Chilean Artist, illustrator and writer Elisa Assler stands in the bright, high-ceilinged reception room of hotel Cirilo Armstrong, her long red hair wrapped in a rainbow scarf, new-born baby Olympia holstered bohemian-style at her hip.
Photo by Charlie Mountford
Assler’s hotel is the place to come if you want to tap in to the artistic heart of enchanting, ram-shackle Valparaiso. Not just a striking hotel, the main sala at Cirilo Armstrong is a thriving cultural space, and Assler plans to host a dizzying range of artsy, intellectual events here over the coming years.
From newspaper meetings to art exhibitions, film festivals and screenings, concerts, dance classes, symposiums-- even weddings. All played out in the intimate, modern setting of the airy sala. “There are other conference-type rooms in the hills,” says Assler, “But all are boring and empty, not like this.”
The feel of the sala, like the rest of the hotel, is minimalist but comfortable and she is correct-- definitely not boring. Huge, floor-to-ceiling windows let in the light and the high hillside views, so the dark polished concrete floors (stained a rich gray) and plum-gray walls never feel dour. Everywhere you look, crisp lines, light and space prevail.
The hotel was designed by Assler’s husband, architect Joaquín Velasco (Son of notable Chilean architect Joaquin Maria Velasco Pinto). Velasco wanted to remain true to the hills around the hotel, using materials emblematic of the city- like corrugated tin external walls- surprisingly pretty on the front of the hotel, as on all the painted houses in Valpo.
Velasco also used Pino Oregón wood (Douglas Fir) throughout Cirilo Armstrong, in the vast timbered window frames and smaller door frames, the slender wooden pillars and long, thick wooden bar in the sala. Its bright grain shines out against the darker walls and floors.
“The wood has all been recycled and rescued from burned down buildings in Valparaiso,” says Assler, “It arrives blackened, and we clean it. This is the only way to get this old Pino Oregón- it came from the USA years ago, and is impervious to termites.”
The results are impressive, the wood is heavy and golden; you can imagine it withstanding the heat of a thousand flames. Handy, because away from the smarter areas of Cerro Conception and Alegre where hotel Cirilo Armstrong is situated, Valpo is prone to the odd fire. Poor electricity- sometimes even arson- is responsible. Selling the burnt wood on to new buildings is an industry in itself here, one of many quirks of this old port-city.
Antique ex-kindling aside, all other materials and furniture in the hotel come from Chile, down to the tables (made by a designer friend) and the chairs (an artisan carpenter in Santiago).
All this meticulous design, attention to art and the sala, make Cirilo Armstrong almost more of a small vibrant community than a hotel. You could spend weeks living in one of the eleven rooms-slash-studio apartments, and some do. Currently Assler has one rented out for a month, though many guests are more conventional, staying just for the night or a weekend.
The rooms are all split-level, self-contained apartments complete with kitchenettes, sleeping between two and four comfortably. Most have balconies; all have vast glass windows and sweeping views of Valparaiso’s colourful hills.
Art and design are reflected in all the spaces inside the Cirilo Armstrong. This is not surprising perhaps, considering the artistic legacy of Assler and Velasco’s families. Their parents are all artists, architects or both.
Assler’s father- who part funded the hotel- is famous Chilean sculptor Federico Assler. Some of his work can be seen at the hotel. “I was in denial as a child,” says Assler, “It’s tough growing up with a famous dad- I wanted to be my own person. I even changed my name for a year at university!”
Years later however she has more than accepted her fate and is justifiably proud of her father, displaying one of the books on his work -a heavy hardback- on the table next to her own published children’s books and illustrations. She points to her book ‘Tristan’, about the emotions enveloping pregnancy and birth, beautifully illustrated for children and adults (Available on www.elisaassler.com). Her books sit next to an intricate shirt she has sewed and embroidered, and her large graphite drawings, all quirky, mysterious and fantastical.
With art hardwired into them in this way, just owning a hotel was clearly not enough for Assler and Velasco. Using the lovely sala for artistic and cultural events means they can really contribute to the art community in Valparaiso- opening it up to tourists and locals alike.
Assler plans a jam-packed schedule of events for the sala in the coming months, and these are sure to be diverse since she is full of surprises herself, “I once built a house in France,” she throws in casually, “then illustrated a book about it.”
Cirilo Armstrong is open, oozing art all year round, located in the middle of Valpo’s prettiest hill Cerro Alegre. This hotel and its location will have even the most uncreative visitor feeling like an artisan in minutes, without a doubt.
Cirilo Armstrong Hotel
Escalera (Staircase) Cirilo Armstrong 12
(Just off calle Capilla)
Rates for the hotel: From $CP47,000 ($US 73) upwards
Discounts available in winter (July and August)