|From Global Writes Magazine:
Michoacán, the heart and soul of Mexico
Story and photos by Michelle WinnerEdited by Kim Rahilly
Ever dreamed of waking up in a city where time stands still? Where pink buildings glow in the sun as if lit from within? Add to this idyll a mass migration of butterflies. And yes, it’s real!
In a verdant mountains where Monarch butterflies winter beats the heart of old town Morelia. This 16th century Baroque city, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Cultural and Artistic Site, was built by the Spanish colonizers and thus boasts a grand cathedral, shaded plazas, elegant buildings of pink quarry stone, lyrical fountains, an aqueduct, tree-lined “calzadas” (pedestrian-only streets), and treasure troves of art and books. Largely undiscovered as an arts-and-culture tourism destination, Morelia offers a rich heritage of Spanish influence combined with ancient native culture, resulting in a vital and expressive city. The weather is delightful, too, at a steady 75-85 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer.
The Michoacán state in the middle of Mexico offers a diverse range of experiences that are just a few hours apart by car. You can visit a typical town festival (Paracho’s guitar festival is in August; surf La Ticla, Playa Salandita and Boca Pascuales on the coast; enjoy warm cream of avocado soup at Mansion Del Cupatitzio’s beautiful restaurant in Urupan, the capitol of avocado production; see traditional windowless, nail-less Indian cabin structures called “la troje” near Nurio; watch fishermen dip their famous butterfly nets into Pátzcuaro Lake and enjoy the enchanting capitol city of Morelia.
Our guide Déborah López Garcia, a beautiful, aristocratic woman, made the culture and history of Morelia come alive for us. We traipsed through cobblestoned streets marveling at the cathedral’s painted ceilings; learned the legacy of San Nicolas College; marveled at the Indian-faced cherubs decorating the altar at the Temple of the Roses; and heard guitar rifts wafting from behind a rugged wooden door at the Music Conservatory as Ms. Lopez Garcia relayed the factors that drove history and the struggles of the people. Suddenly, a young man ran up and told us in English that he was from Washington state, and that he was very surprised to see American journalists at his school. Just as quickly, he ran off to join his friends, switching into rapid-fire Spanish. After all, Morelia is filled with surprises.
Late in the afternoon, we settled into lunch at Restaurant LU, rising-star chef Lucero Soto Arriaga’s “temple” of Michoacán-fusion cuisine. LU presents Michoacan’s traditional ingredients in a fresh way that combines ancient and modern preparation techniques. Her menu is almost a metaphor for modern Morelia: it reflects a reverence for the old while embracing new ideas. The cuisine and the city are delicious!
Morelia has been a conduit for several AP stories on the drug wars in the mountains of Michoacán, but I can tell you that my personal safety was never in question. The city is beautiful, elegant and full of things to discover including the outlying towns representing the two dynasties that shaped the Michoacan. Charming Pátzcuaro, referred to locally as the “magic town,” feels untouched since the time of the Conquistadors. The ruins of the ancient Purépecha Indian kingdom of Tzintzuntzan was built stone-by-stone on a hill overlooking Pátzcuaro Lake.
Juan Bosco Castro Garcia, Promotion Director at the Secretaria de Tourismo’s office or Altizma Reyes de la Torre in Public Relations can assist you with an outline of an ideal trip.
Déborah López Garcia offers personally guided tours, and I strongly recommend that you contact her. Traveling with a native speaker and guide is an invaluable way to get the most out of your time here. Email: [email protected]
In Morelia I recommend:
Casa San Diego suites and restaurant. This sleek hotel of carved stone and modern design comes alive on the rooftop lounge, a hotspot for young Morelians. Manager José Miguel Salcedo Maldonado is also the chef, and he offers delightful small bites and a signature cocktail made with “tamarindo.” You will sleep best in a room that’s not too close to the lounge. www.casasandiego.com.mx
Hotel Virrey de Mendoza. With views of the nearby cathedral, this former palatial house has “seen” local history unfold as it passed through the hands of Spaniards, and survived the Mexican Revolution. During one period, it was even turned into a customs house. But since its conversion in 1939, it has remained an ornate hotel offering style and grace to any stay. Locals enjoy drinks overlooking the town square. www.hotelvirrey.com
Villa Montaña Hotel and Spa, a maze of secret gardens, bungalows, trellises and a sparkling pool overlooking the city, this hotel also offers breathtaking views of twinkling Morelia from the restaurant. See their Blackberry Margarita recipe below. www.villamontana.com.mx
1 ounce simple syrup
2 ounces white tequila
Juice of half a lime
1 ounce Triple Sec or Controy, the Mexican orange liquor
3-6 fresh blackberries, mashed
Coarse sea salt
Prepare a salt-rimmed glass by dipping the rim into cold water and shaking off the excess. Pour a generous amount of sea salt onto small plate. Dip the damp rim into the salt. Shake off the excess. Place the ingredients into a cocktail shaker with five ice cubes. Cover, shake to blend and strain into prepared glass containing four ice cubes. Hint: you may want to try it with a little ground chile powder mixed with the salt to rim the glass. “Mucho Gusto!””
Chef Lucero Soto Arriaga‘s Restaurant LU is a not-to-miss restaurant for Michoacán cuisine. It is inside the Best Western Hotel Casino at 229 Portal Hidalgo, 58000 Morelia, Mich., Mexico. Tel: + 52 443 313 1328. Email: [email protected]
At San Miguelito Restaurant, San Antonio rules the roost…albeit upside down! Figures of Saint Anthony are suspended upside down from the ceiling and walls in the back room. The saint’s favorable response to your wish might bring you money or a husband. Of special interest is the testimonial book, but watch out for the geezers who sit at a back table preying on maidens looking for a spouse. A pretty brilliant tactic if you ask me! www.sanmiguelito.com.mx
El Gustito “Cochina Traditional” is a sweet home-style restaurant serving Michoacán comfort food. Try the cooling mint drink and Michoacán enchilada with potato and carrot. It is at #359 Aldama Street.
Hotel Los Juaninos has a perfect restaurant, La Azotea, for breakfast with a terrace overlooking the cathedral. Enjoy fresh-squeezed juices, crepes stuffed with mushrooms or the truffle-like huitlacoche, a local delicacy. www.hoteljuaninos.com.mx
Museo del Dulce. Morelia is famous for its sweets, particularly fruit geleés made of quince and guava. Watch the preparation on a wood-fired stove in the museum‘s traditional kitchen. Pick up some candies for the folks back home from the Victorian-costumed staff, and sample Rompope, a popular, sweet eggnog-type drink. It is at Av. Madero Oriente #440, Centro Historico.
In Pázcuaro, I recommend:
Hosteria de San Felipe is a comfortable hotel just outside of the old city that is surrounded by patios and charming gardens, and serves lovely traditional meals. It is managed by the vivacious Fabiola Huerta H. www.hosteriadesanfelipe.com.mx
At the palatial La Mansión de los Sueños you will not find a bustling lobby even though it is only a block from Pázcuaro’s Plaza Vasco de Quiroga named for the beloved first Michoacán bishop and protector of the people. You will find a fully restored grand residence with inner courtyards, exquisite murals and yes, a suite full of dreams. www.prismas.com.mx
© Story and photos by Michelle Winner, 2009