Peru … a culinary adventure
Peru was never at the top of my list of countries to visit but merely on the list because I did not know enough about it. When the opportunity arose back in January to go there I did some research and discovered what a fascinating and historical country it was. So, last month my friend Luke and I set off from Gatwick to Lima on our Culinary Adventure with Cox & Kings.
Neil and Luke preparing for a cooking class with a local chef in Pisac
The flight was direct with British Airways, taking just under 12 hours. We arrived in Lima in the early evening and were immediately welcomed by Misael from Lima Tours holding his iPad with Cox & Kings and my surname displayed on it. Misael was lovely: he escorted us to our minibus and we headed out into the rush hour traffic of Lima. The main highway out of the airport seemed challenging. Yes, there were road markings and lane divisions but I can only assume they were put there for decorative purposes! Misael reassured us there were very few accidents in Lima; I imagine if you can drive here you can drive anywhere! We drove from the airport to the Miraflores district of Lima with Misael giving us a splendid talk about the history of Peru with pictures on his iPad.
We arrived at the Casa Andina Premium Collection hotel via what I initially thought was the worst road imaginable. Misael told us, however, that they were the original 19th-century cobblestones that have now been preserved. It was nice to think that they had not been pulled up or covered with tarmac. The Casa Andina is a lovely hotel. Everyone seemed so friendly and we checked into rooms on the third floor. After a brief exploration outside we retired after the long flight.
Monday morning arrived and we met the lovely Penelope Alzamora, our chef for the day. We set off in her car to the market where she was going to acquire the ingredients for our cooking class and lunch. At the market she chose all the ingredients before driving us to the Barranco district of Lima where she lives in a beautiful apartment overlooking the harbour. We had a coffee in an art gallery, which was delightful.
Neil with chef Penelope Alzamora in Lima
In Penelope’s apartment we gathered in her kitchen with another lady who was Penelope’s assistant. All the vegetables had been meticulously prepared including the ingredients for the obligatory pisco sours! Penelope instructed us as we cooked sublime scallops in garlic with a touch of grated cheese and then prepared the ceviche, raw fish marinated in lemon juice. The pisco sours were great: pisco mixed with simple sugar syrup, lime juice and egg white, then blended with crushed ice. It was then finished off with three drops of Angostura bitters. We sat down for lunch with Penelope and had a lovely afternoon together. We talked about where we live – Bournemouth – and Penelope told us that she studied in Bournemouth when she came to England back in 1987. Small world! After saying our farewells to Penelope after lunch with great hugs, she drove us back to our hotel where we enjoyed a dip in the indoor pool. A few drinks at the bar finished off a delightful day.
Tuesday morning and Misael arrived at the hotel to take us to the airport for our flight to Cusco. We had a very pleasant flight with LAN Airlines of about an hour or so. On our arrival we were met by Kol, again from Lima Tours, who took us to our minibus. Cusco is 3,300 metres above sea level and we were told that we might experience altitude sickness but we had no problems at all. We headed straight down to the Sacred Valley, which is lower in altitude and a good place to slowly acclimatise. The weather was lovely, not a cloud in the sky. Kol and our driver Maurice took us to Pisac market where we wandered around for half an hour looking at all the colourful stalls of alpaca blankets and scarves. After the market, Kol took us to a restaurant where we picked some herbs in the garden for our cooking class with the chef. We cooked some aromatic beef in the restaurant’s kitchen. We had a lovely lunch with a couple of Cusqueñas, the local beer!
Cooking in the Sacred Valley
Our hotel was the Casa Andina Sacred Valley. We initially thought it was quite remote but it is set in beautiful grounds with gorgeous rooms. We opened our bedroom window and were met by two llamas looking in at us. We said hello to them before they wandered off with two baby alpacas for a lawn lunch. The hotel was lovely with an open fire in the lobby next to the bar. The views of the Andes mountains were spectacular and the silence outside, standing in the grounds and looking at the mountains, was breathtaking.
Meeting llamas in the Sacred Valley
Kol had informed us that he would meet us in the hotel reception at 8am the next morning. We had a lovely breakfast with the chef making amazing ‘as you like them’ omelettes. Kol and Maurice arrived at 8 on the dot to take us to Ollantaytambo, an important Inca site in the Sacred Valley set on the mountainside with the terraces cut into the side by the Incas in the 15th century. Kol had already given us our tickets and we set off for the climb up the stairs to the temple at the top. About halfway up I looked at the mountain on the other side of the valley and laughed to myself as I thought that part of the rock face looked like the figure of a man. Kol told us that it was the Inca god of the mountain and was the same view that the Incas had seen all those centuries ago.
