La Amalia’s rich history stretches back to 1888, when it was founded by Amalia Madriñan Vasquez and her husband, Jose Ignacio de Marquez Vasquez, the grandson of Colombia’s second elected president. Steeped in history, the farm has played a vital role in the construction of Colombia’s reputation for growing the world’s best coffee.
Raised in Popayan – to the south of Colombia, Hacienda La Amalia’s eponymous owner, Amalia Madriñan Vasquez, was the grand-daughter of Spanish immigrants. Jose Ignacio de Marquez Vasquez, belonged to one of the most powerful families in Medellin and Colombia.
Widowed at the turn of the 20th century and with five children to take care of, Amalia’s life and that of the farm was only just beginning to take shape.
Through perseverance and a fearless attitude to the challenges of life Amalia managed to expand the fledgling coffee plantation she inherited from her husband from one with 40,000 coffee trees, into one of the largest and most profitable coffee farms in Colombia.
By the time she died, the plantation had grown to 500,000 trees and grown into an enterprise that printed its own form of money, “taros” and one of the most important exporters of Colombian coffee to Europe.
In the most difficult times in the immediate aftermath of her husband’s death, Amalia, would work as a seamstress, sowing underwear in the evenings to be able to raise the money she needed to buy elements for the farm.
As she built up her coffee empire Amalia oversaw every aspect of the business from the plant ing and harvesting to transporting up to 12,500 kilos of coffee to the markets of Europe on a gruelling, three-month round-trip to sell the farm’s best beans to buyers in Holland and Germany.
As many as a 100 mules would take Amalia and her cargo on the three-day journey over the rugged, mountainous terrain between the farm to Puerto Berrio, a lawless town on the banks of the River Magdalena. Here the coffee would be loaded onto the paddle steamers that plied the River Magdalena, Colombia’s most important waterway.
The sweltering, five-day voyage took Amalia to the steamy port of Barranquilla where her coffee would be readied to be shipped on freighters to the end destination of Amsterdam and Hamburg. In total, the voyage would have taken up to two months.
Flush with the fruits of her hard work on the return voyage Amalia would pack her luggage with the affluent, Art Nouveau trimmings of life in 1920s Europe – crystal chandeliers, decorative ceramics, porcelain sculptures, French furniture, silks and lace to adorn the family home in Medellin.
Like many of Colombia’s elite families of the time, Amalia was drawn to the seductive charms of the Belle Epoque, a golden era of peace, prosperity and the cultural innovations coming from the French capital.
Amalia and her family upped sticks and moved to Paris, where they reveled in a world of impressionism, Art Nouveau, cabaret, can-can and cinema, a stark contrast to the fiercely traditional rural surrounds of turn-of-the-century Medellin and Antioquia.
The family returned to the farm in Colombia in 1933 as the fears of war once again began to raise their ugly head in Europe. By the time Amalia died, the farm had become one of Colombia’s most prized coffee plantations.
It continued to produce coffee until it was eventually broken up by the agrarian reform of the1960s. With this much of the land was handed over to Colombian smallholders who had lived on the land but failed to keep up production.
In the violence of the late 21st century, the farm lost a great deal of its former glory but her daughter (also named Amalia), who had returned to Colombia to marry a Russian émigré Michel Rabinovich and her family maintained the farm’s heritage until the founder’s great grandson Michael Robyn sold the privileged property to American entrepreneur Marcello Arrambide in 2017.