A New Hotel In Old San Juan

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION. The Cervantes (www.cervantespr.com), Old San Juan's newest boutique hotel, has it.  Exterior of The Cervantes, which occupies a 19th-century bank building

Situated amid the city's best restaurants and nightlife and only a few blocks from the cruise piers, the small hotel is ideal for clients who want to spend a few days in San Juan before or after their cruise, as well as anyone with a keen interest in history and architecture. It's also convenient for lawyers and others who need to be at the nearby courts or clients visiting for work with any of the myriad businesses in the area.

Set in a former bank building dating from the late 1800s, the hotel—which has only 12 rooms and suites—is the handiwork of Nono Maldonado, Puerto Rico's best-known fashion designer. It sports a colonial exterior with arched windows and wrought-iron balconies; interiors combine a classic, classy ambiance with modern, cutting-edge cool.

The high quality of furnishings, fabrics and fixtures throughout the hotel reflect Maldonado's refined, elegant couture designs. For the clean-lined couches, chairs and ottomans, he has used silk, taffeta, suede and other rich fabrics with accents of topaz, copper, bronze and gold. The original art on the walls provides splashes of color, as do the pillows and throws on the beds. The countertops of the reception desk and the bar are onyx; some restaurant tabletops are pure silver.

The hotel's front entrance opens onto the small reception area with the desk and elevator to one side and an intimate lounge and bar on the other. Behind that is Panza, the property's acclaimed restaurant, as popular with local patrons as it is with visitors. The restaurant, which serves sophisticated Caribbean/Asian fusion cuisine by chef Raphael Alejandro, is open to the public for lunch and dinner; breakfast, included in the rate, is for hotel guests only. Chef's tables and tastings are usually held quarterly; reservations are recommended, as the restaurant accommodates only 40 diners and these events are usually well attended. Panza also handles private parties.


Penthouse Suite

The hotel's accommodations are on the top four floors of the six-story building. The large Penthouse Suite (#1) occupies all of the sixth floor. The bilevel suite has a large living room, guest bath and rooftop terrace at one end of the lower floor and a bar and dining table for 10 at the other end. The bedroom and bathroom are a few steps up on the second level. The marbled bathroom is a triumph, with a Jacuzzi tub and a separate shower that's a sauna with massaging jets and a rain-shower head. The suite is requested mainly by honeymooners and celebrities and is reserved on special occasions for small cocktail parties and dinners.

The other floors contain three types of accommodations: Cervantes Suites (#2, #5 and #9), Junior Suites (#6 and #10) and Standard Rooms.

All are furnished with a queen bed with tall, padded headboards; stylish loveseat/sofa bed; flat-screen plasma TV; desk and chair; coffeemaker; marble bathrooms; and custom-made, natural Thai bath products. Several suites have small balconies (which, unfortunately, overlook only the street; there are no panoramic or water views). The entire hotel has Wi-Fi access.

Of the large Cervantes Suites, #9 has a sauna/shower similar to that in the Penthouse, while #5 has a second bathroom off the living room. Although the Junior Suites are almost as large as the Cervantes Suites, their bathrooms are smaller than those of the Standard Rooms. Private butlers can be arranged by request for the Penthouse and Cervantes Suites at an additional charge, as can limousine airport transfers for all guests.

The Cervantes was named by its owner, Puerto Rican-born and New York-bred James Sanchez, general manager and president of C Group Hotels ([email protected]  , 787-724-7722), who was inspired to follow his dream of creating the hotel by the 400th anniversary of the classic 1605 novel Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes.

A New York real estate developer, Sanchez already has two other small hotels in the making within two blocks of The Cervantes. By the winter of 2008-09, he plans to have 50 rooms and suites in his boutique collection. Sanchez also owns three villas at Las Casitas (part of El Conquistador complex) on Puerto Rico's east coast, enabling the hotel to offer "town and country" packages by request. A Cervantes Suite

Daily rates at The Cervantes range from $300 to $700 until May 30 and $200-$600 in summer season. The Penthouse Suite goes for $1,700 and $1,200, respectively.

Small as it is, The Cervantes does not have a separate front desk manager and concierge. Rather, the people on duty—Gia, Jennifer and Luis—are jacks of all trades. In addition to reservations, they cheerfully handle ordinary guest requests and arrange transportation, sightseeing, golf, fishing and spa appointments.

Other requests, such as personal shoppers or private off-hours visits to museums or the fashionable Condado boutiques, are handled by Marta Torres, hotel and public relations consultant ([email protected]), who may be familiar to many travel agents from her years as marketing director for the Puerto Rico Tourism Company.

From my experience, the front desk personnel, restaurant and bar staff and housekeepers go out of their way to be helpful. Their friendliness and the informal hotel structure help to create the atmosphere of a European pensione or small country inn rather than a fancy hotel. Junior Suite at the boutique hotel

For spa services, hotel guests go to Secrets of Eden, a full-service spa next door that has six treatment rooms, all with their own shower. For most treatments, products from the German line Babor are used. The spa has an association with the Swiss firm La Prairie, whose products can be purchased onsite or used in treatments upon request.

Ask for owner/instructor Alexandra Quiles ([email protected]  , 787-721-6400), who says the most popular treatments are the Deep Tissue Massage and the Reiki & Relaxing Massage. There are three Reiki masters on staff. In-room spa treatments can be arranged. The spa also offers couples' and corporate packages.

Although The Cervantes is designed for adults, it welcomes children, preferably three years and older, but does not have a kids' program.

For more information and bookings, contact the hotel at 787-724-7722 or [email protected] .

See page 36 for more Puerto Rico hotel news


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