Oa­sis on the high plains

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - KEN­DALL HILL

It takes a high level of com­mit­ment to reach Peru’s Colca Val­ley — about 4900m of An­dean-sized, ex­haust­ing com­mit­ment. That’s the height of the tallest pass on the fourhour jour­ney from sunny Are­quipa over the Western An­des. Al­ti­tude sick­ness is al­most cer­tain. In my case the symp­toms are breath­less­ness and brain­less­ness, as if my skull has been stuffed with ban­dages to muf­fle the world.

The best an­ti­dote is coca leaves. Tuck a wad in­side your cheek, mois­ten with saliva and swal­low the drowsy juices un­til obliv­i­ous. Wake an hour or two later in a val­ley of dry stone ter­races planted with fields of wheat and bushy sheaves of quinoa the colour of or­ange sher­bet. In the dis­tance be­low is the first glimpse of Colca Lodge. An oa­sis in the alti­plano (high plains), hot springs are the rea­son this 45-room lodge ex­ists here, in the mid­dle of nowhere. It of­fers Peru’s only ther­mal-pow­ered spa and four rock pools fed by geo­ther­mal wa­ters.

Colca Lodge nes­tles be­tween a hill­side and a rush­ing river, 3250m above sea level. A se­ries of pretty ter­races and gar­dens fringe two wings of trim cot­tages. The main lodge, restau­rants and ter­race tum­ble down a rise to­wards the river. On the far bank is a cor­ral with al­pacas and lla­mas. There is bird­song every­where. An army of gar­den­ers in khaki uni­forms and beige sun­hats tends the grounds con­stantly.

The food and drink is fine — buf­fet-style din­ners lack style but the pep­pered al­paca, chicken in­vol­tini and a quinoa por­ridge all lure me back for sec­onds — and the ac­com­mo­da­tion is an An­dean take on rus­tic luxe. Rooms are styled as thatched moun­tain cot­tages with sunny ter­races, ex­posed beams and stone walls. Beds are enor­mous and com­fort­able; bath­rooms are vast and nicely done.

But the gar­dens are out­stand­ing. Hemmed by moun­tains, the al­lu­vial plain is but­tressed with dry stone and punc­tu­ated by bril­liant green lawns, flow­er­ing hedges, cush­iony beds of pink and white daisies and happy hum­ming­birds every­where. At twi­light I don my hooded Rocky- style robe and pad down the stone path to the springs. I do a Goldilocks and test the four stone-rimmed pools, choose the hottest, at 38C, and then sink in. It’s de­li­cious. The wa­ters are said to be rich in lithium, which promotes re­lax­ation; a sense of well­be­ing is in­ten­si­fied by the sharp chill of evening, and a phe­nom­e­nal light show over­head as the Milky Way snaps into sharp fo­cus. To­tally worth the tri­als of get­ting here.

Ken­dall Hill was a guest of LAN Air­lines and Ad­ven­ture World.

CHECK­LIST

Colca Lodge, Fundo Puye, Yanque, Cayl­loma, Colca Val­ley, Are­quipa, Peru; +51 5453 1191; colca-lodge.com.

TAR­IFF: Two-night pack­ages with break­fast and mas­sage from $210 a per­son.

GET­TING THERE: Colca Lodge is sev­eral hours by road from Are­quipa. You will need a car and driver; mine was or­gan­ised through Ad­ven­ture World. More: ad­ven­ture­world.com.au.

CHECK­ING IN: hik­ers.

Golden agers, fit twitch­ers, hard-core

WHEEL­CHAIR AC­CESS:

None.

BED­TIME READ­ING: The Way to Par­adise by No­bel lau­re­ate Mario Var­gas Llosa. It’s a quasi-bi­og­ra­phy of Paul Gau­guin, who spent some of his child­hood in Peru, and his grand­mother Flora Tris­tan, a mil­i­tant fem­i­nist who fought for the rights of work­ers and women in 19th-cen­tury France.

STEP­PING OUT: The rare An­dean con­dor lives deep in the canyon and each morn­ing con­voys of tourists head for the Cruz del Con­dor, a crowded look­out where the birds soar. The sights en route — Peru­vian cow­boys, ox­drawn ploughs, cac­tus and wild­flow­ers — are just as cap­ti­vat­ing.

BRICK­BATS: The mini­bar fridge in my cot­tage makes an almighty racket day and night. The shower takes about five min­utes to warm up, which is ironic, given the hot springs on site.

BOU­QUETS: Rooms are dec­o­rated lib­er­ally with picked flow­ers — a small mixed posy on the win­dowsill, red cam­pan­u­las and snap­drag­ons rest­ing on neatly folded tow­els and daisies tucked into bathrobes. Lovely.

Colca Lodge, Peru, top and left; cot­tagestyle gue­stroom, above

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