Turn left along a stretch of the Pan-American Highway at Pinsaquí in Ecuador's Northern Sierra, and immediately you are transported far from the thundering trucks and fume-belching buses into tranquillity. A driveway leads between whitewashed gateposts into the manicured grounds of Hacienda Pinsaquí, framed by bright bougainvillea and home to a pair of peacocks.
Staying here feels as if you've sneaked beyond the velvet rope of a stately home, as you sink into an armchair beside a roaring fire with a glass of wine in hand. The hacienda was built in 1790, and the dashing Venezuelan general Simón Bolívar, aka El Libertador, was a regular guest. When taking a break from ousting Spanish rule from swathes of South America, he preferred to stay in what is now room 1, and signed the Treaty of Pinsaquí bringing peace between Ecuador and Colombia at the hacienda in 1863. Following an earthquake in 1868, the devastated hacienda was restored to its former glory, including its tiny, ornate chapel.
Under the same family ownership that has called the hacienda home for six generations, it opened as a hotel 13 years ago. The snug bar, once part of the stables, was all that remained after the earthquake, and is now filled with equestrian paraphernalia of a bygone age. The obraja, where the indigenous Otavalans were put to work under the Spanish conquistadors, is now the breakfast room, while Ecuadorian specialities are served for lunch and dinner in a magnificient art-adorned dining room. There are hammocks strung from the trees around the 200-year-old gardens ideal for catching up on that book you've been meaning to read.
But it's the hacienda's scenic location, at the foot of the Imbabura volcano in the Andes, that has many guests opting to take a guided trek on one of its five horses to explore the valleys and nearby San Pablo and Mojanda lakes (US$35/17.50 for three hours). Mountain biking can be arranged with a day's notice ($36/18 for four hours), but if pedal-pushing at altitude proves too much, a tour by taxi of the local landmarks, including the sacred waterfalls of Peguche, will set you back around $10/5 per hour.
Staying at the hacienda for a couple of nights should provide the ideal balance between adventure and a chance to relax.
Hostería Hacienda Pinsaquí, Panamericana Norte km5, Otavalo, Ecuador (00 593 6 294 6117; www.haciendapinsaqui.com). The hotel is 5km from the town of Otavalo, in northern Ecuador, which is popular with visitors who come for its vibrant Saturday handicrafts market.
Time from international airport: The hacienda can arrange an airport or hotel pick-up from Quito ($50/25 each way), which takes around two hours. Public transport is much cheaper: regular buses leave Quito for Ibarra, stopping at the top of the hacienda's driveway. Taxis to or from Otavalo cost $3/1.50.
The hacienda's 27 rooms, all come with bathrooms. Each room is unique and has an open fireplace, where a fire is lit for you to return to each evening. Room 8 has a huge sitting room with wooden floors strewn with llama-skin rugs, and an imposing four-poster bed from which the garden views towards the valley are stunning. This room has the hotel's only Jacuzzi a sunken, tiled affair perfect for relieving any post-riding saddle-soreness. Room 7 has a magnificent roll-top, cast-iron bath, for a romantic soak among the antiques.
Freebies: Basic soap and shampoo, but you'll find a chocolate on your pillow at night. Since it can get chilly in the evenings at altitude, expect a welcome knock on the door at bedtime when the housekeeper delivers the hot-water bottles.
Keeping in touch: There are telephones in the rooms, but no TVs. Internet access is available in the lounge at a reasonable $4/2 per hour. The exceptionally helpful staff will call taxis and reconfirm flights for you, as well as organise excursions. On a wall of glass-fronted bookshelves, you'll find a selection of books to suit almost every taste.
The bottom line
Double rooms start at US$108 (54) per night, including breakfast.
I'm not paying that: The colonial-style Hotel Otavalo (00 593 6 292 3712; www.hotelotavalo.com.ec) is a short walk from the sprawling market, and has double rooms from $34/17 per night, including breakfast.