THEY’VE GOT SOUL: HOTELS LIVING AND BREATHING LIKE LOCALS
As the growing pains of globalisation manifest themselves all over the world by way of a series of crises, the resulting zeitgeist places more value than ever on a sense of wellness and place that draws on local cultures and heritage. Gone are the days when hoteliers could opt for a ‘safe’, cookie-cutter aesthetic in their hotels – regardless of their location – in the name of offering a familiar environment intended to make guests ‘feel at home’, wherever they might be.
Neither is this the age for catering to a demographic, despite what ‘millennial-mania’ might indicate – that may work well for commodities, but psychographics are more relevant to the travel industry at a time when life on-the-go and crossing national borders for business or leisure is commonplace. In this context, hotels that seek to genuinely align their brand’s ethos and offerings with local traditions, communities and the nuances of the environments they’re in seem all the more attractive.
For the recently inaugurated Kimpton Everly in Los Angeles’ Hollywood Hills, ‘embracing local’ meant that avoiding the clichéd red carpet and Hollywood sign riffs that are so readily available in the area was essential. A resident of Southern-Californian, Ave (pronounced Ah-vay) – Bradley, Global Senior Vice President, Design & Creative Director for Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants – set off to convey ‘the quintessential feeling of life in Hollywood Hills in the Everly’s interior design.
“Landscapes, views for days, soaring ceilings and walls of glass, sunlight that gets filtered by the perfectly positioned palm tree outside […] I wanted a place that was not precious or perfect, a place where you could curl up on the sofa, put your feet on the coffee table and not worry about ruining anything because nothing was so expensive or elaborate. It’s the idea that it could be a cool guy’s home in Hollywood hills that came together over time because he has great sensibility, friends who are in the arts and are architects, who are well-travelled and exposed to so much.”
Over the period of two and half years, Bradley personally visited local merchants, vintage shops in Palm Springs and furniture retailers in LA, buying one-of-a-kind pieces that she stored in her home until she could pair them with new, hand-picked items that would complement the cool and quietly confident palette of the hotel’s spaces. Working closely with a local consultant to select art for the Everly, Bradley highlights a yellow macramé piece by Tanya Aguiniga and Ben Butler’s layered wood wall-piece, commissioned especially for the hotel, which looks like a dripping three-dimensional monochromatic topography hanging behind the front desk.
A Swiss couple, tired of the jet-set corporate lifestyle, were also taken by an undulating landscape. Claudia and Michael Paravicini settled on the lake-district area of Pucón, Chile, as the place where they’d switch up their lifestyle and focus on making great cheeses, growing fresh vegetables and raising livestock, instead of competing in the rat race. The desire to find “a place where one’s soul can connect to the location, the regional materials and traditions” shortly led to a business plan for a hotel, just a year after setting up the farm.
Hotel Vira Vira was built to the couple’s designs on the edge of a lake, using endemic Lenga wood and framing the nature that breathed new air into their lives. The spirit of the hotel is well-defined by its slogan, ‘elegance of adventure’, and Chile’s sophisticated, earthy colours are pervasive throughout the 18-room Relais & Châteaux property. But, in order to offer guests an indoor ‘colour journey’, Claudia tapped into her own talents as an interior designer (she planned her family’s second homes elsewhere in her former life) and chose to pair the sober tones – a reference both to the surrounding nature and the local Mapucho people’s tradition of using earth to dye their textiles – with inflections of terracotta, mustard, turquoise and raspberry.
Using only regional textiles and materials, Claudia worked closely with local creative talent to craft the look and feel of Vira Vira, even co-designing every piece of furniture and crockery. Amongst her go-to people for the task were Chilean textile designer Marcela Rodriguez, and architect and furniture designer Santiago Valdes. “I find that a perfect environment where you see that a designer has thought about every detail can be very boring”, says Claudia. “I tried to break that with local craftwork, sculptures and textiles that have this very rough, Chilean touch and are made of stone, wood, and natural fibres.”
