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Hacienda Cusin, Ecuador
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Indy Lifestyle Online
WHEN SOUTH American mayhem starts to wear you down, there is a haven in the Ecuadorian sierra where you can get away from it all and smell the hollyhocks. The 17th century Hacienda Cusin is owned by a dashing Englishman, Nicholas T Millhouse, who strides around the grounds in plus- fours and an old tweed jacket, followed by his faithful hound, Bolivar.

The restored Andean estate, made up of the main house (all white walls and terracotta tiles) and El Monasterio de Cusin (complete with towers, parapet and cloisters) has an English country garden that blooms foxgloves, bougainvillaea and orchids all year round and has llamas grazing on the lawn. The entrance hall is of the grandiose kind with dark wood panelling, and the dining room has a roaring log fire and tapestries (dinner is served by candlelight to theatrical Gregorian chants).

A stay here is total escapism, with tea in the library, horse riding and a stock of Fawlty Towers videos to while away the hours. Guests who have been seduced by Cusin include Isabella Rosselini's ex, Jonathan Wiederman (who loved it so much he came back to marry his Icelandic girlfriend here).

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

Hacienda Cusin is at San Pablo del Lago, Imbabura, Ecuador (00 593 6 918 013/316, fax 00 593 6 918 003 or e mail: hacienda@ cusin.com.ec).

Cusin is 90 minutes north of Ecuador's capital, Quito and just seven miles north of the equator. At 8,500ft it nestles beneath the Andean mountains of Cotocachi, Mojanda, and Imbabura, close to the famous market town of Otavalo where you can stock up on colourful jumpers, rugs and hammocks.

Transport: The Airport Shuttle between Quito and Cusin for 1-6 guests costs pounds 57.50. A helicopter, if you're feeling flash, is a snip at pounds 450. Public transport on the mountainous rollercoaster between Quito and Otavalo is a risky business but if you're feeling brave, buses from the depot in Quito's Old Town stop nearby.

ARE YOU LYING COMFORTABLY?

There are 40 guest rooms, suites and garden cottages, each with a private bathroom, garden and mountain views. The sturdy wooden beds have crisp, white cotton sheets and the softest pillows imaginable. Most of the rooms have traditional kiva fireplaces and beamed ceilings, and are furnished with local crafts.

What to book: Ask for the Dueno's Suite with its antiques and crafts and a portrait of "Senor Nik" in a stylish red poncho. Number 25 has its own roof terrace, private garden and a tower from which you can see the landscape immortalised by the 19th century painter, Frederic Church.

IT'S ALL IN THE DETAILS

The great thing about staying here is that numerous excursions can be arranged on site. Trips to the Galapagos start from pounds 385 per person (plus a pounds 240 airfare) and trips to the Amazon start at pounds 400. You can go hill walking and horse riding (pounds 8 per hour) or visit local villages to see traditional craftsmen.

THE BOTTOM LINE

A single room costs pounds 45, a double pounds 63, including full American breakfast. Lunch and dinner are a bargain pounds 9 each and the delicious home-cooked fare is all fresh.

Lucy Gillmore

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