MonteSuenos is my new favourite place. I was just set to leave Vilcabamba, this little sacred valley in Ecuador close to the border with Peru when I discovered this fairy grotto, princess palace of a guest house named appropriately enough... Mountain of dreams.
Three weeks later and so far I’ve managed to haul myself away for 3 days, returning for my birthday because I could honestly think of nowhere prettier in the world I’d rather spend my 40th.
A guest house and artist studio designed, built and created by the artist Meredith Miller and her late husband the NASA astronaut, physicist and lecturer Brian Leary, this magic kingdom manages to combine all of my favourites fairy tales in one, part Wonderland, part Secret Garden and part Neverland - this is childhood dreamscape that doesn't want to grow up.
A 10 minute taxi ride out of the sleepy town of Vilcabamba and up a winding road high into the hills, MonteSuenos is surrounded by the mountains and the incredible, restorative energy of the Andes. The three houses and its gardens are one big organic explosion, one long love song to Pacha Mama / Mother Nature.
Soft, feminine, undulating lines make up the buildings, the walls are painted baby pink and interspersed with higgledy piggledy Incan stlyle stones. Winding spiral staircases curl up fairy cottage turrets complete with mushroom shaped rooves that glint with mirrored mosaic under the sunlight.
Meredith still makes art from a studio in the main house - great, magical trails of feminine forms that drape out of the canvases in glittery swirls and are embedded with soil from the sacred sites of the Andes and the healing vibration of crystals from the area. Like her art, nature curves its way inside and out of the houses. The gold, dappled trunks of Eucalyptus trees form latticed walls and beams to support the rooves. Slate hewn from the mountainside mosaics the floor. Crystals, dream catchers and huge hunks of drift wood are used to decorate inside and out . Straw roofed huts puntucate the winding path up to the top of the mountain and there are hammocks aplenty with space for dining alfresco in the gardens.
The natural elements come into their own in these surroundings, an open fire burns in the living room of the main house on chilly mornings, and there are bonfire pits outside to keep cosy whilst shooting star gazing at nightime. A rushing waterfall has been built deep into the mountainside and decorated with moss and ferns and a stone seated amphitheatre used for movie nights and events overlooks the hillsides.
The flower beds are immaculately maintained yet retain the soft, tendrily overflowing feel of a Secret Garden waiting to be discovered, splashes of bright orange marigolds, bright yellow trumpets and the scent of jasmine and wild roses attract butterflies, bees and humming birds.
Meredith had no experience in architecture when it came to designing Montesuenos, which she did wtih the help of her husband and an Ecuadorean team of workers. And even more brilliantly she had no plan either for how it should look. The outcome is the explosion of her following her creative instinct and letting the building evolve naturally. Something she calls Organic Architecture.
As the daughter of an architect and someone who spent many years working in property marketing, I spent countless hours poring over blue prints, master plans and checking the dimensions on floor plans of some of the largest projects in London. Yet I can't describe how happy it makes me to be in a building that required none of the above, and was allowed to grow naturally and indeed, organically out of the imagination of this remarkable artist.
There’s a lesson in here too for me, about surrender. What's possible when we give up control and trying to follow our own plan and instead let life lead us where it will, and accept that the universe might have something bigger in mind. Sometimes the force and flourish of that creative spark has the energy to create something of a scope and scale we could never have begun to imagine for ourselves, not in our wildest dreams.
Rooms start at $25 per night with a 3 night minimum stay and includes a healthy breakfast of fruit, granola, yoghurt and eggs. There is a communal kitchen with free tea and coffee if guests wish to cook.