It's not often that you can say you've slept in a president's house. Yet, Hacienda Zuleta, set in the dizzy heights of the Andes, has been in the family of the late Galo Plaza Lasso, a former president of Ecuador, for more than 100 years.
Now the doors of this splendid 17th-century hacienda are open to paying guests, though the atmosphere remains less a hotel, more a luxurious home from home. Only two hours north of Quito, the hacienda sits in bucolic countryside, flanked by evergreen mountains and volcanic slopes. Rooms are furnished with colonial pieces and family heirlooms; log fires help to ward off the evening chill.
The hacienda is renowned for its stable of 100 horses, and the specially bred Zuleteños can be ridden by novices and expert equestrians alike. The fertile valley is a sublime setting for a gallop over high-altitude grassland, or a trot along pine-scented trails to the pre-Inca Caranqui pyramids.
The hacienda is the centrepiece of a 4,000-acre working farm, which includes a cheese factory, organic garden and trout farm. It's also the base for the Galo Plaza Lasso Foundation, which has set up a wild condor rehabilitation project on the estate, and funds numerous local community programmes.
Most of the 15 delightful, quirkily shaped bedrooms are named after family members and decorated with old photographs and hand-embroidered linens. The beds are dressed with cosy blankets, and the ensuite bathrooms have large tubs – perfect for a long soak. By day, the rooms are light and airy and have views of the surrounding mountains or the grounds, some offering access to a private garden, terrace or the central cobbled courtyard.
The food and drink
The chef interprets recipes passed down through the generations to fuse artfully Ecuadorian tradition with international influence. At breakfast, the communal dining table is laden with jam from the fruit orchards, milk from the dairy, semi-aged handmade cheese, and freshly baked bread. At dinner, locro – a hearty potato soup served with hunks of avocado – might be followed by melt-in-the-mouth freshwater trout, or succulent steak served with organic vegetables, washed down with a fine South American wine.
Children of all ages are welcome at the hacienda, but pets are not admitted. The rooms are accessible for guests with disabilities but they are not specially modified.
Offset the hacienda's gastronomic delights by riding, hiking, and biking along the numerous trails; see the endangered condors, or take a tour of the cheese factory, organic garden and farm, where you can try your hand at milking one of the mild-mannered Friesians. Zuleta village is famous for its exquisite embroidery, which you can buy from the on-site shop or in the village itself.
Rooms from $175 (£105) per person per night, excluding activities and alcohol. Last Frontiers (01296 653000; lastfrontiers.com) offers eight nights in Ecuador, with flights, transfers and accommodation at Hacienda Zuleta, from £1,990.
Hacienda Zuleta, Angochagua, Imbabura Province, Ecuador (00 593 6 2662 182; zuleta.com).