Monday, March 14, 2011

On the Road with Lili & Ada | A blog series by two travel designers and lovers of Mexico

Culinary “Hot Spots” not to miss in Mexico

Lili: It seems as though the culinary scene in Mexico is bursting with fresh new eateries and an impressive and growing list of creative chefs making inroads in Mexico’s booming restaurant scene. Last year’s addition of traditional Mexican cuisine to UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage was a great accolade to not only for but for the importance of ancestral cuisine and its tie to Mexico's cultural identity. 

Paxia, Mexico City

At a recent fundraiser dinner event for an independent film I experienced dining at the Paxia restaurant in Mexico’s Santa Fe neighborhood. This restaurant is a must for those that want to try contemporary twists on traditional Mexican cuisine. The atmosphere is chic and the staff is warm, friendly and humorous – an uplifting combination not easily found these days. Paxia has an extensive menu offering something for anyone with dishes such as  filet mignon with a huilacoche (Mexican corn truffle) and Poblano chili gratiné, Qaxacan quesadilla filled with chicken in a black mole sauce covered with sugar, a soup from Aguascalientes with Poblano chili, hominy kernels and Qaxacan cheese and  Sea bass with shrimp in an Ancho chili butter sauce accompanied with an artichoke and Cotija cheese (hard cow cheese from Michoacán) puree. If you are really hungry try their Revolutionary Tasting Menu that features eight succulent well-sized portions and one dessert. A favorite on this menu is the “Mole carretero con filete de res”, a fillet of beef accompanied by a Mexican sweet potato-guayaba puree with fried plantains in a lime salt sauce artistically plated with a miniature carriage. Onto libations…their drink menu is remarkable and includes a range of options such as fresh fruit infused waters, tequilas, mezcals, wines, martinis (loved the “Macho” martini made of tequila, cucumber, Yerbabuena, lime, orange juice and Serrano chili) and artisanal Mexican beers. Chefs Daniel Ovadia and Ricardo Carillo are the stars that developed the menu and their wit and creativity is present throughout the dishes and atmosphere at Paxia. 

Paxia, Mexico City

Ada here: If you haven’t stopped by Dulce Patria in the Polanco neighborhood of DF, you are really missing out.  Located around the corner from the charming Las Alcobas Hotel on Masaryk and Anatole France, Martha Ortiz has done it again (her last venue was the much missed Aguila y Sol).  The food at Dulce Patria (the name gives you a hint) is a Mexican fantasy – with substance.  When asked what her goal was for this new endeavor, she responded – to be festive, to have fun with food.  And she does!  So will you.  There is a broad range of menu options, from old favorites to new stars.  Pork in mole Amarillo is a real winner, with a tang of mango.  Desserts are playful and a throwback to your Mexican childhood if you were lucky enough to have one.  The food presentation and service are sometimes playful works of art but not at the expense of quality and flavor.  The décor is also very fun – bringing Mexican handicrafts to a new level of sophistication.  The wine list (much of it Mexican) is varied and offers very good value.

Dulce Patria, Mexico City

Just returned from Merida where we had a real Yucatecan seafood dinner at Merida’s outpost of La Pigua (the original is in Campeche).  When you walk in the door you know you have arrived – it almost feels like you are in an aquarium yourself!  They really know how to turn out the freshest of seafood and fish.  The coconut shrimp are nothing less than amazing – served with warm apple compote.  It’s a terrific combination.  The river langoustine is really luscious lobster with the house (secret) sauce (something as basic as white wine, perhaps?).  A plain white local fish cooked on the grill gleams at you from the plate and is simply delicious.  Sauces, including the house habanero (and every house has one), are fresh and tasty, not just “burn your mouth hot”.  And after all of this wonderful, healthy food, the sinful crowning glory is coconut cake like you’ve never had it before.  Top it off with Merida’s hometown liquor – Xtabentun, an ambrosia made from local honey and anise.  The wine list is short and to the point.  The wait staff is funny, flexible and clever.  It all makes for a wonderful dining experience among mostly local patrons.  They make you feel like a local, too.

