Valladolid (from an Englishman’s point of view)
The London Foodie is an Italian-Japanese Brazilian chef who made London home over 20 years ago. He is passionate about good food, wine and travel and have been writing as “The London Foodie” since 2009.
In this article, “The London Foodie” reviews one of the most beautiful cities in Southeast Mexico: Valladolid.
Valladolid is the first colonial town reached on leaving glitzy Cancun. Many pass through on their way to Chichen Itza, stopping for no more than a coffee. This is a shame because Valladolid is a gorgeous town, small enough to walk around easily, but big and interesting enough with plenty to occupy a few days.
Situated in the centre of the Yucatan peninsula, there is no major historic site or coastal town in the region more than a two hour drive away, so it can act as a very good base for exploration. It has a strong Mayan feel despite 500 years of colonisation with many women still wearing the traditional Mayan dress, or “huipil”, a white cotton dress adorned with bright, flowered embroidery.
The guttural Mayan language can be heard all over town as many still speak Spanish as their second language. Tourism is only recently starting to be felt on the streets of Valladolid, and just a few hotels and restaurants are gearing up for this sector, particularly around the main square and along the chic Calle de los Frailes.
Founded by invading Spaniards in 1543, the town also reflects its Spanish roots – its colonnades, pastel stucco and paving-stone streets give Valladolid an Iberian feel. The central cathedral (built with stones from the demolished Mayan pyramid that used to occupy the central square) is the town’s focal point and as in Spain, shops are often closed in the afternoon for siesta.
Perhaps reflecting its relatively nascent state as a tourist destination, the townspeople appear genuinely kind, friendly and helpful, which made our few days there among the highlights of our trip to Mexico.
Where to Stay
There is a developing cosmopolitan feel to the town as a number of expatriates restore dilapidated haciendas as homes, art galleries, shops and boutique hotels or guesthouses. Denis Larsen, John and Dorianne Venator and Ariane Dutzi are among those who made this town their home (see What to Do section below), and today are welcoming visitors from all corners of the globe.
Casa Hamaca Guesthouse
One of these expats, American Denis Larsen, trained in industrial design, but moved to Valladolid in 2006 after some years of regular volunteering with a group that installed hurricane-proof roofs on Mayan houses in the region. After complete renovation and extension of the house he purchased, he decided to open his home as a guesthouse in 2008.
Casa Hamaca has 8 rooms varying from US $80 to 130 depending on the season, a swimming pool and a large veranda with hammocks, plants and Mayan artifacts. It’s a wonderful place to idle away the hours surrounded by Denis’ lush garden, relaxing by the pool, reading and taking stock.
Our room was very spacious and comfortable, with en-suite bathroom, fans and air conditioning. The room rate includes breakfast of coffee, granola and yoghurt, bread, sweet pastries and orange juice, accompanying a freshly cooked egg dish which varies each day.
Breakfast at Casa Hamaca is an exciting part of the day as guests share a long table in a convivial and friendly atmosphere, with Denis on hand to advise on the best things to do. On my second morning there, we spent nearly two hours talking with Denis and a couple from Texas about Mexico and life in general.
Denis told me that he makes a point of encouraging these morning discussions, and also of taking time to talk with each guest about their likes and interests, so he can better advise them about what to do during their stay. Certainly in my case he was able to send me to the best restaurants in town as well as several eclectic attractions in the region, but seemed equally happy to advise bird watchers, fans of fashion, archaeology or Spanish language. Without him, I am sure my visit to Valladolid would have been much the poorer.
Denis is soon to open a Yucatecan cuisine restaurant at the guesthouse, and currently provides Mayan cookery classes with his cook at Casa Hamaca on request, including visits to the municipal market and hands-on cooking in the guesthouse’s gorgeous kitchen.
I enjoyed my stay at Casa Hamaca, and would highly recommend it to people travelling in the region looking for something beyond the business or all-inclusive hotel experiences of Cancun. There are only two significant hotels in the town, and neither is of great quality, so I think Denis’ Casa Hamaca Guesthouse fills a significant need.