A labor of love: The Gallery Inn at Galeria San Juan
Tucked away among the rows of Spanish colonial buildings in Old San Juan is this gem of a domicile called the Gallery Inn at Galeria San Juan. This 17th-century inn along the northern seawall of Old San Juan, with majestic views of the Atlantic, is, perhaps, the main reason I return to Puerto Rico.
I can’t come to grips with calling this place by its new name, because my wife and I fondly remember it by its original name, the Galeria San Juan. The Galeria is where we spent our first few nights as newlyweds eighteen years ago. With an appetite for discovery, the Galeria sucked us in from the moment we walked through its discreet front gate on Calle Norzagaray.
The chatter of tropical birds in the lush main courtyard greets guests. In fact, within the enclave of this 23,000-square-foot colonial mansion are other verdant interior gardens with trickling fountains, brick patios with life-size bronze busts, open living spaces with hanging tapestries, bookshelves filled with colonial artifacts and breathtaking terraces overlooking the rooftops that fill the scenic landscape of Old San Juan.
The Gallery Inn is labor of love by renowned Puerto Rican sculptor/painter Jan D’Esopo and her equestrian husband, Manuco Gandia. They intricately started renovating the inn in 1961 without pause. The inn is a constant open canvas for Jan. Her artwork, along with their collection of other art pieces, intentionally and meticulously fills every corner of the inn.
The rooms at the Gallery Inn are true extensions of Jan’s creativity as an artist and her knack for transforming rooms into memorable destinations. There are five categories of rooms, ranging from the Artist Rooms with full-sized beds and interior courtyard views to Family Rooms with one queen bed, double bed, parlor and balcony, to the Top-Side Suites with sweeping views of the water and city below.
My wife and I have probably stayed in every room category in the years that we lived in the Caribbean. Each room has its distinct character, and regardless of size, offers memorable spaces for its residents. We stayed in an Artist room during our honeymoon; however, our return visits have awarded us upgrades to the nicest suites.
Jan has added more features and amenities to the Inn since my visit in 2000. An open kitchen and intimate dining room have been installed in the back part of the inn to accommodate guests for breakfasts and cocktails.
There is the Orchid Garden, with its wall of hanging orchids and clusters of tables and chairs, that makes for a wonderful setting for reading and conversing. Down below from the garden, is the outdoor gazebo with a day bed, more garden seating, and an intimate swimming pool decorated with sculptures and foliage. The gazebo makes for an idyllic setting for a wedding ceremony or a romantic evening under the Caribbean stars.
There is nightly dining at the Gallery Inn located in the Cannon Club room next to the pool. If you time it perfectly, you may catch a small concert at the Inn’s Venetian-style Music Room or a hosted wine tasting on the wine deck.
A 7-minute walk down from the Inn is the Beach Shack. The Beach Shack makes for a truly unique experience while sipping a cup of coffee at sunrise or a glass of wine while witnessing Puerto Rico’s famed sunsets. Crashing waves descend upon the rocky shores while San Juan’s old cemetery lies quietly next-door.
While the Gallery Inn caters to the whims of those used to comforts of four-star surroundings, one must be reminded that it is also a 300-year-old home. Guests may find little imperfections here or there, but that’s the unique nature of the Inn. It is not conducive to the high-maintenance types.
On my most recent visit earlier this year, Jan was gracious enough to upgrade my accommodations to the Sebastian Suite. The suite has a spacious floor plan and a majestic four-poster bed that lies beneath the murmur of the ceiling fans above. In fact, this is the same suite President Obama stayed in during his visit to Puerto Rico in 2011.
Well, if the Gallery Inn suits the President of the United States, then it is certainly good enough for me.