PLEN­TI­FUL PERU

Steeped in cul­tural and ar­chi­tec­tural majesty, the jewel of South Amer­ica is se­duc­ing vis­i­tors with haute cui­sine, bo­hemian glam­our, and UNESCO World Her­itage Sites.

S/ - - CONTENTS - BY ELYCIA RU­BIN

Ev­ery­thing you must do, see, and eat in Peru

France and Italy may lure mil­lions of dis­crim­i­nat­ing trav­ellers ea­ger to im­merse them­selves in the in­tox­i­cat­ing al­lure of Eu­ro­pean liv­ing, but it’s Peru that reigns as the bon vi­vant’s nir­vana.

Perched along the Pa­cific Ocean be­tween Ecuador and Chile, Peru brims with an abun­dance of riches. From the In­can Ci­tadel of Machu Pic­chu and the se­duc­tive city of Cusco—once the cap­i­tal of the Inca Em­pire—to the ex­plo­sion of the wildly in­ven­tive gas­tro­nomic scene, this is a coun­try of ex­tremes. Con­sider the na­tive pota­toes alone; there are over 4,000 va­ri­eties. And the bul­bous corn ker­nels make North Amer­i­can va­ri­eties ap­pear like a speck of dust—a starch lover’s dream.

Spoiled by three dis­tinct agri­cul­tural ar­eas (the An­dean moun­tain range, the Ama­zon jun­gle, and the coastal stretch) and over 100 ecosys­tems, Peru is a play­ground of epi­curean bounty meld­ing the sump­tu­ous flavours of many multi-eth­nic im­mi­grants (no­tably Ja­panese, Chi­nese, Span­ish, and Ital­ian). Revered chefs such as culi­nary am­bas­sadors Gastón Acu­rio (Astrid y Gastón), Rafael Pi­queras (Maras), and Acu­rio pro­tégé Vir­gilio Martínez (Cen­tral) have plunged their artistry into this epic bio­di­ver­sity, and rein­vented Peru­vian “fu­sion” cui­sine on the world stage. Hav­ing achieved near saint-like sta­tus, their in­flu­ence has es­tab­lished Peru as a gas­tro­nom­i­cal won­der­land, sear­ing it into the national iden­tity.

LIMA

In Lima, the na­tion’s cap­i­tal, it’s ce­viche that will bring you to your knees. And in­side the award-win­ning Per­ro­quet, helmed by chef Jac­into Sánchez, is where guests in­dulge in the city’s most mem­o­rable ver­sion, long con­sid­ered part of the her­itage ( June 28th is cel­e­brated as National Ce­viche Day). Housed in­side the pres­ti­gious Coun­try Club Ho­tel, a cul­tural mon­u­ment cater­ing to world lead­ers and celebri­ties in Tony San Isidro, and just steps from the swanky beach­side com­mu­nity of Miraflores, this is the epi­cen­tre of colo­nial-style el­e­gance, es­pe­cially dur­ing Sun­day brunch (reser­va­tions rec­om­mended).

El­e­vat­ing the ce­viche ex­pe­ri­ence, chefs cus­tom-cre­ate this del­i­cacy from the es­sen­tial ac­cou­ter­ments on glo­ri­ous dis­play. Gen­er­ously sized corn, seafood, cilantro, and pep­pers are doused in what is con­sid­ered the heart of this recipe, leche de ti­gre (tiger’s milk)—a mélange of freshly squeezed lime, onions, pep­pers, and salt that morphs with the fish juice into an un­mis­tak­able zest. So ar­rest­ingly tasty, you may want to sip on your very own glass of this mag­i­cal elixir along with a pisco sour, the sig­na­ture cock­tail of Peru.

Given the breadth of sight­see­ing this land gen­er­ously of­fers, fu­elling up for a day of ad­ven­ture is wise. First, head to the his­tor­i­cal city cen­tre (one of UNESCO’s World Her­itage Sites), also known as the “City of Kings”, where an af­ter­noon is spent whirling the Main Plaza, Government Palace, and Santo Domingo Monastery. You may even be for­tu­nate enough to get caught in the bustling Sun­day pa­rade, com­plete with vi­brant, flam­boy­ant garb and swoon-wor­thy sounds pound­ing the streets—this is what trav­el­ling is about.

Some of the finest choco­late in the world comes from the ca­cao beans of Peru, another one of the re­gion’s boun­ti­ful ex­ports. Pop into nearby Cho­coMuseo and get briefed on the lav­ish his­tory of the ca­cao bean while sat­is­fy­ing your sweet tooth with sundry ar­ti­sanal choco­late del­i­ca­cies. And, don’t miss an es­capade of shop­ping at one of the many stores that sprin­kle the down­town area. You’ll find a trove of lo­cal good­ies (in­clud­ing Al­paca hats, rugs, and Inca decor) which are cer­tain to delight any style-minded trea­sure hunter.