Casa Allende, San Miguel de Allende

Lili again: Back in San Miguel de Allende, a colonial town that I’ve been living in part-time (between commutes to Washington, D.C.!!!) is a new contemporary Mexican restaurant called Casa Allende. It’s an excellent addition in a town that doesn’t have many restaurants of this kind; it’s the only restaurant in San Miguel that is part of the Treasures of Guanajuato Quality Club (Club de Calidad Tesoros de Guanajuato). At the helm of Casa Allende is renowned Chef Eduardo Osuna, mostly known for the restaurant Casa Pontiente in nearby Celaya, who makes deliciously innovative Mexican cuisine – some favorites include glazed shrimp in a tamarind sauce, tender and perfectly seasoned duck “carnita style” tacos and their zesty and flavorful lime soup. There is a constant stream of alluring events hosted at Casa Allende, such as live music and themed food and wine paired dinners.  Its hands-down one of San Miguel’s best new restaurants and its bar is a great place to soak some lively ambiance.

Stay tuned for more travel news on Mexico from Lili & Ada!

Lili | Lillian Avilés
Flor Escapes

Ada | Adamarie King
Connoisseur's Travel

Friday, January 28, 2011

Hotel Eco Paraiso Xixim, A Remarkable Eco Paradise in México

With the rise in all things eco-conscious, ranging from food to cosmetics, many hotels are catching the wave and implementing green technology and practices not only to lessen their carbon footprint on the planet, but also to protect natural habitats. Hotel Eco Paraiso Xixim is at the forefront of this wave.  This hotel is not only an extraordinary leader of green practices but has also developed a team of staff members that are devoted to protecting and showcasing their environment and culture. 

The two hour drive from Yucatan’s capital, Merida, to this exceptionally “green” boutique hotel takes travelers on a journey through colorful small towns surrounded by lush tropical vegetation, rivers, and a bio-reserve.  The journey continues along a stretch of unpaved costal road to arrive at a very private piece of paradise.  The owners and staff of the 32-room Hotel Eco Paraiso Xixim are dedicated to preserving the exotic and impressive flora and fauna that surround the hotel along with making as small of an impact as possible on the surrounding natural habitat. Only 1.2% of the 25 hectares of land, including five kilometers of sandy beach, have been developed.

The extraordinary environmentally-conscious practices implemented at Eco Paraiso include an “eco garden” that surrounds accommodations and public areas using no pesticides; solar heated water in showers and pools;  bathroom amenities  in large yet stylish dispensers limiting the use of plastic; organic biodegradable bamboo towels and robes;  chemical-free pools using special bacteria-fighting filters; hardwood floors made out of local and constantly reforested Zapote trees (which have a long history in Mayan construction); complete recycling of waste and a clever energy saving design that allows guests to enjoy this zen-like destination without air conditioning or heating – , naturally facilitated by the warm tropical local climate.

Thus, this hotel’s green mission goes way beyond mere recycling! Adding to the hotel’s mystique are eight bungalow-style Master Suites dispersed throughout winding gardens, allowing for the utmost privacy. These accommodations have king size beds, ocean views, outdoor dipping pools, sunken living rooms and indoor and outdoor showers with ocean views.  Additionally, the property boasts a new yoga/meditation space in a large thatched roofed structure with gleaming hardwood floors and new massage cabins also in thatched roofed structures (one for couples with an open shower!), a juice therapy bar, and a new restaurant headed by the creative chef Elia Córdova featuring  contemporary Mexican cuisine using fresh local ingredients. Favorite dishes include grilled white fish with a smoky chipotle and mandarin sauce, shrimp lasagna with plantain, squash quenelles [vegetarian meatballs] and the creamy coconut mousse a-la tequila. 

Not to be missed, and only 12 kilometers from the hotel, is a tour of the neighboring Celestún bio-reserve and Pink Flamingos. Alex, the hotel’s expert Ornithologist, guides guests on a breathtaking journey that begins at dawn at the bio-reserve park to view awe-inspiring exotic birds and flora. Next guests arrive at the ancient Mayan port of Canbalam for a canoe-like boat ride to the Petrified Forest through mangroves and thick vegetation to reach the Island of Birds and lastly, the area where the largest reserve of Pink Flamingos in Yucatan reside. The best months to view these stunning creatures are from December through March when they migrate to the warmth of Mexico for the winter months.

