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.