Cuzco’s Palacio Nazarenas blends ancient elements with modern comforts.
Written and produced by Jenny Bradley
Photography by John Bessler
There’s something to be said for simplicity.
When Santa Fe-based interior designer Janna Rapaport took on the daunting task of helping Orient-Express renovate and design its new hotel, Palacio Nazarenas, in Cuzco, Peru, simplicity was key.
Opened in September 2012, the hotel is located in the heart of Cuzco in a 17th-century structure that’s had several incarnations—an Incan palace, a colonial-era home, and a convent, among them.
The project was a labor of love for Rapaport and architect Enrique Palacio. It took four years (and more than 200 craftspeople) to complete and was designed to complement a neighboring Orient-Express hotel.
“The Hotel Monasterio is just next door,” says Rapaport. “I wanted the Nazarenas to be its equal but still have its own personality. The Monasterio is very masculine and dramatic, so we decided to focus on more feminine aspects here. The building itself was quite simple and austere. That’s its beauty. It differentiates it from the Monasterio. We decided to build on that simplicity.
Ornate details and heavy woodwork were generally shunned for spare forms, clean lines, and classical references. “That was a dance that took some time to define,” remembers Rapaport. “I started the project by stripping away a lot of the heavier details that had been added over time and incorporating furniture that was relatively spare. At first I went a little too far. The building has such a presence that the furnishings looked too light in contrast, so we came back and mixed in some heavier carved and gilded pieces to ground the architecture.”
To respect Cuzco’s rich, colorful history, the team worked with an architectural historian to ensure that attention was paid to the smallest details—from the painstaking restoration of frescoes to the historically accurate blue paint for woodwork.
Artisans restored elements that had been neglected while the structure stood empty for 25 years. Faded woodwork on the coffered ceiling of the corner Nazarenas Suite—once home to the convent’s abbess—was dismantled and refurbished, its gold leaf and original coloration restored. Frescoes and woodwork in the reception area were brought back to life.
While the building’s history was studiously respected by the designers and artisans, the Palacio Nazarenas guest experience is a thoroughly modern affair.
“There’s a sense of place here,” says general manager Stephan Post. “It’s one of the first urban retreats in Cuzco, and it truly gives guests both a historical and a contemporary experience.”
Nods to the structure’s heritage include the original stonework that graces the hotel’s exterior and an ornately carved and painted reception desk that adorn courtyard walls. But meander through a maze of ancient stone walkways and arches, past an Incan fountain, to discover very modern facilities.
Frescoes original to the building are also found around the hotel.
Palacio Nazarenas offers Cuzco’s first outdoor swimming pool and full-service spa—the Hypnôze. Perched beside the pool is chef Virgilio Martinez’s restaurant, Senzo, where specialty dishes incorporate indigenous herbs, vegetables, and flowers—many grown on the hotel grounds.
Materials used throughout the hotel were locally sourced whenever possible. “Peruvian artisans are amazing,” says Rapaport. “Almost nothing was imported. We sourced most everything locally—rugs, furniture, silver, and woodwork—everything you can imagine.”
New elements were meticulously researched and supplied by regional talent. Carved balconies overlooking the pool were built by local artisans in the traditional Cuzco style. Tater Camilo Vera, a ceramics artist in Cuzco, provided glazed ceramics for guest rooms. The overscale, ornate mirror in the reception area was created by Lima-based artist Jaime Liebana. Silver mirrors in the bathrooms were designed by Rapaport and made by artisans in Lima.
Creature comforts weren’t neglected either. Although furnished simply, the hotel’s 55 guest suites offer all the comforts of home and then some. A Pisco Sour bar stands at the ready for weary travelers in need of a nightcap. Crisp-white bedding with elegant embroidery dresses four-posters. Curvaceous carved furnishings add a feminine touch. For those battling the effects of Cuzco’s altitude (above 11,000 feet), oxygen-enriched air-conditioning is available. Marble-clad bathrooms are not only luxurious but practical: Their in-floor heating is a welcome amenity on cold Cuzco nights.
Intricate embellishments on bedding, towels, and robes carry the Nazarenas floral theme, which is found throughout the hotel. The charms of the hotel’s secret garden, the scent of Andean flowers and herbs that infuses guest rooms on request, and the delicate embroidery adorning staff uniforms illustrate that no detail is overlooked. Each individual element combines to create a whole that provides a unique sense of place.
Bring the Pampering Home
Battle the effects of altitude by pampering yourself with a Jasmine and Lily Healing Mask, $79, and Flower Harmonizing Cream, $102.