Sat­isfy your urge to delve deeper into the once-thriv­ing civ­i­liza­tions of an­cient Peru with an af­ter­noon at Museo Larco, named af­ter col­lec­tor Rafael Larco Hoyle. Flanked by bougainvil­lea and an end­less ar­ray of colour­ful pot­ted plants, this isn’t your typ­i­cal mu­seum. Boast­ing the largest pri­vate col­lec­tion of pre-Columbian ar­ti­facts, jew­ellery, tex­tiles, and erotic pot­tery, the for­mer 18th-cen­tury royal es­tate of­fers a ro­man­tic respite in the bustling city. It’s a lot to digest, but the on-site, Fellini-es­que café beck­ons; it’s the ideal spot for a tran­quil recharge, where you’ll dine be­neath a per­gola draped in volup­tuous plants with views of the court­yard gar­den.

For a taste of mod­ern art, Mate, founded by Peru­vian fash­ion pho­tog­ra­pher Mario Testino, is in the nearby Bar­ranco and show­cases works of es­tab­lished and emerg­ing tal­ent. A haven for artists, this “bo­hemian” en­clave is sim­i­lar in vibe to SoHo or Venice Beach, and orig­i­nated as a posh beach­side re­sort for the wealthy. Colour­ful man­sions have given way to dis­tinc­tive bars, art gal­leries, restau­rants, and bou­tiques. Dé­dalo Arte y Arte­sanía, with its highly cu­rated open space, out­door café, and ro­tat­ing ex­hi­bi­tions, is wor­thy of a visit for one-of-a-kind finds that will ap­peal to those with dis­cern­ing tastes.

CUSCO

Of course, it’s im­pos­si­ble to think of Peru with­out be­guil­ing im­ages of Machu Pic­chu. Getting there re­quires a visit to Cusco, sit­u­ated high in the Peru­vian An­des at an el­e­va­tion of over 11,000 feet (even higher than Machu Pic­chu, at close to 8,000 feet). And although one of the most mag­i­cal, mag­netic cen­tres of the world beck­ons, Cusco (yet another UNESCO World Her­itage Site in this land of riches) is much more than a gate­way.

A mash-up of the Span­ish con­quest and An­dean cul­ture, this is a city ooz­ing with stim­u­lat­ing dis­cov­er­ies and shop­ping galore. But­tery soft vicuña goods and hand­made Peru­vian de­lights at the open-air mar­kets are sprin­kled along­side the Cusco Cathe­dral and Qor­i­can­cha (Tem­ple of the Sun), where Inca be­liefs of the con­nec­tion be­tween earth and heav­enly bodies are hon­oured. In be­tween, ven­ture to one of Chef Acu­rio’s ca­sual fa­vorites, Chicha, for his take on chichar­rón fried pork belly.

Inch­ing closer to the long-an­tic­i­pated mo­ment: from there, al­low Peru­vian Ex­pe­ri­ences Travel Com­pany to pro­vide a lux­ury shuttle to Ol­lan­tay­tambo, where it’s all aboard the first-class cabin of Inca Rail. And, if you’re not in the mood to plot and plan, they can also de­sign your en­tire Peru itin­er­ary. A mes­mer­iz­ing less-thantwo-hour ride through the lush An­dean land­scape, com­plete with chicha mo­rada (made with pur­ple corn) and Inca Kola (a fruity cream soda), ap­pe­tiz­ers, and live mu­sic, trans­ports you to Aguas Calientes (also known as Machu Pic­chu Pue­blo), sit­u­ated in a deep gorge at the seat of the ru­ins.

Nes­tled on the banks of the roar­ing Vil­can­ota River amidst tow­er­ing peaks, an­cient trails, and green val­leys is the five-star, fam­ily-owned Su­maq Machu Pic­chu Ho­tel. A sump­tu­ous blend of warm An­dean hos­pi­tal­ity and ex­otic decor in­cor­po­rat­ing the nat­u­ral el­e­ments of wa­ter, fire, earth, and air, along with imag­i­na­tive cui­sine un­der the lead­er­ship of Car­los Pardo Figueroa Thorn­berry, Su­maq Machu Pic­chu en­velops vis­i­tors in the en­chant­ment of Inca cul­ture.

With a mean­ing­ful un­der­stand­ing of the sig­nif­i­cance be­hind this an­cient set­ting, the ho­tel of­fers guests the op­por­tu­nity to bask in the tran­scen­dent sur­round­ings through many dis­tinc­tive of­fer­ings with a res­i­dent shaman, in­clud­ing a coca leaf read­ing, Pay­ment To The Earth rit­ual—the prac­tice of giv­ing thanks to Mother Earth (Pachamama)—and, nat­u­rally, a mystical tour of Machu Pic­chu. From the thrilling bus ride hug­ging the side of the moun­tain to the re­quired guide who as­sists vis­i­tors in com­pre­hend­ing one of the Seven Won­ders of the World, they have you com­pletely cov­ered. Along with the shaman (re­quest Daniel), who lends a deep layer of spir­i­tu­al­ity to this ce­les­tial quest in the land of plenty, your jour­ney has ac­tu­ally just be­gun.

Left: Lima’s his­to­rial city cen­tre. Top: Sun­day pa­rade in Lima’s his­tor­i­cal city cen­tre. Bot­tom: Museu Larco.

Left: Machu Pic­chu. Right: Maras restau­rant, Westin Lima Ho­tel.

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