The Magic of the Incas – Glass is served a bespoke portion of Peru

I’m in Peru, looking at one of the most famous historical sites in South America, the ancient Inca citadel of Machu Picchu, meaning “old peak” in the Quechuan language. My senses are seduced inhaling the humidity hanging in the air almost 8,000 feet above sea level.

View over Macchu Picchu-02View over Macchu Picchu. Photograph: Belmond Hotels

Machu Picchu lay undiscovered by the outside world until 1911, when the American historian Hiram Bingham stumbled across the granite ruins of the Inca civilization. Filled with a sense of awe, I am guided around the vast archaeological site and discover how the Incas designed an advanced drainage system hundreds of years ago, which is still fully operational. I conclude the archaeological experience with a champagne fuelled high tea at the Belmond Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge, the only hotel on the site.

Belmond Miraflores Park-01Belmond Miraflores Park Hotel. Photograph: Belmond Hotels

It’s a dramatic contrast from Lima where I stayed earlier, with sea views overlooking the Pacific Ocean, perfectly visible from the corner bay window in my suite at the Belmond Miraflores Park Hotel.  This is where I first tucked into some memorable plates of ceviche, the famed Peruvian coastal dish, while dining al fresco at the Tragaluz restaurant, the hotel’s cool eatery frequented by the stylish locals. New restaurants are constantly popping up in Lima due to the extraordinary rise in Peru’s diverse culinary offerings. With the country’s fusion of 28 climatic zones together with its eclectic mix of cultures from across the globe, it’s no surprise that some of the world’s most renowned restaurants are found here.

Interior of Belmond Hiram Bingham Train01Interiors of Belmond Hiram Bingham train. Photograph: Belmond Hotels

Back in Machu Picchu, it’s a short drive to Aguas Calientas station to board one of the opulent Pullman carriages of the Belmond Hiram Bingham train, which follows the original 57-mile route taken by Bingham over 100 years ago. From my table I look out of my panoramic window framed with brocade curtains, at the ancient villages and the labyrinth of mountains coated in green foliage and dotted with white grazing llamas. I order a pisco sour and wander over to the glass-ceilinged observation carriage and listen to a talented trio of Peruvian musicians entertaining the passengers who take to the dance floor. I return to my table to savour another cocktail which is followed by a four-course dinner, before the train arrives at the private station adjacent to the Belmond Rio Sagrado Hotel, a ranch-style property set deep within the Sacred Valley.

Belmond Hotel Rio SagradoBelmond Hotel Rio Sagrado. Photograph: Belmond Hotels

After a swift check in, I head onto my private deck, from where the only sound I hear is the fast flow of the Urubamba River, like Pisco being poured over ice, as it passes through the hotel grounds. The next morning I nip into the Mayu Willka Spa, and while watching the river flowing under the glass bottom floor, I’m indulged with an intensive body massage then a linger in the warmth of the outdoor jacuzzi. I spend the remainder of the morning by the pool, marvelling at the views, only taking a break to bottle-feed the hotel’s baby alpacas.

Belmond Palacio NazarenasBelmond Palacio Nazarenas. Photograph: Belmond Hotels

In the city of Cusco, the capital of the Inca Empire set high up at 11,000 feet in the Andes, it’s customary to drink the local coco tea and to chew on the bitter cocoa leaves to relieve dizziness and shortness of breath.  I’m staying at the Belmond Palacio Nazarenas, a 17thcentury former palace and convent, which perfectly blends a maze of manicured courtyards and original Incan architecture into a magnificent contemporary property. From the sitting area on my balcony I overlook a sea of terracotta rooftops of the surrounding San Blas neighbourhood.

Peruvian ladies from the mountain region of Cusco wearing traditional costumePeruvian ladies wearing a traditional costume. Photograph: Belmond Hotels

Nearby, Plaza de Armas, Cusco’s imposing cobbled central square is dominated by the Basilica Cathedral and the Jesuit Iglesia de la Compania.  I stroll past clusters of Peruvian women dressed in dazzling pink and bright orange threaded costumes wearing cabanacondes on their heads and cradling baby alpacas in their arms. Next is a visit to the Koricancha complex, the main Inca temple whose walls were once covered in sheets of gold, before climbing up a steep narrow road leading to the sprawling fortress of Sascayhuaman, a gargantuan mortar-less stone structure built in 1425.It’s from here I contemplate how this view might have changed since the Incas looked out from this very same spot around 600 years ago – it’s still the best place to view Cusco in its glorious entirety.

by Amanda Bernstein

Belmond Hiram Bingham luxury day train from Cusco to Machu Picchu leaves daily and prices start from £794 per person including entrance to the ancient citadel, fine dining and beverages on board and Belmond hotel’s in Peru start from £270 / $355 per night for a double room including breakfast.

For bespoke itineraries and multi-hotel stays please call 0845 077 2222 or visit