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Antigua GuatemalaFebruary 23, 2009 By: Pamela McCourt Francescone Travel Agent
La Antigua is the jewel in Guatemala’s crown, a little gem with low colonial houses, ancient churches and tree-lined squares famous for its very elaborate religious celebrations during Lent, which lead up to Holy Week and Easter.
A view of the terrace at Posada del Angel, where guests can enjoy breakfast
Located in a highland valley at 4,921 feet and overlooked by the spectacular 12,352-foot Agua volcano (a little further away are two other volcanoes, the Acatenango and the always smoking, sometimes erupting Fuego), Antigua is a town to be discovered on foot as the pastel-colored facades of this UNESCO World Heritage site conceal endless hidden delights. Inside the old stone doorways there are shops selling jewelry in precious Guatemalan jade, artisan shops with handmade bags and fashions, colorful cafés and restaurants. And the colonial architecture, bright blue skies and three volcanoes on the horizon ensure that camera-happy visitors will go home with really great photos.
Where to Stay
The Posada del Angel was founded by the late Mary Sue Morris, who said Antigua was “as close to Nirvana as you can get.”
The Posada’s tall, faded-turquoise timber door, a few blocks from the main square, conceals a tiny courtyard and a lush patio with a long solar-heated mosaic plunge pool and a gracious living room with couches, low tables and a fireplace.
The ground floor has four bedrooms. In the Maya Room, which is the smallest and only room without a fireplace, there is a queen-size bed and a bathroom with a large shower. The Mary Sue Suite has a spacious living area, queen-size canopy bed, Jacuzzi bathtub and small courtyard. We recommend the top-floor Rose Suite where President Bill Clinton stayed in 1999. This accommodation boasts a theatrical bathroom with statues in niches, a huge Jacuzzi and a private decked section of the rooftop terrace with stunning views of volcanoes, old churches and rooftops.
The main patio area at El Convento
Owner and General Manager Alicia Balzaretti ([email protected], 502-5551-0976) says to book two to three months in advance, but at least a year ahead for Easter week. Note: There is a no-kids policy. Head Concierge Anibal Garcia ([email protected], 502-7832-0260) arranges personalized walking tours and visits to private residences and collections, sailing and fishing on the Pacific coast and riding and rafting excursions. Only breakfast is served downstairs and on the terrace, but Anibal says popular dining options include the Guatemalan specialties at the Fonda de la Calle and the French cuisine at Le Casserole and in the trendy Bistrot Cinq.
El Convento is a blend of Guatemalan traditions and contemporary style. Each of the 19 suites has its own unique charm and all have small patios, many with Jacuzzis. Resident Manager Martha Eugenia Schaeuffler ([email protected], 502-7720-7272) is the person to contact for VIP arrangements, especially for clients staying in the grand suites, the spacious Los Caballeros or the two-bedroom Don Alvarado. The front desk staff ([email protected], 502-7720-7272) act as concierges and arrange in-room aromatherapy treatments, limousines and helicopters. Guests will enjoy local specialties in the Sitz’ restaurant, where Chef Arlene Meneses’ signature dish is Sea Bass with Lemon and Caper Sauce.
The Palacio de Doña Leonor was the home of the daughter of the Spanish Conqueror Don Pedro de Alvarado, a gracious 16th-century mansion a block and a half from the main square. The 12 master suites around the courtyard garden all have colonial furniture, antique chandeliers and fine Egyptian linens.
The Don Pedro de Alvarado Suite is the most majestic with its velvet-draped four-poster bed, old stone fireplace and couches. The Doña Paola and Doña Beatriz connect and, with bathtubs and separate showers, are recommended for families. The Doña Lucia, which has a four-poster bed and looks out on the cathedral, was our favorite. Owner Maria Jose Rivera de Gereda ([email protected], 502-5651-5578) told us twin or double beds can be arranged for any of the suites and that she is adding a Jacuzzi plunge pool, massage room and full restaurant. For special requests, contact Head Concierge Merly Calderon (i[email protected], 502-7832-2281).
The Vista Real is in one of Antigua’s most famous historical buildings, and has five rooms and four suites. Room 102, with a king-size bed and fireplace, was the former kitchen and the large bathroom still has the old kitchen sink as well as a tiled bath and shower stall. For VIP guests, contact General Manager Mariano Beltranena Falla ([email protected], 502-7832-9715, ext. 16) or Deputy Manager Rosy de Zuñiga ([email protected]).
Suites 103 or 104 can be closed off to form a two-bedroom apartment. Suite 104 is particularly spacious and has a large bathroom with a corner bath, walk-in closet, couches around a large fireplace and a cobbled dining area. Head Concierge Magda Castillo ([email protected], 502-7832-9715, ext. 6) says clients can use the helipad at the nearby Santo Domingo Hotel and to book way ahead for Christmas and New Year, as well as for Easter week. In the Las Mil Flores Restaurant, Chef Giuseppe Atzori ([email protected]) tempts guests with Mediterranean and Italian specialties.
Pedro Castellanos, owner of Guateviva Travel Agency in Guatemala City, says La Antigua Guatemala, which is famous for its well-preserved Baroque architecture as well as for a number of spectacular ruins of colonial churches, “may well be the most outstanding and best-preserved colonial city in Spanish America.”
He adds, “Tourists visit La Antigua Guatemala every year from around the world to enjoy its natural beauty and historic monuments. The Spanish colonial style permeates every part of the town: its houses, churches, squares, parks and ruins, as well as its traditions and folklore. Antigua is a city of charm and color where you can see and buy handmade products that honor the traditions of generations of artisans.
“Antigua’s temperate climate and friendly inhabitants welcome visitors and the city has all the required ser-vices: sophisticated boutique hotels, cafés and restaurants (with traditional or international menus), stores, Internet cafés, travel agencies, Spanish-language schools and art galleries, all of the highest quality.”