There have been three destinations in my life that I have come across and decided - in a split second - no matter what, I have to go there!
1. Easter Island - I owe a 7th-grade English lesson for planting the seed of that dream.
2. Ta Prohm in Siem Reap - A National Geographic report on the demise of the Angkor Kingdom due to water shortage was the catalyst for visiting Cambodia.
3. Mexico City - I blame James Bond.
In fact, if anyone I know and count as a friend can watch the opening sequence of Spectre and not immediately want to transport themselves to Mexico City, I have to admit I will be more than a little disappointed in them.
How can one not want to visit the Zocalo - the city's imposing central square - on Dia Des Muertos? (Ok, I guess there was some amount of creative license in staging that Bond scene but who cares - Mexico City jumped straight onto my have-to-visit list. Thank you Sam Mendes!)
Mexico has been in the news for all the wrong reasons recently. But I wanted to list out some of the right ones that have catapulted its vibrant capital city straight onto my list of Top 5 places I've ever visited. Of course, culinary reasons dominate but for lovers of great architecture, a rich and fascinating culture, inspiring art and just plain undiluted all-round brilliance, you'd have to search hard to find a place like Mexico City.
Breakfast at Panaderia Rosetta, Juarez
This sunken pasteleria with a little secret garden, upper gallery seating and lines of customers popping in and out for a sweet concha or two was my breakfast highlight in Mexico City. There are hearty egg dishes for those looking for a full breakfast but I will be dreaming for a very long time about their sweet little rosemary breakfast rolls - I'd go back to Mexico City just to eat one again!
Lunch at Mercado de Coyoacan
Forget the horrendously cheesy, refried beans and sour cream-drowned food that passes off as Mexican in the last Tex-Mex restaurant you ate at - real Mexican food is fresh, zesty, lively with spice - and if you pick a tostada from Mercado de Coyoacan - incredibly light. Crisp bases piled with fresh prawn, fish and octopus ceviche, accompanied by salad and bowls of fresh salsas of varying intensity - pure heaven!
With communal tables and incredibly cheap and delicious local favourites on offer, Mexico City's food markets are one of the best places to get a real taste of the city's people in addition to its food. Just make sure you pick a salsa that matches your spice tolerance!
Tequila at Cantina Tio Pepe, Dolores
We stumbled upon this quaint cantina purely by chance one evening only to find out later that it was the oldest traditional cantina in the city - I thank good platetrotting karma :) But we didn't need the prior knowledge of its storied credentials to add a patina of charm to our visit, Its swinging Wild West doors, cozy booths and old timer clientele added enough atmosphere to make our shots of tequila and sangrita (clamato juice drunk as a tequila chaser) very memorable.
Dinner at Azul Historico, DF
Dinner at this buzzing restaurant tucked into the lower floor of the hip and happening Downtown Mexico Hotel is definitely the place to see and be seen, judging by the beautiful people dining here every evening. Atmosphere aside, the food was one of the best modern interpretations of traditional Mexican ingredients we came across... without having visited any of the more hallowed restaurants in the city. Last minute trip = no bookings. The restaurant is one of several owned by popular Mexican chef Ricardo Muñoz Zurita and you won't struggle to find several exotic options on the menu... and a very good mescal collection for those who like this native Mexican spirit. I personally have yet to acquire a taste for it... maybe a few more trips to Mexico will remedy that :)
When in Mexico City
Buy: If the galleries and museums that dot this city are any indication, the Mexicans are definitely a creative bunch! Take home your own piece of authentic Mexican art from the many weekly art fairs that take place all across the city - the most popular being the Sunday Market at Jardin Del Arte. There's quality stuff on show if you look through what's on offer, and plenty of quirky artists who are happy to chat to you about their work and distinct style.
Do: If you are in Mexico City between October and March, head out for a day trip to the Piedra Herrada or any one of the other special butterfly reserves that are home to the ethereal spectacle of Mexico's winter Monarch Butterfly migration. This rare phenomenon brings thousands of the winged Monarchs all the way from Canada every year. Might not be the first thing you think of when visiting Mexico but truly magical!
Visit: The inspiring home of Frida Kahlo. If you want to experience why artists are truly a breed apart and get a lesson in the strength of the human spirit, this beautifully curated museum is a must-visit. Just book in advance as lines are long!
Stay: With a canopy of laurel trees shading its inner courtyard, stunning mural by Manuel Rodriguez Lozano towering over the breakfast patio and unbeatable rooftop views, this Grupo Habita property is definitely one of the coolest design-led hotels in Mexico City's Distrito Federal.
Fans of dim and moody decor will not find much to complain about while staying at Downtown Mexico Hotel, while those impressed by detail will find lots to admire in this stylish property - housed inside the 17th-century palace of the Countess Miravelle.
The room was spacious and airy - with minimalist furniture and terracotta and tan tones dominating the decor, while the bathroom - at least in the suite we were in - was theatrical with columns and full-length curtains.
The inner courtyard was one of my favourite features - distinctly Mexican in design with delicate balconies looking into the core, the neatly trimmed tree canopy covering the space defied my understanding of the mechanics of hedge trimming - whoever designed this hotel definitely had an eye for drama.
Service was warm and familiar but always polished - we were particularly impressed that our instructions about the fragility of the contents of one of our stored bags had been conveyed intact through a chain of at least three members of staff all the way to the cab driver who took us to the airport - a mark of a good hotel if ever there is one.
I can't put down all the reasons I think Mexico City has been the highlight of my platetrotting adventures so far this year. All I can say is just watch Spectre. And go!
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