticated services are rewards either before or after a trip to the antique Peruvian ruins.
Situated just at the edge of Aguas Calientes, the nearest access to Machu Picchu, where buses shuttle as many as 2500 people per day up to the site, the hotel's subtle green sections can be viewed at almost every zigzag of the 20-minute bus trip. Looking down you can see it nestled beside the Vilcanota River and the roar of the water is a soothing sound throughout the hotel where the rooms offer panorama views of the river below and the towering mountains above.
Arriving from Cusco, we were greeted at the train station by hotel staff who led us the few blocks to the hotel, no cars are allowed in Aguas Calientes. Staff members in handsome uniforms and yellow neckties invited us to sit on comfortable couches with jaunty pompom pillows in the tastefully modern lobby furnished with touches of Inca art. Embracing the ancient theory, public rooms on every floor are designed each to reflect a different one of the four elements: vibrant touches of color for fire on the first floor, earth on the second, then wind, and water.
After receiving a fresh verbena-scented towel, a cooling drink of pineapple and orange with a touch of chicha, and two artfully arranged curls of "cracker" Alejandro showed me up to my third floor room appropriately overlooking the water which was coursing over giant boulders below. The room's textured plaster walls were ornamented with wood carvings and a typical Andean blanket was splashed across the bed which was fortified with six pillows. A wide-screen television offered forty mixed-language channels, there was a DVD player, and a radio though I preferred the background sound of the river.
Two comfortable club chairs nestled at the corner besides sliding wooden doors opening out to the balcony with extraordinary views of the river below and the mountains soaring above. The closet housed a safe, a robe, and complimentary slippers. The cool tiled bathroom was fitted out with a Jacuzzi tub and rain shower. Beside the square modern basin, hotel-brand amenities included kits for shoeshine and sewing. There are three hotel room features I'm a stickler about: drawers, windows that open, and wash cloths. At the Sumaq all three demands are satisfied, plus awaiting me on the bed console as a welcome gift was an artfully arranged offering of chocolates and four fruit skewers with a chocolate dipping sauce.
I arrived the day before my scheduled visit up to the ruins, so after a quick walk five minutes into town to buy my admission ticket for the next day I hurried back to attend the Sumaq's daily cooking lesson conducted at the first floor bar. Attractive bartender Fernando Moscoso took us through the steps of mixing a perfect pisco sour -- noting that the country's traditional liquor is 42 proof and explaining that the crowning glory drop of bitters on top is essential to balance the frothy egg white. While we happily sipped our samples, Chef Ribelino Alegria brought out a fillet of red trout from Lake Titicaca and condiments and showed us how to prepare ceviche Sumaq, a house specialty, stressing the importance of adding ice cubes to preserve freshness and to balance the marinade's acidity. At the end of class we each received an attractive brown apron acknowledging our "special recognition."
I stopped by to look at the Aqlla Spa, a compact space in the basement where therapists offer treatments to overcome discomforts, some employing Andean stones. The unusual steam room is built in the Andean style symbolizing rebirth, a womb shaped bamboo "igloo." Its revitalizing experience includes music and color therapy and a telephone-style shower with ten types of water jet.
An hour after cooking class it was time for afternoon tea served along with coffee and two kinds of fruit bread set out in the upper lounge with its wonderful views of the Andes.
Teatime had barely passed when cocktail hour promised another of Fernando's amazing pisco sour cocktails -- complimentary each day and served with crunchy corn kernels and flattened lima beans.
Included in the room rate, dinner is an extraordinary affair. Peru is known for its fusion cuisine, but I never expected such elegant dining so far away from the urban center. For starters I sampled all four types of bread, brioche, and cracker -- incorporating olives, dried tomatoes, and crunchy grains. Then the chef presented an adorable amuse bouche: little chunks of chicken coated in crisp quinoa served on apple puree.
Studying the menu, from several choices in each category I started with Ensalada Sumaq -- fresh lettuce with caramelized tomato slivers, crunchy Brazil-nut praline, and little wedges of fried cheese with a delicious elderberry vinaigrette dressing.
For a main course I returned to the Titicaca red trout -- this time cooked with "flavors from the mountain gods." It rested on a slice of sweet potato-like birraca and was accompanied by a flavorful grilled vegetable julienne and served in a garlic flavored orange sauce. Finally dessert was the Chef's take on the country's traditional Supiroa La Limena, a meringuey sauce floating on a sort of delicious caramel soup. The Peruvian Tobernero blanco de blanco I selected was a flavorful dry blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Every course was plated in a presentation as elaborate as it was delicious. The service was impeccable, even as the servers bravely grappled with English pronunciation describing each dish as it arrived.
The next morning's breakfast buffet is served starting at 5 am for those aiming to get up see the Machu Picchu sunrise, and it's another feast. Spread along two sides of the dining room it included deliciously sweet scrambled eggs with bacon and sausage, French toast and Andean bread, cheeses, olives, meats, three choices of cereal, passion fruit, melon, mango, papaya, grilled banana-chunks coated in crunchy quinoa, fried sweet potato, chestnuts and almonds, orange cake, and peanut sautéed vegetables.
Many of the foods are locally sourced. Privately owned, the hotel takes pride in its commitment to the environment, paying tribute to their region's cultural identity and rich biodiversity. As a member of the Rainforest Alliance the company has taken steps to recycle containers and to reduce electricity and water consumption. Guests are encouraged to treat resources with respect.
The hotel had thoughtfully seen to my bus ticket up to Machu Picchu and offered to arrange for the bus to stop at the hotel the next morning to pick me up, but I decided it was just as easy to walk the few blocks and go with the crowd. I spent a wonderful morning hiking around the magnificent ruins and came back with enough time for a quick stroll around Aguas Calientes arriving at the train just as the Sumaq staff arrived with my luggage. I hated checking out so soon. Next time I'll plan a longer stay -- to try a massage and to revel in another one of those amazing meals.
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