Located in the highlands of Chiriqui province, 300 miles west of Panama City, the Panamonte was founded in 1914 by a retired railroad conductor, Joseph Wright of Texas. The original six-room hotel played host to Teddy Roosevelt, Charles Lindbergh and the polar explorer Admiral Richard Byrd, who came here to finish his memoirs. A Swedish couple bought “Pop Wright’s hotel” in 1946, and it has been in the family since.
A major program of renovation and expansion took place in 2008. This wisely retained the original building, a charming two-story structure in blue-gray clapboard with a white picket fence out front. All of the 25 rooms are set in a lovely garden, whose rolling lawns are punctuated by noble old trees and flowering bushes.
The newest accommodations are the most desirable. Our spacious suite came with a cathedral ceiling, a tile floor with an Oriental carpet, and a chaise longue. The pale gray-green walls were hung with the work of local artists. The bath was equipped with a walk-in shower and a granite-topped vanity. Sliding glass doors led out to a flagstone terrace with plantings carefully arranged to ensure privacy.
The Panamonte is justly celebrated for its restaurant, which is under the direction of chef-owner Charlie Collins. The dining room is an appealing space with chandeliers, spot lighting and a painted raftered ceiling. Collins’ extensive menu contains starters such as a sublime spiced pumpkin soup. Although I heard others extol the virtues of both the strip steak and the short-rib ragu pasta, I opted for delicious trout sautéed with browned almond slivers. The staff is consistently helpful and congenial. The Panamonte pio-neered birding tours in the area and, in addition, coffee plantation visits and hiking are easily arranged.
Panamonte Inn & Spa Garden Terrace Room, $340; Garden Junior Suite, $390. Tel. (507) 720-1324 or (800) 525-4800.
Enjoying a perfect location facing the cathedral and next to the Presidential Palace, the Plaza Grande was originally the home of Juan Díaz de Hidalgo, one of the original Spanish conquistadors. It first became a hotel, the Majestic, in 1943 and subsequently served as both a bank and the administrative offices for the municipality of Quito. It was not until 2005 that a group of investors decided to restore the structure and reopen it as a hotel.
We arrived late one evening, tired by the final leg of our journey — the four-hour flight from Miami. I cannot remember the last time that we were received with such warmth and sincere hospitality. We were shown up to our Plaza View Suite (#25), one of three that commands a compelling view of the animated main square. Its décor was in the style of a grand Spanish mansion. Heavy wooden furniture, tapestries and a color scheme of gold and autumnal browns all contributed to a patrician atmosphere. The traditional elegance of the main salon was augmented by complimentary Wi-Fi and English-language cable televi-sion, while the well-appointed marble bath came with both a strong walk-in shower and a small Jacuzzi.
The hotel offers La Belle Epoque for French and international cuisine, and the Café Plaza Grande, lo-cated on the ground floor with windows overlooking the square. The latter specializes in Ecuadorian dishes such as ceviche, suckling pig and a delicious hanger steak served with avocado and salsa. And its local breakfast and hot chocolate both enjoy justified renown. The hotel’s other amenity is a small spa.
Alas, our stay at the Plaza Grande was all too short. With just 15 suites, it is a perfect size, so that you soon get to know everyone and everyone gets to know you.It is a property that manages to be both ele-gant and warmhearted.
Hotel Plaza Grande Royal Suite, $550; Plaza View Suite, $650. Calle García Moreno N5-16 y Chile, Quito. Tel. (593) 22-566497.