In contrast to the sober hues evoked by Chile’s landscape and traditions, some other South and Central American countries, like Peru and Guatemala, are known for bolder colour palettes. Casa Palopó in Guatemala draws on the vivid greens, ochres and blues of the Lake Atitlán setting as the backdrop for the naïf paintings, antique furniture and objects that line the nine-bedroom property. The interiors speak to the country’s heritage, as well as the history of the house, which was a private home before it opened to guests. Peru’s Sol y Luna not only draws on the local colour palette, artwork and craft to fill the casitas on the property that were built in vernacular style, but it also actively impacts and shapes the local community.
Ten years before the hotel opened in 2000, owners Petit Miribel and Fraz Schilter began working on ways to improve people’s lives in the Sacred Valley through education; the hotel was developed later as a means to expand and support this vision. Today, Sol y Luna has a privately managed school on-site and both ventures exist symbiotically. The staff (catering, cleaning etc.) also service the school, and guests are encouraged to visit and learn about the activities in the school and the projects to which they indirectly contribute by staying at the hotel. Sol y Luna’s latest venture, launched last year, is a hotel school that offers members of the local community the opportunity to work side-by-side with the hotel staff during their studies in related fields. 2018 will see the first class of graduates.
Food is, of course, a gateway into any culture, ancient or current; but there’s a growing understanding that what and how we eat directly impacts our own health as well as the planet’s, aside from remitting to a cultural identity, which is helping to shape contemporary cuisine. “Organic food has always been very important to me, but my philosophy is that we not only eat well, but that we eat local products. Not necessarily just be a vegetarian or a vegan, but eat what’s locally available and suits the climate”, says Vira Vira’s Claudia, who is also a trained Hatha yoga teacher and conducts classes for guests of the hotel.
Aside from the livestock, fruit and vegetables from the farm that fuel the restaurant, Claudia is always learning about different regional ingredients that grow wildly on her property and make it to guests’ plates. “Just recently, a new gardener asked me if I’d ever eaten the watercress [Berro] from the lagoon, and I said I had no idea that there was watercress there! It looks different to the watercress I know. I tried it and it’s the best I’ve ever had […] Mushrooms grow on the trees in the spring and there are many spices. One is the fruit of the Canelo tree – the sacred tree of the Mapucho people. Its peppercorn is very intense and tastes of cinnamon. There are also a lot of wild berries here.” Some local ingredients also make it into the products used for spa treatments currently conducted in the villas (a dedicated spa project is underway and the space promises to be cosy and embedded in nature, with beautiful views).
Chef Nacho has been working for Sol y Luna for 17 years. He was trained by Pedro Miguel Schiaffino, who is recognised internationally for his innovative approach to cooking and use of Amazonian ingredients. Nacho focuses strongly on “bringing the flavours of the produce from the farms around Sol y Luna to the tables of the restaurant”, explains Moises Olivares, who is responsible for Sales and Marketing. “The restaurant’s proposal is to offer flavours that respect the nature of the ingredients. Our dishes, of course, have good design and interesting combinations, but they champion the original taste of things”, says Olivares.
Sol y Luna serves a selection of dishes created with ingredients from the jungle and the mountains. One to note is the mouth-watering Paiche fish from the Amazon, served with kiwicha (a pseudo-cereal celebrated by Andean and Amazonian peoples for its healing properties). The hotel organises immersive visits to local farms and villages for guests who are interested in learning about Peru’s various different types of corn, quinoa and potatoes Peru boasts and the lifestyle of local communities, some of which still live much as they did five hundred years ago (aside from now having access to basic sanitation and electricity).
“People today are responding to things that are real and natural, authentic and genuine”, says Kimpton’s Ave Bradley – and she is absolutely right. Albeit part of a group that owns many properties, which means it could easily subscribe to the cookie-cutter, the Kimpton is not prescriptive; their model could serve as reference as to how to merge a unique sense of place with a ubiquitous sense of service. “I like to describe our offerings as a collection of wildly independent hotels. There’s a recognisable spirit and feeling. There’s no consistency in the product we offer, but there’s consistency in the quality level, the service-style and some of our programming.”
As a few examples of hotels in the Americas that nurture spaces and experiences that are rooted in their locations and cultures, these all thrive on having committed people behind them putting their hearts and souls into every decision and nurturing authentic values, in order to deliver a unique product connected to the local community.