For a real “green” getaway  the Hotel Eco Paraiso has to be one of the most ideal properties and destinations to visit, for the amazing flora and fauna, the green hotel rooms and amenities, and a staff with  a big green conscious  heart.

View our new packages available at this peaceful resort:

Romance in Mayan Paradise

Flamingos in Celestun

Friday, July 16, 2010

On the Road with Lili & Ada - Summer in Central Mexico

Escape the Summer Heat and head to Central Mexico!

From Malinalco, Mexico: Back on the ranch with Ada, over a glass of Chardonnay (an evening delight after a long day in front of the computer) we discuss how we can’t get over the weather! Unbeknownst to many, Central Mexico is a wonderful refuge to some of the sweltering summer temperatures in the U.S. The rainy season has started and heavy nightly rains, which are actually quite mysterious and even sexy, make for crisp fresh mornings, cool evenings and wonderfully lush flora. Average temperatures range from the low to mid 80s during the day and can dip into the 50s in the evenings, depending on the region.

Some of my favorite summer picks – you know I’ll toot the horn for San Miguel de Allende! Ranked #4 in Travel & Leisure’s 2010 list of top cities in the world, this culturally vibrant destination still has a charming “pueblo” feel. Just back from Mexico City, I recently rediscovered the Roma Norte neighborhood, something Ada’s been telling me about for some time, and have to say that I was charmed by its gorgeous squares, cafes, belle époque architecture and authenticity – Mexican families actually live and work here. I just signed on the very attractive Hotel Brick (located in Roma Norte) to JDB Fine Hotels & Resorts’ collection of hotels and was taken back but the property’s clever design, sophisticated ambience and colorful history. Another top pick is Hacienda San Gabriel de Las Palmas outside of Cuernavaca. It’s one of the most magical properties that I’ve visited and since its low season for them their summer package is a STEAL; it includes a 4-night stay with a long list of value-added inclusions such as horseback riding, massage, etc. for less than $155 per person per night!

Ada here: I was recently reminded, perhaps for the millionth time, of just why I live here in Malinalco most of the year.  Need I mention the WEATHER?  Really, it’s almost too good to be true, even in the “worst” season, as Lili describes above.  However, in this moment (and many others) the focus is on food.  OMG, you foodies have got to come to Puebla, a World Heritage city east of Mexico City known for its cuisine (among other wonders), and for good reason.  Food writer extraordinaire, Mark Schatzker, dined with us at El Mural de los Poblanos last month and pronounced the steak that he ordered as an afterthought: one of the best ever.  This from the man who just published the last word on beef in his new tome, STEAK: One Man’s Search for the World’s Tastiest Piece of Beef.  Now that’s what I call an endorsement.  Looking for a change of venue?  Half an hour outside of Puebla is one of Mexico’s most charming small towns or pueblos, Atlixco, boasting  a market that won’t quit, and you can actually eat there (and not get sick).  Don’t miss Dona Conchita’s tacos de cecina, or one of those gigantic shrimps cocktails loaded with a zesty sauce.  If you are lucky enough to have access to your own Mexican kitchen, you can take home marinated chipotles, all kinds of gorgeous fresh cheeses, fruits, legumes, and vegetables galore.  If not, stay over for a night or two in Puebla at the fresh and lively Casareyna Boutique Hotel and dine in their signature restaurant.  The chipotles rellenos are not to be missed, nor is the Natilla de Cajeta for dessert.  This chef knows how to take the mundane to new heights.

