Mexico

Colonial Gems

written by | Posted on October 1st, 2009

Some of Mexico’s best luxury vacations are hundreds of years in the making.

There’s luxury, and then there’s colonial luxury: an experience where culture and uplifting surroundings play as big a role in a vacation as a room butler or a fine 5-course meal.

Authenticity is a key component and luckily Mexico has that in spades—so many remnants of the country’s time under Spanish rule. Here are three options for a luxe retreat into another era.

classic chic Colonial properties in Mexico, even those dripping with luxury, are often less glaring than a huge bells-and-whistles property. These hotels soak up their atmosphere and offer it as part of their hospitality. Villa Maria Cristina is one such place, representative of the enchanting city, Guanajuato, that embraces it.

Amid tile motifs, quiet patios ideal for a cool drink and wrought ironwork, guests of Villa Maria Cristina find themselves worlds away from their own life. The boutique hotel has a spa with a Roman-style sunken pool and delicious treatments such as a Healing Ocean Stone Massage, and a full wine cellar where you can choose a fine bottle to go with dinner at onsite Teresita Restaurant. The property also has a wonderful location, a leisurely walk to downtown Guanajuato.

The city is one of Mexico’s finest in terms of historical beauty, with baroque churches and neoclassical buildings, dozens of plazas and mansions dating back a few hundred years. Once mostly known for its Mummy Museum, the city has quite a few other cultural spaces, including the childhood home of artist Diego Rivera and the Alhondiga de Granaditas Museum, once a Spanish fortress. Along the riverbed of the Guanajuato River, visitors can walk along Miguel Hidalgo Street, which really is actually underground.

whirlwind high living Artisans of Leisure takes clients to Mexico’s Colonial Heartland—priced at $9,820 pp dbl—for 14 days of cultural immersion and nonstop luxury. The private tour begins in Mexico City, where they visit the best museums, markets and art galleries. They’ll also get the opportunity to take a private canal cruise along the floating gardens of Xochimilco, once the Aztecs’ agricultural center, and visit the pyramids of Teotihuacan. They’ll then stop in beautiful Queretaro on their way to San Miguel de Allende, filled with striking colonial structures; shoppers will find any number of fine crafts stores as well as the Artisans Market, which is a more casual spot filled with kiosks. While in San Miguel de Allende, clients will take a day-long excursion to Guanajuato. Then it’s off to spend two nights in Zacatecas but not before stopping in Dolores Hidalgo, one of Mexico’s “Magical Towns.” In Zacatecas, a former mining hub, they’ll get to enjoy the city’s pink limestone buildings from a cable car. After this there’ll be a private tour of Morelia and a sampling of its approximately 1,000 historic sites, such as the 17th century Government Palace and its impressive aqueduct. The last two nights are spent in Guadalajara, where they can explore the historic center, dance to a mariachi band at Plaza Tapatia and do quite a bit of damage shopping for pottery and other crafts in nearby Tlaquepaque and Tonala.

Of course, touring with Artisans of Leisure means staying at the best hotels in each destination, such as the Four Seasons Mexico DF, right on Paseo la Reforma, where thick terry robes keep guests warm on cool capital nights; Quinta Real Zacatecas, which is built right into the grandstand of a 19th century bullfighting ring and where clients are welcomed with a glass of sparking wine, and sister property Quinta Real Guadalajara. In San Miguel de Allende they’ll stay at Casa de Sierra Nevada, just a block and a half away from the town’s main square, the landmark, neo-gothic Parish of Archangel San Miguel (made of pink stone with neoclassic interiors) and lots of shops and restaurants. Casa de Sierra Nevada is composed of small buildings from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries and now has the Laja Spa offering customized treatments and spa cuisine served in the terrace. Each room has its own character—clients might get curved ceilings and quarry stone fireplaces in their room, Talavera tiles and pounded copper bathtubs in their bathroom. In Morelia, they’ll spend three nights in Villa Montaña—a gorgeous hotel with great views of the city, beautiful antiques and artwork throughout the property and a fireplace in each of its 36 rooms.