Meson Panza Verde

South of Plaza, Antigua, Guatemala Book from US$85

Reviewed by Nadine Mellor
A classy and romantic little hotel, brimming with Spanish and Cuban colonial antiques, and just 4 blocks from the main plaza
For 20 years this was Antigua's premier restaurant, with just 4 guest rooms, until owners Bruce McCowan and Laurel Jacobson extended Meson Panza Verde into the next-door property, creating 12 imaginative suites and rooms. They incorporated hand-crafted furnishings, private patios floating with water lilies, a domed roof in the bathroom, and a fountain-fed lap pool at its centre.

This is a world of sumptuous colonial elegance shot through with contemporary verve. Expect Cuban antiques, panoramic terraces, bougainvillea-draped verandas, twisting staircases, turn-of-the-century chandeliers, Laurel-designed resin patterns, vintage porcelain and tiles. There are fresh flowers and Guatemalan textiles in your room; regular yoga and classes upstairs in the Panza Verde art gallery. Live music plays 6 nights a week, and the fine restaurant and music salon host everybody who's anybody. It's the heart of Antigua's vibrant social and cultural scene.

Highs

  • Uniquely styled colonial Spanish and Cuban interior with wonderful furnishings and architectural features
  • Opulent, individual and well-appointed suites
  • Destination restaurant and 2 cosy bars
  • Narrow lap pool, lush inner courtyard and charming roof terraces
  • Reception desk with bilingual staff, and a small office where guests can access free internet
  • It's close to the main plaza and Antigua's rich heritage

Lows

  • The restaurant can be the all-consuming focus on busy evenings - to the detriment of hotel guests
  • The plunge pool is narrow and more of a decorative feature than anything else
  • The bustling vibe may not suit everybody - and the smaller rooms just off the restaurant can be noisy at night (live music Wed-Fri)

Best time to go

Antigua has a very pleasant climate all year round, as it's 1500m above sea level. Cooler temperatures and fresh air provide some respite in the rainy season; in high season expect warmer days with mild evenings, and little humidity. You'll need to book well in advance for Semana Santa (Easter week) and the Christmas and New Year peak seasons.

Our top tips

Take time to look round the hotel's 2 art galleries - the Cupola Gallery, showcasing owner Laurel's art, and the Panza Verde Gallery, which has a new exhibition every month. If you're here on the second Wednesday of every month you can join the cheese and wine evening held in the latter.

Great for...

City Style
Foodie
Honeymoon
Wedding
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Boutique Hotel
  • 12
  • Restaurant and bar (open daily)
  • Over 15s only
  • Open all year
  • Plunge Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
Room:

Rooms

Extensions and refurbishments have seen the creation of spacious rooms and suites, all on a lavish scale, and packed with eclectic details. Most are on the upper floor, some reached by a staircase at the back of the courtyard restaurant, others by stairs past the pool. Bathrooms are large, with striking porcelain in black, brown or orange; some have Jacuzzis. The French wrought-iron beds are delightfully comfy, and the walls are both faded and rich - sepia, pale greens, streaked terracotta, burnt ochre or cracked claret on polished plaster.

Room 12 is the most impressive. Formerly the owners' apartment, it features a large living room with a fireplace and a second smaller bedroom overlooking the pool. Spacious rooms 10 and 11 delight with their Spanish balconies and double bathtubs, as well as showers in bathrooms big enough to house a family. Rooms 8 and 9 are also large, with ornate fireplaces, splendid bathrooms, and private patios with fountains and water lilies.

The honeymoon suite (room 7) is above the restaurant, with its own staircase, a double Jacuzzi and a private balcony. Rooms 5 and 6 have queensize beds, plus hammocks on their first-floor verandas; room 4's unique bathroom is under the cupola, so has a domed roof.

The older rooms (numbers 1-3), on the ground floor off the restaurant, are smaller but good value: comfortable doubles or twins with ensuite bathrooms and signature décor. French windows open out onto the shared walled terrace/courtyard, which leads to the piano bar. These rooms can be noisy on busy nights and are small compared to the others.

All beds have 400 thread count Eqyptian cotton bed linen, and all rooms have soundproof doors and windows, plus cable TV. There's no air-conditioning, nor screens on the windows, but a fan can be provided on request.

