February 2nd, 2014
QUITO – Casa Gangotena.
I walked…. and walked….. and walked some more around the Old Town and each time, I would stumble on something I had not seen before. One day I was on the Plaza San Francisco, an expansive cobblestone square with sweeping views. I was searching for a particular address and looking to one side, I noticed a most beautifully restored Colonial Mansion, with two uniformed doormen – please I said to myself, let them speak English !!
One of them whose name was German (that was his name, not his language !!) indicated where the address was that I could not find, but by now, I had peered inside this incredible “home”, sensed that it was a boutique hotel and asked if I could look further, Not only could I look inside, but German took me on a conducted tour.
This was the Casa Gangotena, a boutique hotel I had never heard of although it has been written up in Travel and Leisure Magazine (best new hotel of 2012) the Financial Times and other International publications. Trip Advisor had voted it #1 Best Hotel In South America, #1 Best Hotel In Ecuador, #1 Best Romantic Hotel. in Ecuador and #6 Best Hotel in the World. Not a bad pedigree, The original house was a few hundred years old and had been owned by a prominent Ecuadorian Family, the Gangotenas. It was noted as a designated “Heritage Property” soon after Quito was nominated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1978,
The Casa Gangotena was in serious need of repair when it was bought by a consortium of business investors lead by Roque Sevilla, a former Mayor of Quito, in 2010, Mr. Sevilla is a Harvard Educated Economist, a lifelong conservationist and firm believer in the future of tourism in Ecuador. He had made his fortune in insurance and telecommunications followed by investing in the Metropolitan Tour Company, one of South Americas best known and respected tour operators. The Casa Gangotena, overlooking the San Francisco Square, has some of the finest views in Old Town Quito. An enormous refurbishment was begun and the Casa now has thirty one guest bedrooms with twelve foot ceilings, tromp l’oeil murals and indulgent marble bathrooms . The original house had one bathroom for the entire house !! The Casa is designed around a central courtyard with a twenty five foot high glass ceiling, atrium style. Using local artisans it was carefully restored, with beautiful wood paneling, original hand painted tin ceilings, hand painted friezes and murals and beautiful gold leaf mirrors. It is a combination of Neo Classic and Art Nouveau styles with a modern twist. Local handmade furniture was designed and made by a leading Ecuadorian furniture maker and luxurious and understated fabrics have been used on the window treatments and furniture. I took one look at the windows and marveled at the way the curtains had been taken to the ceiling line and wondered how many rolls of fabric they had required. The Ecuadorian flavor has been carefully maintained throughout. From the central atrium, one goes out to a beautifully landscaped garden where elegant teas and drinks are available to the guests. The restaurant is one of the best in Quito, serving authentic Ecuadorian food prepared by a dedicated Chef who also leads gastronomic tours of the Old Town. What a total surprise,
While being shown around the Casa by German, I found out about another of Roque Sevillas projects called Mashpi Lodge, an extremely modern glass and steel eco lodge built deep inside the Choco jungle, a misty and highly biodiverse cloud forest on the Pacific slopes of the Andes. Sevilla is a lifelong and passionate conservationist who acquired this land thereby preventing it from being deforested and stripped bare as was about to happen. The innovative design has earned Mashpi Lodge many accolades and it is planned in the future to have bicycles ET style traveling above the forest – won’t that be amazing !!
German turned out to be a trove of information. What an adventure this has been. Even though I had done some serious preparation before the trip, there is nothing like “boots on the ground” to really find out about a place. If it is Casa Gangotena, then perhaps Gucci loafers are more appropriate than boots……