Telegraph.co.uk author and travel expert Stephanie Rafanelli describes a trip to Mexico in her own particular and entertaining style. This editorial is a must read for all who are considering a visit to our great country.
In the basin of snuffed-out volcanoes that loom over the city, the Valley of Mexico appears in the darkness: a giant lake of electric lava below. As my plane descends, the glow turns into what looks like a black velvet cloak embroidered with multicoloured glass beads: the lights of 21 million people.
From the tips of its cathedrals to the bowels of its foundations, Mexico City is strikingly complex. Buried beneath the 7, 218ft-high metropolis lies the 14th-century Aztec kingdom Tenochtitlan: a city of canals five times the size of Tudor London. Layered on top of it, church upon temple, sits the colonial “City of Palaces” founded in 1519 as the capital of New Spain. And interlaced with them are works of the great modern Mexican architects who carry their ancestors’ creative DNA.
Mexico has experienced many post-colonial revolutions. Today, two centuries after Independence, there’s another one, spurred on by innovative local chefs, hoteliers, architects, designers, eco-vintners and craft distillers who are redefining Mexican identity – many, like those national figureheads Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, reclaiming their indigenous roots.
It is to experience this maverick energy that I am taking a road journey from Mexico City, now considered one of the safest in South America, to the colonial heartlands into the dynamic Bajío area, and up through the Western Sierra Madre mountains to the Pacific coast.
I am staying in Polanquito, the bohemian part of Polanco DF’s luxury southern district, a placid enclave of boutiques and award-winning restaurants – Mexico is home to 10 of the 50 best in Latin America – where traffic obligingly stops on the grand avenidas when I step in the road. Here the well-heeled sip organic hot chocolate or saunter with chihuahuas through the adjoining Chapultepec Forest where gold Monarch butterflies flit like marigold petals through ancient woodland of silvery Montezuma cypress trees. The emperor’s former garden is now one of the largest city parks in the world.
Above this buried empire, two recently erected “pyramids” have established Polanco as the new luxury capital of Latin America. El Palacio de Hierro is a 253,000sq ft haute-fashion temple in an imposing Aztec-inspired complex designed by Javier Sordo Madaleno Bringas, son of Mexican modernist Juan Sordo Madaleno.
And Museo Soumaya, Mexico’s very own Taj Mahal, is a dumbbell-shaped structure of hexagonal aluminium tiles built by telecommunications mogul Carlos Slim Helú in honour of his eponymous late wife.
The gallery, which houses his art collection, is a family affair designed by his son-in-law architect Fernando Romero, with whom Norman Foster has partnered on Mexico City’s new airport, due to be the most sustainable one in the world.
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