Antigua reveals Guatemala charm

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ANTIGUA, Guatemala -- Antigua has many claims to fame: as the first Spanish settlement in Guatemala in the 15th century, later as the resplendent capital of all Central America, and, jumping to 1979, as a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Antigua also has had its down times as well, particularly in 1733 when a severe earthquake caused a great deal of damage to its churches and convents, government buildings and private villas.

Spain ordered the capital moved to Guatemala City, 25 miles away, leaving Antigua to slumber in its graceful ruins until its rediscovery by historians and architecture buffs in the 1920s.

Nowadays, the beautiful colonial town has undergone an extensive and well-supervised restoration and renaissance, and buying up and living in historical mansions has become all the rage with wealthy Guatemalans as well as upscale North Americans and Europeans.

While most restored colonial homes serve as family residences, the good news for the rest of us is the conversion of a bevy of traditional mansions to bed-and-breakfasts.

Included among those new properties are some real showstoppers.

Travel agents should consider this quartet of colonial casas for a more distinguished clientele; all rates at the inns include breakfast:

The inn crowd

• Posada del Angel: Opened six years ago, this colonial inn is the creation of American-born Mary Sue Morris.

Morris has fashioned five elegant suites, each with a large private bath, wood-burning fireplace and remote control cable TV.

Four suites (named after colors) are on the ground floor just a few steps from the lap pool, and the big Rose master suite is upstairs; President Clinton stayed here in a room with a terrace and views of three towering volcanoes.

The Posada del Angel was opened just six years ago by U.S. native Mary Sue Morris. The inn has a salon full of magazines, cards and games, and a well-stocked library. The service is caring, and this is a truly angelic place to be. Double room rates are $150; the master suite is priced at $200.

• Casa de los Suenos: The name means "House of Dreams," and this impressive colonial mansion has six elegant rooms, decorated with local furnishings and handwoven bedspreads, as well one junior suite and a master suite.

Private bath, cable TV and direct-dial phone are standard amenities. Public rooms are large and welcoming, and breakfast is served by the pool. Double room rates range from $85 to $95.

• Casa de los Cantaros: Built in 1597 around a lush patio, the inn has three guest rooms, each with private bath.

The room to reserve is on the second floor above the gardens, featuring a view of Volcano Agua, although rooftop terraces welcome everyone.

Although the guest rooms are not particularly spacious, the public rooms, full of colonial antiques, are. Double room rates range from $79 to $104.

• Casa Capuchinas: A comfortable, colonial-style house with rooms decorated in local handicrafts and plants, the inn has five spacious guest rooms equipped with TV, direct phone and modern baths.

The terraces and gardens are lovely, and the location is historically fitting -- in front of the ruins of the convent of Las Capuchinas.

The double room rate is $85, and here's a thought for families and friends -- take the whole hotel for $325 a day.

The owners occupy one colonial house well worth visiting, the Casa Popenoe, a 17th century grand mansion restored by an American couple in the 1930s.

Old floor tiles, wooden ceilings and period furniture fill the rooms of the building, which is laid out around flowering patios and several fountains. Visiting hours are 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. daily except Sunday.

Inn accommodations usually are not included in tour operator packages but are available on request.

A Ladatco Tours brand called Pampered Adventures features boutique hotels and inns on its seven-night tour to Guatemala City, Lake Atitlan and Antigua.

The inclusive program also includes a private car and driver. The cost is about $2,400.

Shopper's paradise

Shopping in Antigua is a major attraction, and Posada del Angel's Morris shares with her guests these top-flight boutiques, especially those featuring home accessories.

All listed here are opened daily, except as noted:

• Cereia "Evelia del Pinal": A candle shop founded in the last century and turned into a decorative candle factory in 1956. At 6A Calle Poniente, No. 29. (Closed Sundays.)

• Colibri: Good selection and quality of placemats, napkins and clothing. At 4A Calle Oriente, No. 3.

• Textura: Rugs, hammocks, pillows and fabrics. At 5A Avenida Norte No. 38.

• Loom Tree-El Telar: Bed covers, tablecloths, napkins, rugs and pillows. At 5A Avenida Sur No. 7.

• Nim P'ot: Excellent collection of old huipiles (traditional, embroidered blouses) and native weavings.

In the old Cofino Garage on 5th Avenida near the Arch of Santa Catalina.

• Casa de Artes: A museum-like store with items such as old weaving and musical instruments.

For additional information on Guatemala, visit the Web at www.guatemalatravel.com.gt.

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