Features include:

  • Coffee tea making
  • Extra beds
  • Fireplace
  • Hairdryer
  • Ipod dock
  • Plunge pool
  • Safe box
  • Satellite tv
  • Terrace
  • WiFi
  • Wifi internet

Eating

One of the biggest attractions for guests is Panza Verde, one of the best restaurants in Guatemala, where Swiss-French chef Christophe Pache creates 'international food with a twist' in an elegant setting. Charmingly, the tables are scattered about the ground floor: you can opt for the vaulted dining room, get romantic beside the pool, go alfresco on the verdant, candlelit veranda, or retreat (as we did) to the 'cave', with its round tables and chandeliers. This is also where the live music (Latin or Cuban jazz) is played, next to the piano salon.

We began our evening with a cocktail on the rooftop terrace, while the sun set behind the volcanoes; there are also 2 bars with a vast selection of tequilas, scotch and rum. Our dinner started with the signature beef carpaccio, and asparagus spears simply presented. Delicious mains followed: succulent steak Bourguignon, squid in ink on rice, and the Swiss speciality of sliced pork flambéed in cognac with a mushroom and white wine sauce. There's an extensive wine list, and desserts, coffees and liqueurs to round off the evening.

Start the day with fresh fruit, pancakes, or a traditional Guatemalan breakfast, washed down with juice and coffee, any time between 8 and 10am. There's a Sunday brunch menu served from 10am to 1pm.

If not out on an excursion, you can take lunch from noon until 4pm - light dishes such as fresh Arugula salad or fettucine with vodka, tomato and cream, a fresh fish dish, or chicken in gorgonzola sauce with red peppers and mushrooms.

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Coffee tea making
  • Restaurant
  • Restaurants nearby
  • Room service
  • Vegetarian menu
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Take an architectural tour around fascinating and charming colonial Antigua, once a great Spanish Empire city, with its earthquake-damaged and restored buildings. Don't miss the half-ruined Cathedral of San José and the Palacio de los Capitanes on the Plaza Central, the colonial mansion Casa Popenoe, and beautiful churches such as La Merced, with its intricate mustard yellow facade. There are also ruined convents to explore, including the ornate Santa Clara, the impressive Las Capuchinas and the iconic arch at Santa Catalina

  • Sample the Antiguan languid lifestyle: wander cobbled streets, meander in and out of coffee bars, restaurants and shops, visit art galleries, buy cigars, and browse bookshops

  • Climb Pacaya - the most accessible active volcano in Guatemala is 2 hours away. Book early morning or afternoon tours for stunning close-up views

  • Take the opportunity to learn Spanish - Antigua has dozens of language schools to choose from, and there's a vibrant student community

  • Go shopping - Antigua's market is open daily (best on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturday mornings) and is good for local colour and flowers. Nearby shops sell Mayan textiles, crafts, folk art, home accessories, antiques and furniture

  • Explore the popular Antigua dance scene - clubs open from 7pm (the best nights are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays) and alcohol is sold until 1am. Some bars are themed, some produce excellent cocktails, and all are friendly

  • Treat your body, mind and soul: yoga classes happen 5 times a week at the hotel, there are weekly life drawing classes, and spa treatments can be arranged across the road. Staff can also organise fishing trips, or book tennis sessions at a local club

  • Arrange your onward travel - Antigua is the primary base for Guatemalan adventures and many travel agencies offer deals on onward travel and excursions

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Art classes
  • Cycling
  • Fishing
  • Golf
  • Hiking
  • Historical sites
  • Horse-riding
  • Language courses
  • Museums / galleries
  • Nightlife
  • Plantlife / flora
  • Private guided tours
  • Shopping / markets
  • Swimming
  • Tennis
  • Traditional cultures
  • Yoga

Kids

Although a children's menu is available in the restaurant, only guests over the age of 15 can stay at the hotel. The steep staircases, roof terrace and sophisticated clientele mean it isn't suitable for kids.

Family friendly accommodation:

Extra Beds Available

Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

10/
Rooms
10/
Food
10/
Service
10/
Value
10/
Overall

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Rates for Meson Panza Verde