In a piece first published in the Times, Bess Twiston Davies takes the inland route through Mexico's colonial cities.
A vigorous blast of Las Mañanitas, the birthday song supposedly sung by the Old Testament king, David, swells through the half-timbered terraza of Hacienda La Magdalena, an (otherwise quiet) hotel in the western Mexican state of Jalisco.
It is 9am on a Saturday, and a splendid troupe of dark-suited mariachis are serenading a fellow guest. “She’s probably hiding with her head under a pillow,” suggests a friend, tucking into a plate of chopped mango and melon, one of the three succulent courses routinely offered for breakfast.
Given the location, it is likely to have been one of many such serenades for the birthday girl; we are only 30km from Guadalajara, Mexico’s second city, and home to both mariachis and tequila — produced since the 16th century in a nearby town, set amid spiky groves of blue agave.
Beyond the restaurant, scarlet hummingbirds are pecking at the bougainvillea on the lawn. Indoors, bedrooms are light, spacious and furnished with elegant writing desks, four poster beds and dark colonial wardrobes. Frankly, all I feel I lack is a crinoline to swish through the stables.
Staying in this type of hacienda hotel is a definite trend for Mexican holidays. But the country offers striking contrasts: Mexico City, the capital, introduces the country’s turbulent history — Aztec ruins lying near gilded Spanish cathedrals, opposite palaces painted with revolutionary murals. A surfeit of Caribbean beaches lie south. In the west are Mexico’s picturesque colonial cities.
To sample the mix, start in Mexico City, where highlights include the former house of the artist Frida Kahlo, the nearly 1,000-acre Chapultepec Park, once the strolling ground of Maximilian von Habsburg, Mexico’s last emperor, an extraordinary anthropology museum, and the Teotihuacán pyramids, where Aztecs once worshipped sun and moon.
May is still a good time to visit Mexico before the hot, muggy and humid months from June to November, says Laura Rendell-Dunn, of Journey Latin America. She recommends combining a tour of Mexico City with a trip to the enchanting cities in the west, beginning in Mexico City at the streamlined NH Centro Histórico Hotel, just a ten-minute stroll from the Zócolo, the capital’s magnificent main square. The holiday she recommends continues with a self-drive tour to the Silver Route towns, to spend two nights in Morelia, capital of the western state of Michoacán, staying at the five-star Hotel Virrey de Mendoza, which, like the pink-stone buildings surrounding it, exudes colonial elegance.