Straddling the Andes with one foot dipped in the Pacific Ocean and the other tangled in the wild Amazon rainforest, Peru is a nation where over 100 indigenous languages survive, Hispanic and native traditions intermix, and travelers can encounter 80% of the world’s ecosystems and nearly 90% of all climates found on Earth.
As one of the world’s most megadiverse countries, the South American destination attracts a wide variety and style of travelers, some of whom even opt to stay and call Peru their adoptive country.
So goes the story of ‘Petit’ Marie Helene Miribel, a native of France who, together with her Swiss husband, would go on to found one of Peru’s most sought after luxury hotels, Sol y Luna.
Sacred Valley: Settling in the Heartland of the Incas
Having lived in Peru since the 1990s, Petite and her partner Franz decided to put down roots in the very heartland of the Incas, just two years shy of the turn of the century.
The Sacred Valley of Peru is located in the Cusco region, protected by the Andes mountains and guided by the Urubamba River (also known as Vilcamayo River). For travelers, local towns like Urubamba and Ollantaytambo had once been considered mere gateways to Machu Picchu (1.5 hours by train from Ollantaytambo, a 30 minute drive from Sol y Luna).
Thanks to projects like Sol y Luna however, visitors are taking the time to slow down and enjoy the breathtaking landscapes, gastronomy, art and culture that abound in this mystical valley.
Afterall, the Valley, which rests at roughly 8,000 feet (over 2,400 meters above sea level), has historically held locals and visitors captive, dating back to the Incas––who fell for its proximity to Cusco, warmer climate and fertile land––and thereafter the Spanish.
Ayni: An Andean Philosophy of Reciprocity
Rich as it may be in nature, Peru continues to be considered a developing country––the national educational system being one major point of concern.
Inclined to get involved in community service projects, Petit soon became aware of the particular roadblocks that kept children of the Valley from receiving an education. Whether it was extreme distance that forced elementary-age children to walk for hours, lack of finances to provide materials or low standards of teaching that failed to capture the attention of and nurture young learners, the French entrepreneur took action to make education accessible for all in her adoptive Urubamba and surrounding areas.
In 1999, alongside Franz, Petit created an education project, Sol y Luna Foundation, and soon after founded the Relais & Chateau hotel, Sol y Luna. And while the latter was created to financially support their educational initiatives, it was working closely with local communities that would feed and influence the now renowned hotel. It’s an interdependence that has marked the philosophy of all Sol y Luna projects; one based on reciprocity or, as termed in the native Quechua language, ayni.
Since their first education project, Petit and Franz have not lost sight of their goal to create opportunities for the Sacred Valley youth. The hotel has allowed them to finance projects such as the Sol y Luna Intercultural School; provide training and employment opportunities for community members; as well as open four foster homes.
Luxury: Timeless Beauty and Experiences
Native materials, artisanal touches and authentic generosity bloom both within and outside of the hotel as freely as the site’s sprawling gardens. Hummingbirds seemingly guide guests from their private adobe cabins to on-site cooking classes or an intimate spa session. Stunning Andean landscapes are traversed by quad; high-altitude lakes skimmed aboard stand-up paddle boards.
Sol y Luna Hotel is categorized as luxury, but the charming qualities it presents and the experiences it offers cannot be summed up by a simple label. To visit this peaceful noon in the cradle of the Andes mountains, and to have Petit and Franz as hosts, is to gain a mindfulness of what luxury for the 21st century traveler truly means.