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First-class Architecture in the Andes

Article originally published in german by Jana Ries in Ries Pro Design I was already lucky in 2009, when I met Elisabeth Leitner-Rauchdobler in a start-up program we took part in together. She’s responsible for the marketing of the trekking program of Mountain Lodges of Peru. Since we met, I couldn’t get their mountain lodges […]

Article originally published in german by Jana Ries in Ries Pro Design

I was already lucky in 2009, when I met Elisabeth Leitner-Rauchdobler in a start-up program we took part in together. She’s responsible for the marketing of the trekking program of Mountain Lodges of Peru. Since we met, I couldn’t get their mountain lodges out of my head. Last year, I finally made my wish come true and traveled to Peru.

First-class mountain lodges in the Andes

What can I say? My trip was breathtaking and incredibly rewarding. The adventures and diverse experiences I was granted would obviously exceed the scope of this blog. Yet, what fits this blog excellently is a description of the architecture and the interior furnishings of the first-class mountain lodges I stayed at during my lodge-to-lodge trek to Machu Picchu, including Andean gourmet cuisine and some of the most beautiful mountain sceneries in the world.

The mountains are my world…

… and so have been the mountain lodges of MLP – short for Mountain Lodges of Peru – since last year.

MLP developed a partnership with the Andean community. With their mountain lodges, the company seeks to offer unforgettable, life-changing experiences – and they are doing well in my opinion. At least, I was deeply moved and captivated by this trip through Peruvian culture, history and the world of the Andes. At the same time, MLP offered me a very special kind of luxury I won’t ever forget either.

All this is based on MLP’s commitment to creating social and economic value whilst preserving and strengthening the traditions of the Andean communities. According to Elisabeth Leitner-Rauchdobler, the secret to their success consists in training as many people from these communities as possible, hiring them as modern travel industry professionals and offering them a livelihood. Thus, the concept behind the mountain lodges turns into a win-win partnership which both local people and travelers are benefitting from. Yet, for us travelers, the benefit is incomparable: MLP’s elaborate program includes remote routes in mystical, pristine nature high up in the Andes. It is simply fascinating to travel at one’s own pace, in relative loneliness, but at the same time with luxury, and get to know the culture, history and natural beauty of the Peruvian Andes.

About the luxury of unique mountain lodges

But let’s get back to the mountain lodges. In summer, my husband and I try to spend as much of our free time as possible in the mountains, including nights spent at mountain cottages. Who of you are familiar with the definitely charming, but rather rustic cottage camp nights? In Peru, we experienced a whole new mountain chalet feeling.

You go trekking in groups of 12, accompanied by a horse, a water carrier and a mountain rescuer (the altitude can cause problems sometimes). When you arrive at the mountain lodges, the attentive crew is already expecting you. They treat you to a welcome drink and excellent food. The service includes almost everything you can imagine, from laundry service to the hot-water bottle in your bed (which evoked fond memories of my grandmother). And early in the morning, I found my trekking shoes in the anteroom – dry and clean! It is quite easy to get used to the convenience offered by the unique mountain lodges of the Andes.

Mountain lodge architecture with style and responsibility

What is behind the beautiful mountain lodges is the work of an architecture studio based in Cusco. The studio is known for its expertise in landscape ecology and Inca architecture. The architects have managed to implement a mix of modernity, convenience and Inca style which perfectly matches the landscape and besides passed a strict environmental assessment. Ecology is a top priority. The water used in the lodges comes from nearby springs, and the biological sewage plants comply with the latest environmental standards.

In fact, the mountain lodges of MLP are little four-star hotels in the midst of wild nature – built with natural materials and according to high ecological standards. Stone, clay and wood blend in perfectly with the landscape and follow the country’s traditional construction style. A typical element of the mountain lodges in the Peruvian Andes are the large latticed windows.

What’s inside

Inside the mountain lodges, you will find clean, comfortable rooms. What calls my attention immediately is the fact that the consistent, rustic style, using wood as one of the main building materials, is repeated in the interior, apart from white walls with warm red, orange and green accents, unplastered stone masonry, simple wooden furniture, many cushions and cozy alpaca blankets, as well as colorful traditional accessories from regional artisans… a mountain lodge dream come true!

A deeper look into the mountain lodges

Salkantay Lodge

Altitude: 3,869 m

Salkantay Lodge, named after the peak of the Inca’s second most sacred mountain, is located in the Soraypampa Valley at the foot of the Humantay (5,917 m) and Salkantay (6,271 m) Mountains. Situated on a historic Inca trail, the lodge is surrounded by mountains, glaciers and turquoise glacier lakes. From an architectural point of view, the lodge delights us with a combination of shapes and colors reminiscent of Inca symbolism and colonial style.

A striking element is the thatched roof whose shape approximately emulates that of the Chakana cross of the Incas.

