Many haciendas in Ecuador can boast histories that stretch back to the Spanish conquest, or else at least to the 17th century. But few can say they were the pioneers of the hacienda-turned-hotel concept in the country. Chorlavi, set amid the rolling hills to the southwest of Ibarra, is one of them. In fact, it is the pioneer.
When you meet Pilar Álvarez de Tobar you can understand first, why she made a great host, and second, how she managed to run a household so well for so long. Now in her eighties – although you’d be hard pushed to think she was over seventy – Doña Pilar possesses two skills which are essential to the hotelier’s trade: first, a sense of warm hospitality, and second, a determined will coupled with a good sense of humour. Doña Pilar was born with a healthy dose of both of these.
She and her husband, José “Pepe” Tobar, decided to turn their family home into a hotel way back in the 1970s, when very few people had thought about the possibility. They were, she admits with a smile, “valiant and ignorant” (as the Spanish expression goes) about what they were getting themselves into. But she says it felt quite natural for her: she had welcomed and entertained friends of the family, and foreign friends or business associates, for many years.
The household obviously expanded and became more complex to manage. But the fundamental trait was the same: the gift of making one and all feel welcome. Whether the Queen of Spain or Prince Rainier of Monaco or the local family from Ibarra, Doña Pilar has warmth for them all.
Pepe Tobar was a great organizer, by all accounts. But he was also a dreamer. He was the mastermind and driving force behind the creation of the race track around the Yaguarcocha Lake – a project most regarded as far-fetched back in 1980s northern Ecuador. He organized donations from communes and towns all around the region which contributed to making it one of the best in South America.
The grounds, full of sun, shadow, flowers, trees, palms and paths, are beautifully maintained, connecting the various areas that make up the hotel: the meetings and seminar spaces; the spa with its sauna and hot-tubs; the children’s games area (with, you guessed it, a mini-race track); the new handsome suites; the bijoux swimming pool; the “bar and dancing” rooms… The hacienda today caters to all segments, from corporate team-building days to international guests looking for an authentic Andean hideaway to relax in while exploring what is, without doubt, one of Ecuador’s most fascinating regions.
With their famous energy to drive them forward with new ideas and fresh thinking, while never losing their gift of playing the gracious hosts, the Tobar family are well on the way to retaining their place as pioneers.
Panamericana Sur Km. 4.5
Reservations: +(593 6) 293 2222