When booking lodging for a trip abroad, I always struggle with a bit of uneasiness. By far my fondest stays have historically been at privately-owned, unique properties across the globe. But there’s always that uneasy sense of the unknown, and the equal temptation to stay at a chain hotel, just to put any suspense to bed (pun intended).
However, as was the case so many times in the past, having the courage to get off the “chain” resulted in a rich reward during my stay in Ecuador’s capital of Quito in June 2019. The aforementioned reward came in the form of a thoroughly enjoyable sojourn in the newly refurbished Casa Alquimia, and I’ll tell you more about it in the event that you too could use a nudge to select a local property, over the less-interesting but safer bet of a chain hotel.
About the Property
Casa Alquimia is a heritage residence dating back over 400 years. To put that in perspective, the country in which I live isn’t even that old by nearly half. Some elements of the original structure remain (mostly in the shape of stone pillars) but the property has been lovingly restored by owners Isaias and Silvana, who as I will describe, are what makes this property more than just a nice place to spend a night.
With a large internal courtyard, guests can take in the sometimes eclectic, sometimes historic décor bathed in warm natural light. As an old mansion, each room is a bit unique, decorated in Andean style weavings and heavy wooden furniture. Bathrooms have a bit more modern design and both the water pressure and temperature were just as good as any hotel chain. There are various seating areas, both in designated guest areas and random chairs on the second floor balcony. Wi-Fi was refreshingly strong in the room, but the best views are from the charming rooftop breakfast room, replete with kitschy decorations, quaint furniture, and an unobstructed perch looking out at the massive statue of the Virgin Mary atop the nearby hill known as Panecillo. While the views are indeed quite nice, the hearty breakfast on offer is even better, and when I say it seems like the secret ingredient is love, I’m not just being cheesy, although there are, in fact, several tasty cheeses included.
Casa Alquimia is a great base of operations for anyone looking to experience the World Heritage listed historic center of Quito firsthand. It is cattycorner to Plaza Santo Domingo – home of a giant church, and a well-known square in the historic area of Quito that is also well-served by public transport. It’s worth mentioning that in the historic center of Quito, getting around by any sort of vehicle is slow-going at best, and there were occasions where I literally stepped out of my taxi and made better time. If you’re visiting Plaza San Francisco or the government seat at Plaza Grande, or really anywhere in the historic core, I highly recommend just walking. Not only will you make better time, but you’ll also get to experience the nuanced architecture and vibe far better than in a cab or bus.
Perhaps the real appeal (or drawback) to Casa Alquimia’s location is that it is quite literally around the corner from the area known as La Ronda – a charming street lined with shops, restaurants and plenty of live music – much of which will continue loudly and unabated all night long during weekends. There’s a real festive atmosphere, and the food, which is good if not terribly imaginative, can be consumed from tiny balconies looking over the streams of pedestrians filing by just below. It’s a bit on the touristy side, but it certainly is a spot not to be missed while visiting Quito.
As I alluded to before, the owners are what push Casa Alquimia over the top as far as making the decision to stay there. At breakfast they were most attentive, and would take the time to chat with guests who welcomed the conversation. When I needed advice on what to see and how to get there, they were quick to share. And when I needed a tour operator to bring me out to Cotopaxi for a day, Silvana – a former environmental lawyer, spent an hour with me working out every detail, filling in the gaps with lovely conversation – which still ranks as my longest conversation in Spanish to date. Without exaggerating, I truly felt as if we were treated like long-lost relatives – welcome ones at that – and that’s just not something I’ve ever seen at a chain.
Wrapping it Up
So if your travels bring you to the culturally rich capital of Quito (and they should), I can confidently recommend staying at the Casa Alquimia. It’s a great value, in a great location, with great service. If you’re going to go “unchained”, I’d suggest that this is the place to do it.
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