Cross on Winkon Pkuqruyoc, 4,600 m

Another characteristic element are the small windows in the entrance area which evoke the typical wall niches of Inca buildings. This impression is complemented by the round Inca tower including an Inca well, both integrated into the entrance-area façade. In contrast, the wooden balconies of the mountain lodge are reminiscent of the colonial style mentioned before. The view of Salkantay, which you can enjoy from each and every room, is awe-inspiring. Talking about rooms: There are 12 double or two-bed rooms with private bathrooms and hot and cold water. The lodge offers a cozy reading room and a restaurant on the top floor with a magnificent panoramic view. The restaurant serves delicacies from the Peruvian and international cuisines – a dream come true, let me tell you.

The front is impressive with its stone base, plastered masonry in earthy brown shades, and of course its thatched roof. I guess it goes without saying that the materials and colors fit perfectly into the surrounding nature. The warm colors are repeated in the simple and functional furniture. It is also worth mentioning the decoration of the place, which is used sparingly and with good taste and purpose.

Extras offered for relaxation are, for example, an outdoor Jacuzzi with a view of Salkantay, and an outdoor sauna. I can understand that you would like to stay longer, but we must go on – our trek takes us over the Salkantay pass at 4,630 meters above sea level to the mountain valley of Wayraccmachay, “where the wind lives”.

Wayra Lodge

Altitude: 3,906 m.

Wayra (Quechua word for wind) is a highly appropriate name for our next lodge, located in a windswept valley at 3,900 meters above sea level below the Humantay Peak. It is a lodge built of stone, clay bricks and straw, according to traditional techniques. This remote and almost magical lodge is run by a local family in the most charming way, led by Pilar Quispe. Her story made a deep impression on me. She was a farmer in the area and then started working at the mountain lodge, performing simple tasks. Today she is running the lodge and is actually responsible for food and service at all four Salkantay trek lodges.

One glance is enough to imagine how tedious it must have been to build the lodge in this spot. It inspires awe, even more so when you see the Jacuzzi in the patio, well-protected from the wind, with a magnificent view of the night sky.

Although this is the most remote mountain lodge of our route, the bar, dining room and six comfortable, heated bedrooms with private bathrooms offer an excellent level of luxury.

After this amazing stay, we are descending – obviously in the strict, not a figurative sense of the word.

Collpa Lodge

Altitude: 2,842 m.

Welcome to Collpa Lodge, located on a cliff at the crown of the cloud forest. Here we are, on the property of Paulino, a muleteer, who sold this plot of land and became an MLP shareholder. If you are looking for mountain lodges with glorious views, here you get more than your money’s worth with a view of the surrounding Colpampa Valley. Please don’t be surprised: The weather is changing here, it is becoming warmer and more humid. There are hot springs nearby, the vegetation becomes denser, and birds are flying about. From here you see glaciers, but also the jungle in the valley. Isn’t that fascinating?

Inside the lodge, there are six guest rooms with private bathrooms. For connoisseurs, there is a cozy reading room, a chimney, central heating and an outdoor Jacuzzi with a view which is quite common for the Andes, but yet so spectacular. An extra glance at the green mountains which protect this lodge is definitely worthwhile. And you should dedicate another glance to the three rivers whose confluence you can see from Collpa Lodge.

What also impressed me about this lodge is the warm culinary welcome with traditional Pachamanca: a typical Peruvian dish consisting of meat and vegetables cooked in the earth, with hot stones, in some kind of natural underground oven.

Everywhere in this lodge you can sense local traditions. It mainly seems to be the home of music and dance. The walls are decorated with traditional costumes and masks from the region: simply beautiful.

But we have not reached the end of our lodge-to-lodge trip yet. We are continuing our trek through the Santa Teresa River Valley. Although still rural, this area is slightly more populated. We are passing banana, granadilla, avocado and coffee plantations on the historic Llactapata Inca Trail and finally arrive at our next destination.

Lucma Lodge

Altitude: 2,125 m.

The last lodge is situated in the midst of a coffee plantation, between passionfruit bushes and colorful exotic flowers. Butterflies and hundreds of bird species pay their visits to the lodge, where, just on a side note, I tasted the best avocado of my life!

Lucma is a very open lodge with large windows which connect the guest with the breathtaking nature. You feel like you are in the jungle or the cloud forest which also surrounds Machu Picchu, which is not far from here. I’m still delighted by how carefully Lucma lodge was integrated into this plot of land. Thanks to its thoughtful architecture, the entire tree population on the property, mostly large sycamore trees, were preserved.

This lodge invites its guests to dwell in a cozy lounge area and an open, two-story hall with a restaurant. Another inviting spot: the splendid outdoor Jacuzzi. You can expect wonderful relaxation, preparing you for the last day of the trek.

Our next stage of the trek takes us over the Llactapata pass to Machu Picchu, but that’s another story.

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