Overnight in Old Town

01/Marzo/2013 | 12:14

By Lance Brashear

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By now, virtually everyone in Quito has strolled along the quaint cobblestone street known as La Ronda in the city’s historical district.  You have probably enjoyed a drink or dinner at one of the neighborhood’s many bars or restaurants.  Or maybe you purchased a gift, saw an art exhibit, or listened to live music.  But have you stayed overnight?

Pat and Nancy, a retired couple from Florida, on their way to Galapagos decided to make a one night stay in Quito before heading to Guayaquil to meet their tour.  Arriving in the evening and leaving before day break – with less than 12 hours to spend in the city - the couple said La Casona gave them their only chance to experience old Quito on their tight schedule.

David and Allison Mandelbaum from Rhode Island, also in Ecuador for a Galapagos vacation, reserved a few days to see the capital city.  They had not booked at La Casona but quickly switched hotels for their final two nights once they discovered it during their city tour.  “This is beautiful. The location is great.  We made changes in our plans just to come.”

La Casona de La Ronda receives an infusion of charm simply because of its location.  A restored house from the colonial era, this small hotel sits along Quito’s emblematic, pedestrian street which is now lined with attractions including twelve artisans craft workers who are part of a new program called “Manos de la Ronda” (Hands of La Ronda) that offers demonstrations and locally made products - everything from chocolate and candles to tin toys and guitars.

La Ronda, officially named Morales Street, was once a focal point for artists, poets, musicians who left an indelible mark on modern Ecuadorean culture.  The name derives from the Spanish verb “rondar,” which means to patrol.  When Quito was settled by the Spanish, for reasons of geography (it bordered a ravine, which was filled in long ago as the city developed), the street became the southernmost boundary of the city and was part of the patrolled perimeter.

After being left to decay for many decades – physically and socially – the city intervened with a $2 million investment in the past decade, which is today sustained by an ongoing commitment from the city’s tourism office. 

The investment in the neighborhood paralleled a similar investment in the house that is now the historical center’s premier boutique lodging. 

Santiago Jarrin, one the hotel’s owners, says the house dates to 1739 and was originally used to house visitors when the nearby convents had no space.  Through the centuries the house passed into private hands and then was abandoned for decades before the city purchased it and resold it to Jarrin under the condition that he would convert it into a hotel.

“The house was falling down,” says Jarrin, as he walks about the second of three floors built around a now enclosed patio.  “There were no defined spaces,” he says when they began work five years ago.  Only the exterior façade and the main support walls have not been altered – though they have been exposed in magnificent ways as part of the interior design. 

Though the patio and stone columns that define its pentagonal shape are original, much of the interior would be unrecognizable to visitors from centuries past. As the architects began to restore the hotel Jarrin says the spaces available were so unconventional that the architects had to resort to paper and pencil and manual drafting tools.   “The entire architectural software system was of no use.”

The kitchen was created by digging out the earth near the back of the hotel.  An adjacent, three story retaining wall has been disguised with a vertical garden as part of a unique interior patio.  And Jarrin points out that the original house only had one bathroom.  Today, each of the 22 rooms has modern fixtures that blend naturally with its more rustic personality.

“I wanted something ethnic… not too rustic, but something more contemporary,” explains Jarrin.  He ended up with a little of both. 

Jarrin enlisted Margara Anhalzer, owner of Olga Fisch Folklore, to decorate the hotel.  “She has a very fine taste…she has seen a lot outside and inside Ecuador.  She is grounded in the artisan handicraft of Ecuador.”

Anhalzer’s vision for La Casona starts from a floral framework using the embroidery of Zuleta - a small town in northern Ecuador that was once part of a vast hacienda where embroidery has become emblematic with the name.   The bedding, throw pillows, and women’s uniforms incorporate Zuleta embroidery, with floral designs.

Externally, La Ronda, like much of old Quito, is characterized by balconies where residents have traditionally displayed geraniums.  This further influenced Anhalzer.  “When I entered the hotel I thought of the most important characteristic of La Ronda, the flowers, and from there I began with the idea to decorate thinking of flowers and the great, interior flowering patio,” she says.

Additionally, the hotel displays watercolors and prints of traditional plants and flowers by local artist, Dolores Salgado.  “The artwork in the rooms attempts to bring out the endemic botanical theme through plants, herbs, fruits, and flowers.  Ecuador is a country rich in impressive botany and it is not well known.”

The furniture in La Casona is an eclectic mix of antique finds from shops throughout northern Ecuador; each discovered and placed by Anhalzer to give them decorative and functional utility.  “We wanted to give the sensation of a mansion (casona), of a space that, although it is new, feels lived in.”

Gisella Petrilli, general manager of the hotel and a restorer by training, says it gives her pride to work in La Casona. “Every historical trace here we have restored it and even highlighted it.”  The preservation and improvements give the house warmth.  “It is calm, intimate,” she says. 

It is also very quiet and peaceful considering the Mardi Gras atmosphere that often comes alive on weekends in La Ronda. Recently, during the local Carnival holiday, guests enjoyed the Parade of Masks from the traditional balconies of the hotel rooms, an experience impossible to recreate in other hotels in Quito. 

La Casona de la Ronda Boutique Hotel is Quito’s most accessible high-end hotel.  Rooms are $159 for single occupants or $179 per couple, including taxes and breakfast buffet. 

The menu at La Casona is varied to emphasize Ecuador’s regional cuisine, but sprinkled with a few international options. And bottles of Ecuadorean wine by Dos Hemisferios give local flavor to each room.  Dinners at La Casona de La Ronda average $20-25, reservations are required.  Call at 228-7538 or visit the website at www.lacasonadelronda.com.



Ciudad Quito

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