Montevideo saw a boom in hotels in the last decade. Regrettably many are soulless, generic high rises. So when you stay in Montevideo seek out the gems.
Alma Historica –which means “historic soul”– is a luxury fifteen-room boutique hotel set on Plaza Zabala, Montevideo’s most romantic park.
The 1920s art-deco townhouse was lovingly renovated by its Italian owners, opening in 2014.
It went straight onto Conde Nast’s hot list. The New York Times praised it as “an antiques-filled haven that bridges historic charm and modern efficiency”.
A truly boutique hotel
The decor of each room is inspired by famous figures from Uruguay’s past – an aviator, an actress, a tango singer, the list goes on.
The Doña Delmira room (pictured above) is a subtle boudoir with two wrought iron balconies overlooking the plaza. Delmira Agustini shocked polite Uruguayan society over a century ago with her fiery, erotic poetry.
Step back in time in the library which has ipads and a computer for guests’ use. The hotel can also provide a local cell phone to use during your stay.
The roof terrace has wonderful views of the Plaza, the River Plate, the port and the Old City. The two suites also have private terraces, perfect for breakfast (pictured above).
The family conserved as much of the original townhouse as they could. Original floorboards were salvaged and recut to go further. Original ceramic tiles were often too badly damaged to reuse but you can spot pieces that were intact used as decorative features in the hallways. Damaged books from the library found a second life as art.
And the conservation continues. Today if a china teapot is broken, the pieces are collected and delivered to designers who use recycled porcelain in their jewelry.
Who’s behind the soul?
The directors of Alma Historica, Dario and Caterina, are thirty somethings from Italy. Dario is an Italian wine exporter and Cate an image consultant.
Caterina first visited Uruguay ten years ago. Her parents are friends of the Uruguayan sculptor, Pablo Atchugarry, and Pablo was inaugurating his art foundation out on the coast.
Caterina committed that same mistake that many tourists (particularly those advised by Uruguayans – yessss, really) make when they first come to Uruguay. She skipped visiting the capital.
In fact she had visited Uruguay several times before she finally made it to Montevideo, by this time with her future husband Dario.
“We finally arrived in the Old City on January 6,” she laughs and raises her eyebrows.
I know exactly what she’s implying. January 6* is a public holiday in Uruguay and on public holidays Montevideo appears to fall into an enchanted sleep.
“There were no people, no cars. I felt like I was on a photoshoot with the entire city just for us,” she says. And she fell in love.
About the same time, her parents had also fallen in love – with an abandoned mansion on Plaza Zabala. Over the next few years, they set to renovating what would become Alma Historica.
In the meantime Dario and Cate, who were living in London, decided to get married. In Sicily. Where wedding planners do not exist, so Cate tells me.
So they organised the wedding themselves using email and the occasional Skype call. Despite the long-distance planning, the wedding went off flawlessly.
Cate’s father was impressed and a throw-away joke “you should organise the opening of Alma Historica” ended up with Cate and Dario heading to Uruguay in late 2014.
They came initially for three months. And they ended up staying.
“We realised that we needed to be on site if Alma Historica was to be a true boutique hotel,” Cate says.
Fashion and design tours in Montevideo
Cate has not abandoned her passion for design. She is blown away by the creativity of Uruguayan designers. Their biggest obstacle, she says, is their lack of visibility both internationally and locally.
Her hot tip is Ana Livni, a self-labelled “slow fashion” designer working in felted merino wool. Her showroom is just a couple of blocks from Alma Historica.
Drawing on the experience of her previous company Cat Walker Tours from her years in London, Cate offers private fashion and design tours in Montevideo. To arrange a tour drop a line to Alma Historica.
Stay at the Alma Historica Boutique Hotel
Visit the Alma Historica Hotel website for more information. Or write to Cate at firstname.lastname@example.org
Rooms are available in three categories – classic, superior and there are two suites on the upper floor with private terraces. Rates vary. A classic starts at 136 USD. Suites from 240 USD per night
10% off for Guru’Guay readers When you book direct with Alma Historica using the promo code GURU1
Photos: Indrasish Banerjee for Guru’Guay; design shot on AnaLivi.com