Ollantaytambo, Sacred Valley
The next morning was our trip to Machu Picchu. We took a spectacular train journey with PeruRail which snaked its way along the river through the Sacred Valley. On our arrival at the town we were met by Roberto, again from Lima Tours, and our guide for the trip to one of the wonders of the world. Roberto obviously loved his job and his passion for Machu Picchu was incredible. He told us all about the history of the site, which was fascinating, especially how he explained that Machu Picchu – which, incidentally, means ‘Old Mountain’ – was already abandoned before the Spanish arrived in the 1530s, but no one knows why. Possibly an epidemic of some kind, or word filtering through that the Conquistadors led by Pizarro were heading their way. The buildings and carvings were incredible, enormous slabs of granite polished to perfection, and, as Kol said, ‘they had all the time in the world to do it’.
Machu Picchu was busy with many tourists but not intrusive and there was plenty of space to wander around. Roberto gave us a fascinating guided tour showing us the grain stores and houses as well as the sundial used for astronomy. I found it amazing that gold was not the Inca’s most highly prized asset: they wereafter feathers for decorating their headdresses. The Spanish treasure ships took in excess of 70 tons of gold away at a time and sadly most of it was melted down. However, through piracy, the real benefactors were the British and the Dutch.
We stayed at the Sumaq hotel at the bottom of the valley and it was absolutely superb. We were welcomed with iced tea and pisco sours on arrival and our room was beautiful, overlooking the river and mountain with a lovely balcony. We wandered into the town, Aguas Calientes, and found a small bar with a happy hour.
Our night in Sumaq was wonderful and we had a lovely breakfast the next morning with lots to choose from. Our itinerary today was to spend some time in Aguas Calientes before catching the afternoon train back to Cuzco, or Poroy to be exact. We could have gone back up to Machu Picchu but chose to relax in a bar instead. The four-hour train journey back was great fun! We had a fashion show up and down the aisles by the staff and were entertained by ‘dancing devils’ in the corridors! On our arrival in Poroy on the outskirts of Cuzco our Cox & Kings guide was waiting for us to take us to the El Mercado Tunqui Hotel.
Entertainment on the train back to Poroy
The El Mercado was different from the previous hotels as it was older and set around a lovely open courtyard with a fire in the centre. Scattered all around were sofas with alpaca blankets neatly laid across. The hotel is a short, easy walk to the Plaza des Armas – Cuzco’s main square and the centre of the old Inca world – and is surrounded by pretty colonial buildings, plenty of restaurants and things to see and do.
The next morning, after breakfast at the hotel, Kol took us to the cathedral. It was built on top of the ruins of an Inca temple, which the Conquistadors had partially demolished. It was very ‘heavy Catholic’, with gold everywhere, solid silver alters and paintings hanging on every wall. I found it too ornate but it was very beautiful to behold.
After the tour we were booked into our chocolate workshop in the Chocolate Museum in the square. Now, I had told Luke not to wear his white blazer today, especially to a chocolate workshop, but did he listen? No. The host who ran the show was very entertaining. We had to wear hats and aprons and started off by crushing the beans and adding all the other ingredients. He told us that the Incas used to use human blood when making their chocolate and were there any volunteers from our group who could spare a thumbful or so! We made some gorgeous Peruvian chocolate, which we left in a freezer to collect later. Surprise surprise, even with an apron Luke got his jacket covered in chocolate!
Peruvian chocolate workshop, Cuzco
Saturday was a free day which we spent in Cuzco. We wandered around the local indoor markets and bought some last minute gifts, obviously alpaca shawls! Both of us had our shoes shined by the army of shoe shiners in the Plaza. As soon as it was done another one came over telling us that our shoes needed shining!! All very friendly though. The last night in the hotel was very special, sat around the fire listening to a live guitar performance. On Sunday afternoon we flew back to Lima. We were escorted every step of the way, even up to the check-in desks. A short flight back to Lima over the mountains – incredible – and an agent waiting to escort us from the domestic arrivals to international departures. Perfect!
Cocoa beans at the chocolate workshop, Cuzco
Cox & Kings, with Lima Tours locally, were absolutely superb from the moment we arrived in Peru. All expectations were surpassed. The guides were friendly, professional and knowledgeable and made sure that everything was done as it should be. It really was the trip of a lifetime and Peru, with such lovely people, history and scenery, must be a number one destination choice.
As I said at the beginning, I would not normally have considered Peru but we are both hooked. I felt that travelling with Cox & Kings we were being looked after every step of the way. Thank you for an amazing trip!
View from Sumaq Hotel, Aguas Calientes
To find out more about the culinary tour to Peru please click here. Cox & Kings also offers a wide range of other holidays to Peru. See more here >