Now Lili will remind me that Oaxaca has garnered the distinction of the 8th position in the Top Ten Cities on Travel and Leisure’s latest list.  You certainly won’t go hungry in this culinary outpost (leavened with archeological sites, colonial architecture, authentic artisan villages, and more).  After making the rounds of some of the sights, slip into a room at Casa Oaxaca and dine that evening in the courtyard restaurant – a taste of what’s to come.  Next morning enjoy a market visit to pick your ingredients with Chef Alejandro Ruiz before jumping into the fray with a cooking lesson and lunch to follow.  Couldn’t be tastier, or more fun.  And if the next day is Sunday head out to the Sunday market at Santa Maria Tlacolula, where the tribal ladies wear colorful authentic attire while they sell or barter their goods, and definitely do not want their picture taken.  Look at it as a challenge.  Then head back to town for more culinary indulgence at one of the many prominent local dining options, such as Los Danzantes or El Naranjo.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Freeing Sensation of Watsu

Floating effortlessly and weightless in warm water, guided by a healer that gently rocked and cradled my body while stretching and massaging me in dance-like movements felt not only relaxing but close to divine. Performed by Kaaren Sydney, Founder and President of in Miami, Florida, and a new resident of San Miguel de Allende, I experienced an hour long Watsu session that allowed me to let go of all of the tension held in my body. All of the mental chatter and weeks’ events melted away as I surrendered to the moment at hand. The freeing sensation of being submerged in water allowed me to focus on my breath and each movement. It was one of the most elegant mind body experiences that I have had to date.

Based on Zen Shiatsu, Watsu is performed in warm water, usually around 94˚C and preferably in pools that are cleaned with ozonation or salt processes, since healing work should not be done in heavily chlorinated water.

After experiencing this deeply relaxing and liberating Watsu session, Flor Escapes is thrilled to partner with Kaaren to offer a Watsu experience in our Balance Package at Sonjo Wasi that includes an excursion to the therapeutic thermal springs just outside of San Miguel de Allende. Used since pre-Hispanic times by natives, the minerals found in these waters incorporate sulfate of soda, sulfate of lime, carbonate of lime, sodium chloride, magnesium and some sulfuric acid. This combination is known to both heal and produce anti-aging affects on the body.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Malinalco, the Valley of the Lunar Goddesses

It’s not often that off-the-beaten track locales in Mexico receive coverage. We all hear the latest about resorts along the Mayan Riviera, or the newest over-the-top luxury hideout in Los Cabos but if you dig a little deeper, what you will find is a culture steeped in rich tradition that consist of colorful fusions of Pre Hispanic and European religions and cuisines.

I recently had the privilege of living in Malinalco for six months. This small village of 7,000 inhabitants is tucked between two mountain ranges in the southwestern portion of the State of Mexico. I just cannot curb my enthusiasm for this magical valley town and its majestic natural beauty. - it is no wonder this hot spot for healers, gurus and Mexico City’s jet set has been coined the valley of the lunar goddesses.

So, what is there to do in this tiny verdant sub tropical town?...Discover! Start with a walk up to Cerro de Los Idolos, a monolithic structure (there are only four in the world!) surrounded by pyramid ruins. If you’re lucky enough to run into Martin, the local shaman, spiritual guide and keeper of his native Aztec/Mexican history, you may change your mind about the use of the term pyramid. An enthralling historian and recent author, Martin takes those who are willing through a fascinating journey of Mexican history. The view from atop the ruins in breathtaking and the backdrop of lush mountains and eagles swirling overhead is mesmerizing. Next on your list visit the museum in town below that recounts why the monolithic structure was built, which is a story unto itself about spiritual warriors (not the Mel Gibson Apocalyptic type), the dedication to nature, humans and holiness.

After all of the scenery overload, and if you’re daring enough to try Mexican street food, walk back to the town center and try a Tlacoyo, or blue corn maize-based tortilla that is shaped like a canoe and cooked on demand. Tlacoyos in Malinalco are usually filled with fava beans and served with your choice of homemade green or red salsa with a sprinkling of fresh cheese on top. If you prefer a sit down meal Los Placeres is fantastic. Also just off the main square, their chef uses his creativity to heighten the flavors of regional Mexican ingredients in a contemporary fashion. The doblados of hibiscus flower and cheese are to die for. Fresh trout, brought in daily from neighboring lakes, is served with ingredients ranging from local herbs to coconut, depending on the changing menu. When in season the black zapote fruit margarita is magnificent, its texture is thick and delivers sweet yet sour velvet smoothness to the palate. After a lengthy lunch enjoy the walking around to view the town that includes an outdoor market filled with an extensive array of tropical fruits and vegetables that are locally grown and native to the region. A visit to the main cathedral is also a must to view the hand painted frescos of mostly flora and fauna that adorn the cloister, which are a rarity in Mexican catholic churches.

