Book Review Mexico Chic: Hotels Haciendas Spas

Mexico Chic: Hotels Haciendas Spas

by Foo Mei Zee and Barbara Kastelein

Bolding Books: $25; 232 pp.

Reviewed by Gale Randall

If the notion of traveling independently around Mexico and staying at some of the country’s more charming and unusual boutique hotels and inns intrigues you, then Mexico Chic just may be the kind of book you’re looking for. Offering descriptions and photo displays of some 44 different properties, the book is organized around seven distinctive regions of Mexico: the Mexican Caribbean, Mayan region, central east and south highlands,the Pacifi c coast, Mexico City, the central western highlands, and the Sea of Cortez. Each geographical section is accompanied by an extensive introduction and photos highlighting that region’s distinctive characteristics. If you’re an old hand at traveling Mexico, many of the properties will be familiar to you, like Oaxaca’s venerable Camino Real, the Posada la Basilica in Patzcuaro, or Playa del Carmen’s Shangri-la Caribe. But many others are newcomers, such as Mexico City’s Habita and W hotels, several revived Yucatecan haciendas, and the boutique hotels of the Riviera Maya– Deseo, Maroma and Ceiba del Mar, for example, resorts designed in part, I suspect, as oases for refugees from Cancun.

I’m puzzled by some obvious omissions from this beautiful compendium, such as
the gorgeous Las Mananitas of the peacocks in Cuernavaca and the most intriguing of
the Yucatan haciendas, Katanchel. But the omission of Katanchel may have something
to do with the destruction wrought on that property by Hurricane Isidore in fall 2002. On
a tour of the haciendas in early 2003, I saw firsthand what Isidore had done to Katanchel,
but the hacienda is now back in operation and it would be a treat to visit. And, Katanchel has its own Mayan ruin.

I don’t believe one needs the travel budget of an oil sheik to plan a trip around some of these properties. I think it’s fun to alternate stays between more modest digs and then maybe splurge for one night at a higherend property, or, if that’s not feasible, at least plan a meal at such a place. If, for instance, I were to plan a trip to the Yucatan, I’d fly into Cancun, stay a few nights at beachside Shangri-la Caribe outside Playa del Carmen, and then move on to tour the ruins and haciendas of Yucatan State, stopping first at laid back and reasonable San Antonio Chalante, the horseback riding hacienda just outside the yellow city of Izamal, and then move on to Tixkokob, staying at either Hacienda San Jose Cholul or Katanchel, and ending my trip in Merida. Likewise, if I were to visit Mexico City for a few days, I’m not sure I’d bunk at either the Habita or W hotels featured in Mexico Chic, but rather my old favorite, the Calinda Geneve in the Zona Rosa, perhaps planning a day bus trip to Cuernavaca, where for sureI’d lunch at Las Mananitas or the newer Casa Tamayo Cuernavaca. I’ve never been to Puebla, but I can hardly wait to try out the idiosyncratic Meson Sacristia de Capuchinas or Meson Sacristia de la Compania, two antique-filled boutique hotels owned by the antique-dealing Espinosa family. It’s fun to dream.

Author Foo Mei Zee is the former editor of the Singapore-based magazine The Peak and a contributor to the Asian Wall Street Journal. Barbara Kastelein, a resident of Mexico City, has contributed to Conde Nast Traveler and has a column in the Miami Herald’s Mexican edition.