Monday, December 12, 2005

Mexico Road Trips: Hacienda El Carmen



A Retreat to Another Century

The evening shadows start to lengthen along the brick walls of the inner courtyard at the Hacienda El Carmen; the sound of the splashing fountain now competing with the ring as china is set upon the long wooden table that sits under the arched loggia. Besides the rustle of the wind and the screech of parrots, there are very little sounds now as the heat of the day fades into a warm, enveloping sultry night. It is the 21st century, but these walls and the courtyard have existed for more than 300 years and it is easy to imagine, in the dusky light, that the ghosts of the caballeros, the grandees, their ladies as well as the nuns and the revolutionaries who also at one time stayed here, still walk along the tiled walkway, past the bougainvillea climbing up the sides of the walls and amongst the jaracunda trees.

At first, this Colonial style structure, a long colonnaded porch, a gracious two story entranceway leading into connecting dining, sitting and kitchen areas that front one part of the courtyard and then bedrooms comprising the surrounding three sides, all with views of the flower filled courtyard, was known as the Hacienda de Santa Maria de Miraflores.

Haciendas were once a central part of agricultural life, which included ranching, farming, tequila production and sugar milling, in Mexico Many just disappeared with time, but in 1722, Miraflores became the Convento Del Carmen. But though a convent, Hacienda El Carmen didn’t necessarily guarantee a quiet life. Legend has it that the famed revolutionary, Pancho Villa was welcomed here as Mexico struggled to gain independence. Now a hotel and seemingly isolated, the hacienda is just a short drive from bustling Guadalajara, the second largest city in Mexico. Located on the road that connects Guadalajara to the tequila area which has made the Jalisco state famous, the hacienda is located next to Ahualulco, a sleepy but charming little town with dirt streets, an old church and brightly painted houses and stores. But the feel of being nowhere doesn’t mean that there isn’t anything to do. Early morning, horses arrive from nearby stables for those who want to ride. There is golfing, swimming, luxuriating at the spa and classes to learn about cooking. There are even the occasional tequila tasting seminars.

The atmosphere is friendly and relaxed and within a short time, a guest feels part of the hacienda family, allowed access into the inner workings of the place including peeks into the old fashioned Mexican styled kitchen with its elaborately decorated tiled floors and counters and its up to date modern appliances. Here Chef Ambrosio Saavedra Ramirez prepares traditional Mexican dishes such as pollo con mole (chicken in mole sauce), filete a los 7 chiles (filet with seven different kinds of chiles) and chile rellenos (stuffed chiles) accompanied by large pitches of Sangria and ice tea made from hibiscus flowers.

Hacienda El Carmen is one of about 40 or haciendas in Mexico that have been restored and converted into hotels. For more information, visit http://www.hdaelcarmen.com/

Others include:

Quinta Las Acacias (www.mexicoboutiquehotels.com/lasacacias/) Formerly a 19th century summer home located in the historic city of Guanajuato.

San Miguel Regla (www.sanmiguelregla.com) built in the 18th century by wealthy mining mogul Count Pedro Romero de Terreros.

Santa Maria Regla, also built in the 18th century, served as Count Romero's residence and was the first hacienda dedicated to mining silver and making pulque. Today, the hacienda is a tourist center where visitors explore its numerous underground tunnels. Hacienda Soltepec (http://www.haciendasoltepec.com/), located only 45 minutes away from the city of Tlaxcala, this 13-room hacienda is one of the first established in the region, dedicated to pulque production.

Hotel Hacienda los Laureles (http://www.hotelhaciendaloslaureles.com/) offers stunning views of the Sierra Madre mountains.

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