After driving across the Copper Canyon and resting up at Torres del Fuerte hotel in El Fuerte we veered off the pavement once again and hit the back roads headed for Alamos. Sure you can get there on the highway but there’s also a network of good dirt roads that connect El Fuerte and Alamos on a route that takes you through the Sonoran desert and past a few isolated villages often on stretches of the original Camino Real.
The trick is knowing which way to go. It seemed like everyone suggested a slightly different route (frustrating) but we headed out anyway and only ended up making one wrong turn.
Alamos is an official Pueblo Magico and also a national historic site but it almost ended up as nothing more than a collection of ruins. In 1540 Alamos was the encampment of Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, in town as part of Spain’s efforts to turn the whole region into Nuevo Galicia. In 1683 silver was discovered in Alamos which was invaded again, this time by prospectors.
Town boomed to more than 30,000 people, then busted just as fast when the deposits became harder to mine. During the revolution in the 19th century Alamos was invaded many more times and by the 1920s most people had left and most buildings were in terrible shape.
Enter a new invader, this time a gringo, one William Levant Alcorn of Pennsylvania who arrived in the 1940s, saw potential in the ruins and decided to resurrect Alamos one building at a time, buying them up for $50 or $100 a piece. Alcorn eventually made a killing by publicizing Alamos and selling real estate in the town and there are still a number of streets and buildings that bear his name.
Today real estate agents still make a killing in Alamos which is a charming network of bright white buildings, cobblestone streets and lots and lots of Americans and Canadians who (thankfully) seem to have as much pride in the town itself as they do in their lovely winter homes. By all accounts the expats here devote a lot of time, energy and money to the local community providing funds and materials for everything from school tuition to costumes for local fiestas like the Revolution Day parade we watched as it snaked its way through town I (don’t miss the pictures, below).
Despite the growing number of expats and artists and a mish-mash of B-list celebrities and socialites (including the late actor Carroll O’Connor, still-living actor Rip Torn and an heiress to the Pabst Blue Ribbon fortune) who call Alamos home for at least part of the year, Alamos somehow manages to avoid feeling gringo-fied. Unlike other expat towns like San Miguel de Allende, the Americans and Canadians in Alamos seem genuinely invested in their Mexican neighbors and genuinely friendly to visitors just passing through, like us. (Thanks, again, for dinner Elizabeth! We had a blast!)
Another Alamos miracle? The Hacienda de los Santos Resort & Spa (a member of Mexico Boutique Hotels) which we check into for three blissful days. The Hacienda is not so much a hotel as a personal dare owners Jim and Nancy Swickard imposed upon themselves back in late ’80s when they retired and bought not but three neighboring haciendas and an 18th century sugar mill and set about renovating, connecting and decorating them.
The result is a seamless melding of the once separate buildings thanks in large part to the Swickard’s incredible attention to detail and stubborn insistence on perfection and the fact that the hotel has remained in the family’s hands (daughter Jamie is now heavily involved too). From the collection of Spanish Colonial art and antiques to the four (count ’em) pools to the lush gardens and private 75 seat movie theater and small putting green there are marvels at every turn.
The Swickards recently completed a new creation, opening the more affordable (and kid and pet friendly) Posada Tacubaya B&B right around the corner in December of 2009.
We celebrated Eric’s birthday with a wonderful rooftop dinner at Hacienda de los Santos serenaded by the Los Haceandados, the resort’s house band which features Jamie Swickard’s husband, Ramon, on guitar and vocals.