MEDELLIN, COLOMBIA - Agnes Garcia takes a long sip of her vintage French wine before responding to a question so many others have asked: “Why did you open a hotel in a country and city, both of which have made great strides to clean up their notorious past, but still remain suspect with most international travellers?”
The charming French expat gazes out on the lush tropical garden surrounding her small luxury boutique Hotel Patio del Mundo and the forest of stylish high-rise condos and apartments off in the distance.
“Because I fell in love with all this,” says Garcia. “I’ve travelled the world but find Medellín to be a special place; and Colombians to be special people. It was love at first sight when I came to Medellín.
“Colombia is changing - I want to be a part of that change,” says the hotel owner whose property sits in a trendy Medellín neighbourhood known as El Poblado Provenza.
While some might think Garcia mad for taking such a gamble, she believes Colombia, and especially Medellín - pronounced Medi-jean - are on the cusp of becoming the next “it” destination with world travellers.
“Medellín has really cleaned up its act - the drug cartels are gone and the violence is down dramatically. This is a very liveable city now,” says Garcia, whose family has a background in the hospitality industry.
“I left Argentina and returned to France but was tired of the politics in both places. I made some Colombian friends while in Argentina and was so impressed with them, I knew this is the country where I want to live,” says the woman with the marketing background who immigrated to Colombia in 2012.
Left: Hotel del Mundo in Medellin invites guests to kick back and relax. Right: From the hotel patio, you can see Medellin rising into a global beauty.
Garcia is not alone in believing Colombia has turned the corner on its violent past and offers people a better way of life going forward.
“Many foreigners, including my parents who will be joining me shortly, have decided to retire in Medellín and other parts of the country. Colombia has a very good and affordable health care system and the cost of living here is so much more affordable.
“Many Americans, Canadians and Europeans have moved here,” says Garcia, whose father was born in Spain - “I guess that’s why I feel right at home here” (Colombia was colonized by the Spanish).
The stylish hotel resides in a former house - circa 1970s - which Garcia bought. She then hired a top Colombian design team to transform it into Medellín’s first boutique property.
“We saw this house first and I instantly fell in love with the patio. We looked at many other places, too, but I kept coming back here - mainly because of the patio,” she remembers.
The challenge for the design team - Castro Piedrahita Arquitectos headed by Diana Castro Piedrahita and Alexis Castro - was to create the hotel with the patio being the vocal point of the property. Needless to say, they exceeded expectations.
The two storey hotel, which sits on a Cul de Sac, offers seven personally designed rooms that are themed after some of the countries Garcia has visited.
Above: Guests are greated each morning on the hotel patio with an array of colour.
“The Out of Africa room, because it brings back so many lovely memories of our trip (with her parents) there.” The other themed rooms are Cartagena De Indias, Al-Andalus, India, Bali, Provence and Santa Fé.
The public areas in the hotel are accented in soft tones and native woods. and feature colourful Colombian art. The rooms on the lower level all look out onto the tropical garden that is flush with native fruits, flowers and coffee plants.
Rooms located next to the patio feature small balconies with colourful hammocks. Like neighbouring Panama, Colombians have a fondness for hammocks, which they sleep in and sometimes are even buried in them.
Each of the seven rooms is tastefully decorated, offer lots of modern conveniences like WiFi and the oversized bathrooms are especially inviting.
As impressive as the rooms are, though, it’s the staff at Patio del Mundo (Patio on the World) who really make your stay memorable. Attentiveness is their prime objective and while few of them speak English, they all make you feel like family. Breakfast served on the patio, where you are serenaded by tropical birds, is especially rewarding.
“With more and more English-speaking people visiting Medellín, I’m sure the staff’s English will get much better,” says Garcia, who invites me to tour the hotel’s romantic garden along with her assistant - another French expat named Clémence Nollot.
As we pass a small open-air gazebo, Nollot tells me “we can arrange for guests to have a massage in the garden.”
The winding trail that snakes from the hotel through the garden leads us down a small hill to a secluded area where a steaming hot tub looks so inviting.
Left: The Out of Africa room is one of seven luxy themed rooms at the hotel. Right: Public spaces at Hotel del Mundo are bright and colourful, just like Colombia.
“This is a very popular spot with our younger guests,” smiles Nollot.
Guests returning from a day of touring magical Medellín always seem to gather on the patio and share stories about this complex city that is now a model for the developing world.
Garcia’s well-trained, attentive staff quickly launches into action and drinks are poured and lively conversation and laughter soon fill the garden as sunset approaches.
The most surprising thing about Hotel Patio del Mundo is the room rates - “they start at $158 (Cdn) a night,” Garcia says.
That’s because the hotel and Medellín are the best kept secrets in travel and Colombia is the best value in tourism right now. As its popularity grows, however, prices at Hotel Patio del Mundo will not doubt rise.
Another reason to stay at the chic property is because some of the city’s best restaurants, clubs and bars are within walking distance of the hotel. Michelin-calibre restaurants like Oci, Carmen and El Cielo (they also have a Miami branch) are all excellent choices, and the nightlife in the area rivals that of Miami’s South Beach.
There are many reasons to visit Medellín and Patio del Mundo tops the list - just get there soon because the hotel’s seven rooms will soon become the most sought after in the travel world.
Copa Airlines, a Star Alliance partner and the Colombian airline leader in on-time performance and quality of service, offers flights to Medellin via Panama City from Toronto and Montreal. Copa's Business Class service is becoming one of our favourites and connections are excellent. The airline has a young fleet and services many Latin American destinations. www.copaair.com/en / For more information on Patio del Mundo, visit their website at www.patiodelmundo.com/en/ and instagram @patiodelmundo Room rates start at $158 Cdn to $244 in high season.