Romantic Cuzco

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Romantic Cuzco
The romance, mystery, and otherworldly beauty of Machu Picchu is undeniable, but lovers will also find much in the hidden patios of Cuzco and the clear night sky of the Sacred Valley to inspire them.
Photo by Camden Luxford
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    Handcrafts and Ruins at Pisac
    The bustling market town of Pisac is famed for its handicrafts and the sprawling Incan ruins above the town. Early in the dry season, the ruins are covered with wildflowers, but they are worth a visit year-round for the beauty of the simple stonework and the views across the valley. The major market days in town are Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday. Tour buses from Cuzco tend to visit the ruins early, before returning their passengers to the market for lunch and afternoon shopping. Reverse that order for a more relaxed shopping experience and the chance to stroll the expansive ruins in solitude.
    Photo by Camden Luxford
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    Sacred Valley Retreats
    No romantic escape to the Sacred Valley is complete without a decadent spa retreat. Unwind at Tambo del Inka Resort and Spa with a hydrotherapy treatment, or float in heated indoor and outdoor pools, soaking up the mountain views. Banish the last trace of stress with a massage in one of the VIP dual treatment rooms or a Mount Misti mud mask. Wander the beautiful gardens at Aranwa Sacred Valley Hotel's Unno Spa before enjoying a treatment drawing on traditional ingredients like quinoa, the mint-like muña, and camu camu berries. The Hotel Rio Sagrado offers a coca leaf wrap, locally sourced Maras salt scrub, and a steam room to ease any aches or chills. At Sol & Luna, totally relax with the hydrotherapy Andean Experience.
    Photo courtesy of the Tambo del Inka/Luxury Collection Resort & Spa
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    Ancient Ollantaytambo
    It was in Ollantaytambo that Manco Inca Yupanqui made one last stand against the Spanish conquistadores. Nevertheless, the superior weaponry of the Spaniards prevailed, and Manco Inca fled into the jungle with his pregnant wife. As the legend goes, he was eventually caught and executed as he refused to abandon her. Today, Ollanta is one of Peru’s oldest continuously inhabited towns. Narrow irrigation channels line its high-walled, cobblestoned streets, and the sound of water is everywhere. In the late afternoon, as dusk falls on the two sets of ruins bookending the town and the day-trippers have left, it is a magical place. After exploring the ruins, have a drink in the plaza and watch valley life slowly unfold.
    Photo by Camden Luxford
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    Indulgent Breakfasts
    A Peruvian breakfast is often a simple affair of bread with cheese or avocado, grabbed in the market and eaten on the run. Nevertheless, there is one place for a morning indulgence: Hotel Monasterio. Drop in for a luxurious buffet breakfast with eggs to order, pancakes, fresh bread, and some of the finest French and Danish pastries you’ll find at high altitude. Be sure to take the time to enjoy the converted monastery's colonial architecture. For a slightly more casual start to the day, try Cicciolina's Bakery or Cafe Ayllu, an iconic local meeting place serving traditional-style coffee. The beans are roasted with orange peel and other aromatics, and the syrupy coffee is served with a glass of hot milk on the side.
    Photo by Rua Castilho/age fotostock
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    Picnic Lunches
    Visitors to Cuzco are spoiled for choice among its many restaurants, but there's nothing quite like a meal under the clear blue sky of the Andes. The green fields by the statue of Cristo Blanco, with their spectacular views over the city and the ruins of Sacsayhuamán, are a favorite picnic spot of local families. Further out of town, the village of Chinchero is in a particularly beautiful part of the valley, and a picnic lunch can easily be combined with its seldom-visited Sunday markets or the three-hour walking route around nearby Lake Puray’s tiny townships. Most hotels will be able to organize a gourmet packed lunch, as can La Cicciolina. Try Greens Organic for healthy boxed meals and fresh juices made with local fruits.
    Photo by Sophie Preveyraud/age fotostock
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    Candlelit Dinners
    Peru's dazzling array of ingredients and diverse cultural influences have combined in a superb national cuisine. Peruvians take great pride in the the creativity of their chefs, and many of the best are found in Cuzco. There are world-class restaurants hidden down cobbled alleyways and occupying gracious old colonial mansions in every corner of the historic center. Pachapapa offers a traditional Andean feast with impeccable service in the artisans’ quarter of San Blas, while MAP Café, housed in a candlelit glass cube on the patio of the Museo de Arte Precolombino, is modern Peruvian at its very best. For Peruvian with a Japanese twist, try the sushi at LIMO—be sure to book a table on the balcony overlooking the Plaza de Armas.
    Photo by Yadid Levy/age fotostock
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    Late-Night Cocktails
    Pisco, a potent grape-based brandy, is Peru’s national tipple, enjoyed both straight and in cocktails. A shot is the preferred end to the evening meal for many Peruvians, but no visit to Cuzco is complete without a pisco sour—smooth, tart, and deceptively strong. The classic sour is made with lime, sugar syrup, and egg white, but you’ll a range of flavors drawing on local ingredients from coca leaf to the soursop fruit. The chilcano—pisco with ginger ale, lime, and bitters—is popular with the Lima set and very refreshing. Avoid the raucous backpacker scene at Plaza de Armas and San Blas. Instead, try the flamboyant Fallen Angel for a more intimate experience or the Museo del Pisco for pisco flights and artisanal cocktails.
    Photo by Gerrit Buntrock/age fotostock
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    Machu Picchu by Train
    Travel to Machu Picchu in tremendous style with the Orient Express’ Hiram Bingham train. At about the time those pounding the Inca Trail are an hour into the day's climb, you’ll be greeted with crisp champagne and ushered into the elegant Pullman-style carriages. The train journey itself is spectacular, especially as the train begins its descent from the stark lines and earthy colors of the Sacred Valley to the lush subtropical rainforest of Machu Picchu, following the gushing Urubamba River. There is nothing quite like enjoying this view over a three-course brunch at a linen-draped table, although following it up with cocktails and live music in the bar comes close.
    Photo by Annie Fitzsimmons
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    Finding Solitude at Machu Picchu
    With some 2,500 visitors daily, Machu Picchu is inevitably a shared experience. However, with a little planning and plenty of time, you can escape the crowds. Hikers enter at the Sun Gate early in the morning, but few linger for longer than it takes to snap a photo. Machu Picchu Mountain, often shunned in favor of the more glamorous Huayna Picchu, is a sometimes-tough 90-minute climb but a sure way to snatch some time alone. Within the citadel, Intimachay and the Quarry are often less crowded than other areas. Wander slowly, and tarry wherever you find solitude. Beyond the iconic temples, Machu Picchu is full of detail. It rewards unhurried and observant explorers.
    Photo by Deb Miller