Have you ever thought of eating your way through an entire valley bursting with grapes, tomatoes and olives, and one located in one of the most picturesque regions of Colombia? If you have an appetite for traditional cooking and find yourself in a place the Spanish viceroys enjoyed as their 17th Century spa, the Villa de Leyva based tourism operators Territorios Creativos have created an experience that is as much about food as it is about safeguarding a cultural narrative.
With a start-up grant from the Ministry of Culture’s creative industries program Crea Colombia, Territorios Creativos was established last year to offer excursions throughout the Alto Ricaurte region, whose architectural cornerstone is Villa de Leyva. And even though you’ll be wined and dined within this colonial enclave, expect to do plenty of walking through orchards, cactus groves and along the cobblestone streets of an endearing town.
The three-hour trip from Bogotá to Villa de Leyva crosses the Cundinamarca – Boyacá border near the Independence battlefield of Puente de Boyacá, and once in this agriculturally rich department, the road descends into the lunar landscape of the Candelaria desert, one of the most striking features of the Alto Ricaurte. While Villa de Leyva sits in a paleontological dust bowl, the tour Cocinas divinas, comidas profanas, takes visitors to adjoining valleys that are hard to access given the dirt roads and routes that only the experienced guides know how to navigate.
After checking-in to a hotel just blocks from Villa de Leyva’s stunning central square, the tour begins with an evening walk through the back streets of the town, accompanied by ruana-clad troubadours playing the six-string guitar. On this walk, guests are given a very different take on what kind of people lived in Villa de Leyva during colonial days, from bandits to bawdy priests, and a bootlegger who caught his wife in fraganti and took an ax to her lover. The old mill, where the fermented maize chicha was produced, still stands, located steps from the monastery. Along the walk, the company’s artistic producer and co-founder Daniel Rincón spins off a different tale of a town steeped in bone-chilling anecdotes that only an insider could know.
As Pancracio, the character of musician Jorge Bolívar, plays his carranga repertoire and bids farewell under the moonlight, Rincón and the company’s director Ilona Murcia lead us to one of Villa de Leyva’s most recommended restaurants: Chéz Remy of chef and proprietor Remy Villers. With a menu of traditional French fare, including the house specialty Beef Bourguignon, Remy’s kitchen combines locally grown ingredients with impeccable technique. After a round of red wine to clear the last scalloped potatoes from the plate, the tour dissipates into the night, leaving behind the Calle Caliente or commercial street that leads to the main plaza, which is considered to be one of the most beautiful in the country.
An early rise to the crowing of roosters and our bus departs to Sáchica where we are welcomed by Amanda Vaca of La Pompasola farm. In the sun-baked landscape of La Candelaria desert, Doña Amanda serves us a platter of the region’s corn delicacy – arepa de chócolo – after transporting us deep into Muisca culture by sharing an earthenware bowl of flame-broiled chicha. As the ancestral drink of Boyacá’s pre-Hispanic peoples, this maize-based brew has not evolved much over centuries, an acquired taste for many that is somewhat refreshing in this rustic homestead. After strolling the grounds, or kicking back in a hammock under the shade of a wild pomegranate tree, our next stop is the ancient Muisca Solar Observatory – popularly known as El Infiernito (Little Hell), a term some consider demeaning given the Chibcha astronomic legacy.
As an infernal heat consumes the final hours of the morning, guide Ángela Sanabria explains the significance of a sacred site where dozens of stone carved phalluses still stand aligned with the Earth’s solstices, while others are strewn or buried in the ground. The tour lasts an hour with insightful explanations of Muisca cosmology, the importance of the equinox for harvesting, and fertility rites that were ideologically exterminated by the conquistadores. Downing crates of bottled water to hydrate and adding extra layers of sunblock to protect against the high altitude rays, the tour once more gains momentum with a 30-minute trip road to one of the most secluded valleys of the Ricaurte Province, Valle Escondido.
Graced by a gentle breeze and cold stream, the fluorescent green valley of Escondido is the stunning location for an ancient mill protected by bearded willow trees. The estate El Molino de la Primavera was one of dozens of mills scattered across this territory that ground wheat for the new Republic, and visitors can now stroll the grounds and explore the 18th-century millstone, part of a small collection of museum artifacts.
With their slogan “Let’s eat history,” Territorios Creativos offers visitors an immersion in community-inspired tourism. As we leave one valley, swerving gullies and crater-sized potholes, we reach our final destination to enjoy a traditional pastime known as piquete boyacence. Our picnic lunch of yucca, potatoes and boiled hen is accompanied by a musical interlude by the Carrangueros who performed for us on the streets of Villa de Leyva the night before. And for dessert, a handful of besos de novia, a dry sugar-coated spongecake, individually wrapped with different color papers, typical of a region that takes pride in its sweets and lyrical innuendos.
From chasing unrequited spirits with the tour Los espiritus románticos, to learning about Muisca legends with Un viaje en el tiempo, Territorios Creativos looks to familiarize visitors with Villa de Leyva’s close-knit community of artisans, cooks and shopkeepers; because to revive stories from the past, one must enjoy, and taste, the present.
WHEN IN VILLA DE LEYVA:
The French restaurant Chez Remy by namesake Remy Villers is a must when visiting Villa de Leyva. From a cave with fine wines to signature dishes, Chez Remy is a culinary home away from home. Cra.9 No.13-25
For homemade cakes, pastries, and coffee, Matilde Blain Repostería En Casa. Calle 14 No.9- 83. Owners Jorge Escobar and Matilde Blain bake decadent brownies and cakes. Enjoy the courtyard and, if you can, the savory clandestine dinners they organize during the year.
Visit Tienda Feroz, a gallery and design store that showcases an eclectic selection of local artists’ works, including those of Carolina Restrepo’s glazed ceramics. Cra 8 No.11 – 32
Solar de las Marquesas in Calle Caliente is a store that sells affordable yet interesting artwork (paintings and sculptures) by local artists, as well as women’s apparel. Cra 9 No.13-77.
Creative Territories: 316 7415245 / www.territorioscreativos.com