The Trip of a Lifetime on the Belmond Hiram Bingham Train to Macchu Picchu

A trip to Macchu Picchu is a must in any Peru itinerary, this incredible Inca site is found high in the Andes Mountains, a few hours from Cusco. I was lucky enough to make the pilgrimage with Belmond, who transport guests through the sacred valley to this world wonder on their Hiram Bingham train.

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The Macchu Picchu day trip is just one of the train journeys Belmond operate in Peru, with other trips exploring larger regions and offering overnight accommodation on board. The name honours American explorer Hiram Bingham, who discovered Macchu Picchu in 1911 with the help of local indigenous farmers.

We met the train at Poroy Station, a short taxi ride from Cusco, and were greeted with glasses of champagne and music from local musicians. The luxury train encapsulates 1920s style, the elegant booths and gleaming wood panelling immediately transport you back to a glamorous bygone era.

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The journey included a seasonal three course brunch with Peruvian wine. Each dish had been chosen to showcase Peruvian ingredients and cooking techniques. Highlights included a Grilled Beef Steak with mashed potatoes and an intriguing but delicious corn cheesecake with elderberry sauce.

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As we travelled further through the dramatic Peruvian landscape many of the guests walked through to the final observation car, where an open air carriage serves drinks and live music is played by the resident band. We sang along to the Beatles and Radiohead as the full bar sipped on Pisco Sours.

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After three hours we reached our destination, Aguas Calientes station. Our tour guide for the day was Carlos, one of the knowledgeable and enthusiastic Belmond staff. The detailed three hour tour of Machu Picchu was thorough and insightful, we learnt about its history as well as noticing small details about which Carlos offered his own brilliant theories. We were lucky to have bright sunshine and the surroundings were just as awe-inspiring as Macchu Picchu itself.

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After examining every inch of the historic site, we headed for a final afternoon tea at the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge at the foot of the Inca site. We enjoyed a luxurious array of sweet and savoury treats, along with soothing tea.

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When we returned to reality in Cusco, we stayed at the atmospheric Belmond Hotel Monasterio. This beautiful hotel is found in the centre of the town, near to all the main sights and restaurants. We were in room 436, a lavish junior suite decorated in regal shades of red and gold.

If you are in need of further TLC, head to Belmond Palacio Nazarenas in Cusco where guests can have afternoon tea in the Secret Garden with sandwiches, cakes and tea tasting. The spa at this hotel is also unmissable, a tranquil retreat with very comfortable treatment rooms and experienced therapists. The detox oil used in my massage used local herbs – the munia, eucalyptus and mint flavours help ease jetlag and altitude sickness.

While in Cusco, I would recommend visiting the Cathedral and San Pedro Market, having a meal at Cicciolina and stopping for coffee at Three Monkeys.

More information about the Hiram Bingham Train and other Belmond properties here.

Villa Barranco, Lima, Peru

Located in the heart of Barranco, Lima’s most artistic and cultural neighbourhood, Villa Barranco is a beautifully restored former colonial mansion house. This nine-bedroom boutique hotel opened in March 2017 and immediately grabbed the attention of travellers and the travel industry alike, including being named on Conde Nast’s Hot List of 2018.

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The villa has been tastefully decorated in muted shades with antique wooden furniture and vintage ornaments. As well as the nine bedrooms, Villa Barranco has a communal dining/sitting room, ground-floor patio for al fresco breakfasts, and a peaceful rooftop bar. Guests can borrow the villa’s bikes to explore the local area and staff are knowledgeable about the best things to see, do and eat nearby.

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Our ground floor junior suite (room number 1) featured a comfy king-size bed, an Art Deco daybed-cum-armchair, and antique wardrobe and writing desk. The ensuite bathroom centred around a deep freestanding bath and was flooded with natural light. Our junior suite also included a small, private outdoor terrace, as do all bedrooms on the ground floor.

