There are few places in the world that imitate art with such poignant vivacity, transforming the imagination of a novelistic idyll into a palpable, living experience. A place whose identity is so unique, historical and visionary, — in a single ornate, stately hacienda world full of personality and whim — inciting any mortal to want to remain in languid reclusion as long as humanly possible.
With baroque tenacity, one that never ceases to be inspired by details, one that seeks to fill every single space with intrigue and curiosity, new life has been injected into one of Colonial America’s oldest estate residences…
The history of the hacienda dates back to the early years of Spanish settlement in the Americas. Unable to discover significant gold or silver reserves throughout the Equatorial Andes, not to mention the inconvenience of the region’s general remoteness —to make it out here it took up to a month by mule or on foot from the nearest port— present-day Ecuador was considered among the least coveted places to seek land for Spanish hopefuls. This led King Philip II to auction off the original 50,000 hectares of this historic hacienda to the highest bidder in 1602. Perhaps Don Ernesto de Chiriboga y de Aza wasn’t too pressed to claim it, yet for 372 years, Hacienda Cusín remained proudly within the family.
The Chiribogas certainly owned an enviable property, described among the most attractive plots of land in and around the slopes of Mount Imbabura, even by the standards of distinguished (and critical) Colombian lawyer José Francisco de Caldas. Perhaps Cusín’s most distinguished headmaster turned out to be Clementina Chiriboga, who led the hacienda’s heyday with highly productive oats and corn plantations, being one of the first Ecuadorian landowners to offer wages to her native workers, freeing them from the cruelty and hardships of the huasipungo slave system that was commonplace in those days. She was ahead of her time, anticipating with her humanistic deeds the visionary reforms that would later offer the indigenous community representation in Ecuadorian society.
Much has happened since, turning Hacienda Cusín’s guest experience into a benchmark of luxurious hospitality. Among the many highlights, we find the awesome influence of native Andean culture embedded deep in every space and experience, from paintings and hanging textiles to the cuisine, prepared by local chefs, highlighting regional ingredients and ancestral savoir-faire. As locals still come to baptize their children or perform first communions in front of the ” Cusín cross”, one feels the beloved importance of this sacred corner of the Andes. Hacienda Cusín is tied to its surroundings in more ways than one, with a deep history and connection to its natural environment.
A modern stay anchored in the past
Hacienda Cusín reinvented itself at the turn of the millennium during its worst moment of neglect. The walls seemed to be crumbling when a new administration came to rescue the tourism project. A complete make-over saw to it that every spot was cleaned, repainted, redecorated, polished, reconceived… all to provide new meaning to every corner from adding colorful murals to creating new experiences that offer incomparable charm to one’s stay.
Perhaps what best represents this second life is the construction of Cusín’s Monastery. A metaphorical place it is, with beautiful, thick white walls, raised to symbolize the seclusion and respite the hacienda offers its guests. A place to retire, like that of a monk in retreat seeking to internalize his faith, search for himself and find a deeper connection with the world… In practice, one literally finds themselves in a bubble of splendor and beauty. It is curious to learn that, in ancient times, the area where the current hacienda lies was an island set in the middle of a huge lake much larger than Lago San Pablo. When the construction of the Monastery began, archaeological remains revealed the presence of those who came to these shores in search of the same peace one feels today in this magical getaway, under the shadow of mighty Mount Imbabura.
Photos: Murray Cooper