Our Experience at Hacienda Zuleta: a home from home in the Ecuadorian Andes
After 25 years, we at cazenove+loyd each have our own special relationships with the places where we send our clients. We tend to travel to ‘developing’ regions and often, we are the first guests in a new lodge or small hotel. Sometimes we are campers in the building which will become the lodge. Working with the owners is a collaboration as much as it is a business relationship. The positive feedback from our first client is always a vindication of our instincts and, as such, a relief. A relief not just that a client is happy, but also that the investment and enthusiasm of the owner we were with on Day One looks on course for success.
Owner-run lodges and hotels are also as much about the people as they are about the place. Hacienda Zuleta, in Ecuador’s Northern Sierra, is one of those special places which we have worked with from the very start.
When I took my own family there last summer, we were welcomed as one of their own. Bought in 1898 by the Lasso family, the hacienda is about ‘FAMILY’ in the broadest sense. Ex President, Galo Plazo Lasso, was one of the great exponents of economic reform in the late 1940’s/early 1950’s and he is remembered in the Andes in particular for devolving huge tracts of land to the Andean people, abolishing the feudal ‘huasipungero’ system. Just as we felt like family as soon as we entered his family’s working farm, so too do those who work there and who live in the village which abuts the hacienda.
Although currently run by his Grandson, Fernando Polanco, as a small hacienda/hotel, aunts and cousins all treat it as their own as much as their far flung lives permit. At festival times guests in the hacienda, visiting family, farm workers and villagers all congregate in the cobbled courtyard. Mambo, the dog, is an immediate companion on walks and horseback rides, at the insistence of my friend Santiago in Quito a few day’s previously, my choice of horse was Ramon. For a long ride in the valley he was as dependable, sure footed and patient as promised. Family members were as sad to say goodbye to Estefania, Daule and Dudoso as I was to bid farewell to Ramon.
My daughter plans to return to work as a volunteer for the hacienda’s foundation in her University holidays and my son follows the progress of the Condor breeding programme which is hosted by the hacienda in hope of a successful hatch and a re-introduction to the wild. Like family, we keep in touch from afar. Of course, there is a big place for the grande dame hotel or the super-stylish lodge in every c+l journey but very often the heart of a country and a culture is found in these little gems which we like to sprinkle into our trips. Along with the guides and the special experiences we work on, they are what keeps our trip planning anything but formulaic.
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