The historic centre of Cartagena, Colombia, was once an arena for gold-hungry pirates and Spanish conquistadors. Today, the jewel of Colombia’s Caribbean coast drips with enough music, colour, and colonial architecture to give Havana a run for its money. Founded in 1533 as one of the most important Spanish ports of America, the old town and fortress form a UNESCO World Heritage Site bursting with life. As for its ghosts, you’ll likely find them salsa dancing under the cloisters of the walled city’s most luxurious hotel.
Sofitel Legend Santa Clara Cartagena is housed inside a former nunnery dating back to 1621. While the nuns of the order of Saint Clare are long gone, they left behind a building steeped in history. Confessionals, hidden doorways, and a candle-lit marble chapel are just a few of the priory features to survive the final pirate raid. Fast forward a few centuries and you’ll find a property with tales that run as deep as its crypts—the most famous one involving author Gabriel García Márquez and a 200-year-old redheaded corpse. Márquez was visiting the site as a reporter in the 1990s when he witnessed the emptying of the tombs, including the remains of a woman said to have 22 metres of flowing ginger hair. The encounter inspired him to pen his novel Of Love and Other Demons. That same crypt now sits within the hotel’s El Coro Lounge Bar, where movers and shakers gather over live music, art exhibitions, and craft cocktails.
The Legend collection is a distinction granted to select hotels with historical significance and luxury amenities including a 24-hour butler service, in-house sommelier, and concierge.
It took a three-year restoration (and some bolstering of Colombia’s reputation) for the hotel to become a hot spot among luxury travellers. A lot has changed since it first opened its doors in 1995, and even more so in recent years. According to statistics from Colombia’s trade ministry, tourism in the country has increased over 250 per cent since 2006 and is only continuing to grow, with Cartagena nabbing a top spot among the most-visited destinations.
Santa Clara has tapped into the trend by creating a link between Colombian culture and the French savoir faire long associated with the Sofitel brand. A mix of local art and sleek furnishings fill its 123 contemporary and colonial-style rooms, some which offer views of the pool (the largest in Cartagena) while others overlook the shimmering Caribbean Sea. Four newly designed Iconic Suites pay homage to leading Colombian artists Fernando Botero, Ana Mercedes Hoyos, Olga and Jim Amaral, and Enrique Grau Araujo.
For the Botero suite, Sofitel enlisted the help of the artist Botero’s daughter, interior designer Lina Botero. Working closely with architects Gustavo Pinto and Sergio Castaño, Botero created a sleek oasis filled with family photographs and her father’s iconic works.
Only five of Sofitel’s properties are part of the Legend collection, a distinction granted to select hotels with historical significance and luxury amenities including a 24-hour butler service, in-house sommelier, and concierge. Rounding out the staff is the abode’s resident toucan who occupies the lush courtyard. Notable habitués such as Mel Gibson, Shakira, Paul McCartney, and Bill Gates have passed under the majestic archways. Perhaps one of the most enthused guests was Juan Carlos I, the former king of Spain, who declared, “I live in a regular house but this is a palace” during his stay. Whether the nuns would approve of the convent’s royal transformation is a mystery, but like so many things in Cartagena, the enigmatic past is part of the magic.
Sofitel Legend Santa Clara Cartagena, Cra. 8 #3929, Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia.
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