Tuesday 1 September 2009

Fire and water

Fifty kilometres away from Quito is the Hacienda San Agustin de Callo, which is built on the site of an Inca palace. It has walls in the classic Inca style: big blocks of stone so skilfully carved and fitted together that although there is no mortar, it's impossible to fit even a knife blade between the stones.

Archeological discoveries are still being made there (some by the dog) but the main feature of the hacienda is not even its prettiness, with balconies, fountains, potted geraniums and pantiles, but the warmth of the welcome. Minon Plaza is a vivacious and generous hostess, with an interesting past that includes bullfighters, who happily shared her recipes for locro soup and aji, Ecuador's signature - and ubiquitous - hot chilli sauce.

There's physical warmth at San Agustin too: all the rooms have not only big open fires in the bedroom, but also in the bathroom. What more relaxing way to finish a day of travel, volcanoes, llamas, cowboys, Pan flutes, armadillo-shell guitars and a passionfruit meringue tart made with the tenderest of pastry, than to sink into a claw-footed bath just a metre from a log fire, and gaze dreamily up at a frieze of naked cherubs painted on the wall?

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