Hidden Gems of Jalisco
By Mary Piotrowski
February 2008 Guadalajara-Lakeside Volume 24, Number 6
Trying to get off the beaten path in Mexico can be discouraging. Most rural accommodations are a bit dodgy, with few of the amenities you find in city hotels. What a joy to learn that now you can travel through some of Mexico’s most beautiful scenery and find not only comfortable hotels, but a rich new experience at the same time.
Historic Hacienda Inns of Jalisco invites you to visit restored haciendas, working ranches and charming small hotels. The associations’ most recent member is Lake Chapala’s own Los Dos B and B. Here is a sampling of what awaits your discovery.
Hacienda El Carmen, near Ahualulco, is set in the middle of its own sugar cane plantation. Dining on Mexican nouvelle cuisine while gazing upon trees as old as the hacienda, you dream you are an honored guest of Don Francisco Merodio, to whom the lands were granted by royal decree from Spain.
Antiques fill the hacienda’s huge, high ceilinged rooms. Today the former granary is a full service spa with healing wraps, massages and hydrotherapy. Modern services have been tastefully camouflaged to maintain the original atmosphere. After a full service spa treatment, you are recharged, eager to move on to the next adventure.
Casonas, or mansions, offer something quite different. Hostal Casona de Manzano in Tapalpa, just two blocks from the main plaza, has been in the Manzano family for more than 3 centuries. Irma, its present owner, tells me, “You have to be a little crazy to start an idea like this.” With only 10 rooms, a feeling of intimacy and elegance reigns. Nearby surroundings include the largest waterfall in western Mexico as well as mysterious huge boulders.
Additional association gems may be discovered in: Lagos de Moreno: Only 30 minutes from Leon, Guanajuato, Hacienda Sepulveda was founded in the 17th century. An intimate hotel with only 9 suites and a gorgeous spa set in the former granary, the hacienda has a nice stable of 11 horses and trails within the estate.
Sayula: La Casa de Los Patios features four flower-filled sunny patios, one including a beautiful pool. The restaurant serves family recipes all day long. Los Patios also offers a cultural tour to the town’s many artisan workshops. Everything is within easy walking distance and the warmth and enthusiasm of sisters Rossy and Carmen, offer a way to see anew a town you may have passed through many times.
Lake Chapala: Quinta San Carlos is located on Lake Chapala’s southern shore. You can enjoy the magnificent view of the largest lake in Mexico from the rooftop terrace, or from around the pool. The decoration is elegant modern Mexican. If you ever wondered what’s behind those high mansion walls on the south side of the lake, this is your chance to experience living the high life.
Zapopan: Hacienda La Magdalena is an amazing hidden oasis just 20 minutes from downtown Guadalajara. The long winding drive, protected by high adobe walls, transports you to another world. Host Dr. Chavez is an avid history buff who can arrange a private tour to other un-restored haciendas in the area. The rooms are new and elegant, designed to fit in with the rest of the 18th century architecture. Magdalena is fast becoming known as a favorite romantic getaway.
Mazamitla: Above the main plaza of this magic destination, La Huerta Real nestles in a fruit orchard. All rooms have fireplaces and marvelous views overlooking the village and mountains. The friendly staff can point out the adventure park, four-wheel motorcycle rental, or mountain hikes.
Mascota: Just a block from the main square of this charming mountain town, Meson Santa Elena provides the flavor of a private home, with quiet seclusion and a warm hostess. Since Mascota is only an hour’s drive to Puerto Vallarta, foreign tourists are beginning to discover a destination the Mexicans have visited for years. Stupendous lakes and the National Geographic Museum featuring local petroglyphs are special attractions.
Etzatlan: Not far from the famous town of Tequila, Hotel El Centenario retains the graceful staircase, ironwork and balconies of its original 18th century design. The friendly owners can arrange a horse ride out to the fascinating Piedras Bolas, over 200 huge perfectly round rocks scattered through a field and riverbed. Huachimontones, the most important archaeological site in Western Mexico, is also nearby.
A ranch vacation will give you an entirely new perspective on the countryside and is another way of finding the “real Mexico” in comfort. Bring your sombrero and take off on the many little trails into the fields and pastures, then return for a barbecue and roping lessons. Full time cook and maid service is an option, and one couldn’t imagine a better place for a real family vacation, or a peaceful retreat.
Rancho Epenche is a welcoming adobe home nestled in the Sierra del Tigre, outside of Mazamitla. Watch sunsets on the wrap around veranda, then enjoy the home cooking of your hostess America. The ranch has cattle, and horses, but its main business is the lily nursery that you are invited to see first hand.
Villa Cantabria, just an hour and 15 minutes from the coast is very different. Just take the road to Mascota to visit this lovely ranch tucked away in a mountain valley. In spite of Jacuzzi suites, this is a working ranch, planting a hundred acres of corn and agave.
Moonbeam Ranch, near Ayutla, is a non pretentious, book-filled home, with a large patio overlooking the valley and horse pasture. The tiny village of Santo Domingo provides for social interaction with the village folk, who are eager to show off Mexican hospitality by inviting you to their local fiestas. You won’t regret a visit to any of the Historic Inn Association’s fascinating haciendas, casonas, ranches and, most recently, B and Bs.
Welcome to rural Mexico!
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