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Each room in the villa is unique and they differ in size and layout. Many rooms can be presented as either twin or double, and there are conjoined rooms available for groups or families larger than two people. Some of my favourite rooms were Room 8 – with its hanging square light above the bed – and the Master Suite (room 9) which is spread across two floors with a 2nd bed on the mezzanine, a private rooftop terrace and a pyramid rooflight that bathes the bathroom with daylight.

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Breakfast is served either in the communal dining room or, in nicer weather, on the patio outdoors. The food is simple but well executed; hot options include omelettes made to order, eggs as you like, and waffles or pancakes with a range of toppings and sides. The basic buffet comprises bread and pastries, jams and spreads, cereals and granolas, fresh juices and a coffee machine. Guests can also have lunch and dinner at the house, with a simple “home-style” menu on offer.

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Villa Barranco is part of the up-and-coming Ananay Hotel group who have grand ambitions for transforming the offering of boutique hotels in Peru. They have three properties in Cusco and openings planned in other locations. A refurbishment of the neighbouring house to Villa Barranco is also underway, which will transform the property into hosting 18 rooms in total.

More information and book a room at Villa Barranco here.

Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea, Taormina, Sicily

Taormina is a picturesque hilltop town on the east coast of Sicily, and though it may not be the easiest destination to reach, the beauty of its location more than makes up for the journey. Belmond’s two hotels here, Villa Sant’Andrea and Grand Hotel Timeo, are the most special places in stay in Taormina. Sant’Andrea is perched at the sea’s edge, surrounded by the rippling Mediterranean sea, while Timeo is found in the town next door to the ancient ancient Greco-­Roman amphitheatre with impressive views of the actively smoking volcano, Mount Etna.

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We spent a couple of days at Villa Sant’Andrea, enjoying the Sicilian way of life and visiting nearby towns in search of the best pasta and granita! Unfortunately, the weather was unusually wet for mid-September but the air was still warm and the landscape equally beautiful.

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There are 71 rooms to choose from at Villa Sant’Andrea, each is decorated in a bright contemporary style with a fresh pale blue and beige palette. In our spacious Junior Suite the big windows opened out onto a balcony that offered stunning views of the sea and town. The relaxed living area, with Matisse-inspired prints, was a pleasant place to enjoy breakfast, while our table by the window had a delicious offering of fresh fruit and Sicilian Almond wine.

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The plush King-sized bed was extremely comfortable, topped with a cashmere blanket and the softest cotton sheets, ensuring a restful night’s sleep. The large bathroom – complete with bath, shower, dual sinks and separate toilet – featured generous bottles of Ortigia toiletries, a range that is inspired by the Sicilian flora and fauna. My only annoyance in the bathroom was the overly complicated geometric tap system, which we found to be a bit of a challenge to master!

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Leave plenty of time for breakfast, it is a feast of local delicacies and international wonders. We feasted on courgette flower & ricotta omelette, fresh juices, and granita with brioche and whipped cream. It was all absolutely delicious.

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There are plenty of perks to enjoy on site at Villa Sant’Andrea, including a complimentary two hour boat tour to see the nearby islands and secluded coves. You can also hire a beach cabana for the day, with a stocked minibar, dedicated service and your own extra luxe sunloungers. There is a complimentary shuttle service between Belmond’s Villa Sant’Andrea and Grand Hotel Timeo hotels so you can hop between the two for mealtimes and experiences.

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If you have a spare day and fancy venturing further afield I highly recommend spending a day exploring the nearby towns… Noto is particularly beautiful and the famous Caffe Sicilia is a must for foodies and gelato-lovers. If you are in need of a comforting Italian meal in Noto head to Manna for unmissable classic pasta dishes. The quaint island of Ortigia is also lovely for an afternoon of strolling and sightseeing.

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Even after just a few days Sicily captured my heart, it is such a beautiful island with a strong culinary culture and some of the most brilliant architecture I have ever seen. For a luxury getaway in the sun, Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea will look after your every need, ensuring you get the most of your Mediterranean minibreak.

I was a guest of Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea, more information here.