After a day of sightseeing venture across town (everything is in walking distance) to Ollinyotl, a holistic center serving the community and visitors that is a real jewel both aesthetically and spiritually. With its zen-like architecture and stunning views of Ascensión mountain, the center includes a yoga studio, mediation labyrinth, spa, temazcal, café and gift shop featuring artisanal and handcrafted items. There are numerous activities and promotions offered throughout the week that range from specialty massages such as Cranio-Sacral therapy to full moon drumming circles. For a mind-body detox, try the Temazcal sessions on Sunday. The 2 and ½ hour steam bath in an enclosed dark space may sound daunting but a guide takes participants through a journey of forgiveness and reconciliation in a group setting using herbs, song and chanting.

From Malinalco day trips to Xochicalco (an astonishing archeological complex of pre Hispanic ruins), Cuernavaca, and numerous natural sites, such as lakes and hot springs, can be easily arranged.

Where to stay:
Quinta Ascensión B&B
Cerro del la Ascensión 8, El Llano
Malinalco, Mexico
Tel: +52.714.147.1567
Where to eat:
Los Placeres
Plaza principal 6 B
Barrio de Santa Mónica
Malinalco, México
Tel: +52.714.147.0855

Where to Repose:
Calle Cerro de la Ascención esq. Calle Cerro del Ciriaco
Barrio de San Juan
Malinalco, México
Tel: +52.714.147.2015

Local Travel Expert:
Adamarie King
Connoisseur's Travel
A Conde' Nast Traveler Magazine Top Travel Specialist: 2001 - 2010
Tel. +01.312-559-0549

Saturday, October 10, 2009

An Unforgettable Mexican Independence

Who would have thought that my first week living in Mexico would have included this…a private dinner celebrating 199 years of Mexican independence (wait until next year!!!) in the wine cellar of an authentic Hacienda dating to the 1700s where Emilio Zapata's grandfather once worked? I thought to myself, “umm, can someone pinch me?” I’ve always thought of Mexico as being a magical place but this far exceeded my expectations of holiday dinner party.

I felt as though I was "living history" and had the privilege of partaking in an evening with a small group of true personas that ranged from the property's charming owner, to architects, designers, entrepreneurs and the like who all shared one thing in common; a passion for Mexico and a love for life. The dinner couldn't have been more spectacular, the wine flowed and as the evening progressed the trio performing traditional Mexican music was joined by merrymaking guests that broke out into crooner-like song.

The next day we awoke to an appropriately healthy breakfast of scrambled eggs with “Machaca” (dried beef seasoned with native spices and chilies originated from the ranchers and cowboys of northern Mexico).

With full stomachs and big smiles we all headed out on a five hour “cabalgata” or horseback ride through the enchantingly green countryside surrounding Amacuzac, Morelos. We rode through fields, small towns and the foot hills of a magnificent mountain rage. An hour stop was taken at a lake with glorious countryside views where we - cowboys and cowgirls - enjoyed tequila (we are in Mexico!), fruits, vegetables and pork rind with sauces and lime – yum!

With just over one month living in Mexico it’s hard to explain the generosity and warmth that has been extended to me. I want to take a moment to personally thank the team at Hacienda San Gabriel de Las Palmas for this amazing experience and I know that this was just a prelude for what’s to come next year, when the country will celebrating its 200th anniversary of Independence!

Stay tuned for our spring Mystic Triangle retreat March 22-28, 2010 that is based at this extraordinary property and East Meets West, a “mini” Flor Escape weekend retreat in Malinalco November 21-24, 2009.