Monday, November 2, 2009

Jalisco Hacienda

A two- or three-day stay at Hacienda el Carmen is a lovely way to ease into your travels to Mexico. Surrounded by mountains, including Tequila Volcano, the 18th century buildings are in a relatively flat valley.

Warning: Flat does not mean level, however. Flagstones settle unevenly, cobblestones are never flat and when you slip 21st century comforts into 400-year-old structures, stairs and steps are inevitable. Compared to other places you'll go in Jalisco, though, Hacienda el Carmen is a piece of cake. If stairs are your nemesis, ask for a room on ground level and specify a bathroom that does not require a step up or step down to enter.

Developed with utmost respect for the existing walls of what had originally been a monastery and convent plus graineries, stables, even chicken coops, the result is remarkable.

Antiques, hand embroidered linens and eye-catching decorative objects, many with historical or family significance, abound. Credit for the decor goes to the elegant Martha Serrano who, as her daughter Monica Baezze says, "is the queen of recycling." 

Sugar cane, corn, wheat, citrus and some blue agave are still farmed, primarily for use on the hacienda. You'll find the food here fresh, carefully prepared and attractively presented.

You can be as active or inactive as you want here. Within the beautiful grounds there are a pool, stables, bicycles, a rough pitch and putt course and a wonderful spa that has been seamlessly fitted into a former grainery.

In nearby Teuchitlan is the Guachimontones Archaeological Site, circa 500 A.D., ruins of what once consisted of 18 united ceremonial sites, more than 1,000 complex homes and a population of more than 20,000. There are English-speaking guides on site who can bring the once thriving community and its beliefs to life in your imagination.

Tip: Oswaldo did a great job for our group as he guided us through the relatively flat, easily walked site.


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