Review: A Culinary Adventure with Cox & Kings
Specialist Holiday - Food & wine
A culinary adventure in Peru with Cox & Kings
For some reason Peru was never at the top of my list of countries to visit merely 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, the week before last myself and my friend Luke set off from Gatwick to Lima on our Culinary Adventure with Cox and Kings.
The flight was direct with British Airways taking just under 12 hrs. We arrived in Lima at about 6.30pm their time and were immediately welcomed by Misael from Lima Tours holding his Ipad with Cox and Kings and my surname. Miseal was lovely, he escorted us to our mini bus and we headed out into the rush hour traffic of Lima. The main highway out of the airport seemed challenging, certainly there were road markings and lane divisions but I can only assume they were put there for decorative purposes only! 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. Myself and Luke held our breath as other cars came within a whisker of our mini bus, yet as Misael told us ‘there are very few accidents in Lima’! If you can drive here you can drive anywhere I would imagine!
We arrived at the Casa Andina Premier Collection Hotel via what I initially thought was the worst road imaginable. Misael told us, however, that they were the original cobblestones from the 19th century and looking out of the window saw that they were lovely old cobblestones that have 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 room 608, a lovely room on the third floor. After a brief exploration outside we retired after the long flight.
Monday morning arrived and the plan was to meet Penelope, our chef. At 9.30am Penelope entered the hotel lobby and we all introduced ourselves. Penelope was lovely and 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.
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 our Pisco Sours! Penelope instructed us as we cooked sublime scallops in garlic with a touch of grated cheese and then prepared the Ceviche, fish marinated in lemon juice. The Pisco Sours were great, pisco mixed with simple syrup, lime juice and egg white crushed ice and mixed in the blender. It was then finished off with 3 drops of Angostura Bitters. We sat down for lunch with Penelope and had a lovely time. We talked about where we live, Bournemouth, and Penelope told us that she studied in Bournemouth when she came to England back in 1987! After saying our farewells to Penelope after lunch with great hugs she drove us back to our hotel where we enjoyed the nice 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 mini bus. Cusco is 3300 metres above sea level and we were told that we might experience altitude sickness but we had no problems at all. 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. That was great and we cooked some aromatic beef in the restaurants kitchen. We had a lovely lunch with a couple of Peruvian beers, Cusquena!
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. 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.
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 doing 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 800 years ago. Kol had already given us our tickets and we set off for the climb up the stairs to the temple at the top. About half way up I looked at the mountain on the other side of the valley and laughed as I thought that part of the rock face looked like the figure of a man. When we got to the top Kol said to us ‘now, I want you both to look at that mountain over there and tell me what you see! Of course I said ‘a man’! Kol told us that that was the Inca god of the mountain and was the same view that the Incas had seen all those centuries ago.
The next morning was our trip to Machu Picchu. We took a train with PeruRail which snaked its was through the Sacred Valley, the scenery being amazing. 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 described that Machu Picchu, which incidentally means ‘Old Mountain’, was already abandoned before the Spanish arrived in the 1530’s. Yet 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. 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 proper guided tour showing us the grain stores and houses. I found it amazing that, to the Incas, Gold was not their most highly prized asset. We know that the Spanish took much of it away back to the empire but things like feathers for headdresses were more highly prized. The Spanish treasure ships took in excess of 70 tons of gold away at a time, sadly most of it being melted down. As Kol said, however, the real benefactors were the British and the Dutch, mainly through piracy!
Our hotel was The Sumaq at the foot of the valley and was absolutely superb. We checked in and were welcomed with iced tea and Pisco Sours and our room, 1403, was beautiful, overlooking the river and mountain with a lovely balcony. We even had a drinks reception laid on for us! We wandered into the town, Aquas Calientes, and found a bar with happy hour. The owner brings you your nationality flag to the table which was nice. I think he had trouble finding a Union Jack as most flags were from other South American countries. I really do need to brush up on them!
The night in the Sumaq was wonderful and we had a lovely breakfast the next morning, lots to choose from. Our itinerary today was to spend some time in Aquas Calientes before catching the afternoon train to Cuzco, or Poroy to be exact. We found a nice bar and watched the Pan Pipe players setting up right next to us. Having wandered up to the station we caught our train, all seats prebooked and tickets already given to us by Kol. The train journey, of 3 and a half hours, was great! 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 our Cox and Kings guide was waiting for us to take us to the El Mercado Tunqui Hotel in Cuzco.
The El Mercado was different from our last 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. We had room 507 which was nice at the end of a corridor. The hotel is a short easy walk to the main Piazza in Cuzco, as we were told ‘the centre of the centre of the old Inca world’! Lovely old buildings, plenty of restaurants and things to see and do.
The next morning, after breakfast at the hotel, Kol picked us up at 9am for a tour of the Cathedral. It was built on top of the ruins of an Inca temple which was partially demolished by the Spanish. It was all very ‘heavy Catholic’, Gold everywhere, solid silver alters and paintings hanging on every wall. Beautiful to behold however.
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 funny, 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 ended up making some gorgeous Peruvian chocolate which were left in a freezer for us to collect later. Even with his apron Luke got his jacket covered in chocolate!
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 Piazza, 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 excellent, we sat around the fire while there was some live guitar music being played. Sunday afternoon was our flight back to Lima from Cuzco. 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 for us at Lima Airport. Perfect!
Cox and 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, which 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 both myself and Luke are now hooked. I felt that travelling with Cox and Kings we were being looked after every step of the way. Thank you for an amazing trip!
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This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.
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