Northwest of Mexico City lie ranges of gnarled, humpy but starkly beautiful hills. Here, and in the bountiful valleys of the Bajío, Spanish colonists built fortunes from the mining of precious metals, especially silver. Prosperous towns sprang up which share a heritage of baroque churches, leafy squares and pastel-washed houses. Each has its own character: the university town Guanajuato, 2,000m, built in a narrow gorge, is a centre for music, theatre and dance, while the homely yet international little town of San Miguel de Allende, 1,900m, is a magnet for artists. Morelia, 1,920m, shows off some of the grandest monumental colonial architecture, and Querétaro, 1,820m, is renowned for its impressive colonial aqueduct.
Just an hour's drive south of Mexico City is Puebla, 2,135m, a large city with an imposing colonial core reflecting its importance as a trading post during the era of the Spanish Empire. It's a great base for visits to the indigenous towns of Cholula and Tlaxcala.