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Oui Oui? Si Si! – Jicaltepec, Veracuz State, Mexico

In Veracruz State, just inland from the Costa Esmeralda, lies a big surprise. Delicate terracotta roof tiles, muted colors, planned gardens, real bread. Why? Because the town of Jicaltepec has a uniquely French history.

A new boutique hotel brings the area’s French flavor to life, but we’ll get into that a little later in this post.

The main way to reach the French Mex town of Jicaltepec is to take a small ferry across the Rio Bobos.

Mexico’s French Connection started in the early 1800s when French men and women began fleeing the Dijon and Champlitte areas in search of work when the wine making industry there started to fail.  After a countryman arrived in Jicaltepec and told everyone back home how wonderful the area was hundreds of Frenchmen flocked to what was then remote Mexico.

The problem was, that first guy was lying. The truth was that work was scarce but mosquitoes were plentiful. Unfortunately, once the Frenchmen arrived they didn’t have the money to return to France. The ones that didn’t die of disease or homesickness stuck it out and slowly created lives for themselves, melding French traditions with Mexican culture.

The French brought these elegant tiled roofs (and real bread!) to Jicaltepec when they began settling here in Veracruz State in the early 1800s.

Lourdes Capitaine Drouaillet is descended from French immigrants who settled in Jicoltepec in Veracruz State. She now runs a museum full of pieces of the area's French past.

 

There are two museums in the area and they both commemorate the French heritage of the place. By far, the best one is run by Lourdes Capitaine Drouaillet out in Jicaltepec.

Lourdes is descended from French immigrants and she has a passion for preserving and telling the story of the French in this part of Mexico. Over the years she has amassed a lovely collection that runs the gamut from personal junk to true French finds and even some impressive pieces of indigenous pottery that pre-date the arrival of the French.

But it’s really Lourdes herself who brings the French legacy to life, coming perilously close to tears as she explains who her ancestors were, why they came here, how they lived and how French culture has impacted this spot in Mexico. And she does it in a mix of Spanish and  French (what do you call that? Frenish? Spench?).

We told you this place as a big surprise.

A plaque in a museum dedicated to preserving artifacts which document Jicaltepec's unusual French heritage.

Adding to the happy brew of French and Mexican culture in the area is Maison Couturier, a new boutique hotel that opened in neighboring San Rafael. Run by a Frenchwoman but owned by Grupo Habita, one of the most progressive Mexican hotel groups, the place is a French country farmhouse, only it’s in Mexico. Check out our complete profile of Maison Couturier for iTraveliShop here.

The hotel can arrange a trip out to spend some time with Lourdes, but we promise you’ll find it very hard to leave the hotel. It’s addictive. The style, the pace, the dogs. And we’ve got the photos to prove it….

Arriving at Maison Couturier is like arriving at a French farmhouse, not a boutique hotel in Mexico.

One of a pair of resident Jack Russells at Maison Couturier greets guests (aka, new playmates).

Sure they serve tequilla at the hotel bar, but in every other way it's chicly French.

Here's the thing about French style: it's so easy and natural that even an unmade (antique) bed (with exquisite linen sheets) looks elegant.

The antiqued phone is fully functional and the classic lamp shade was made by Mexican craftsmen copying French designs.

A wonderfully European bathroom. And how refreshing to see icy blue towels instead of plain old white ones.

The polished concrete pool at Maison Coutrurier was inspired by watering troughs. The chairs were imported from France.

Pierre and Pillipe, Maison Couturier's resident Jack Russell Terriers, keep the hotel's guests smiling.

General manager Marie Ann Zaluda runs Maison Couturier with plenty of French flair.

We love these Mexican limes in such an otherwise French-looking setting on the grounds of Maison Couturier boutique hotel.

A perfect example of how Mexican and French styles mix at Maison Couturier.

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Our Latest Work: Resort-O-Rama in Belize and Cancun

Our most recently published pieces take you to two very different resorts on two very different beaches.

Get the latest about the brand new casitas and huge infinity edge pool at Matachica on Ambergris Caye in Belize here.

And go inside the thoroughly grown up world of the JW Marriott Cancun Resort & Spa in Cancun, Mexico for a top to bottom property profile here.

The sparkling white sands and aqua waters of the Cancun beach from our room at the JW Marriott Cancun Resort & Spa.

Visit the Published Work page of our website any time to see all of our freelance work in one place.

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The Other Coast – Costa Esmeralda, Veracruz State, Mexico

The Pacific Coast of Mexico is well-known for its beaches and tourist destinations like Acapulco (currently in the midst of a re-birth) and the emerging Costalegre. The Gulf Coast of Mexico, however, remains a mystery to most except for the Mexican tourists who flock there.

A brief but stunning section of the Gulf coast has been dubbed the Costa Esmeralda (Emerald Coast). Unlike the Pacific Coast, the Gulf side is punctuated by mid-size farms (vanilla is a major crop) and cattle ranches, the country’s only nuclear power plant and even some wind-whipped forests and sand dunes which make parts of the Costa Esmeralda drive feel a little like  Highway 1 in northern California. It has a much more lived-in feel than the Pacific side.

We were headed for Hotel Azucar, a  sweet (get it?) little beachfront boutique hotel that’s part of Grupo Habita which operates about a dozen of the chicest hotels in Mexico (and more coming soon to New York City and Austin, Texas).

Even the paths are charming and intimate at Hotel Azucar on the Costa Esmeralda in Veracruz State.

At Hotel Azucar we found less than 25 rooms in a sprinkling of thatch-roofed stand-alone bungalows dotted throughout a green swath of land that culminates at the Gulf of Mexico. All rooms have a welcoming patio with a hammock and an outdoor rinse shower….and a whole lot of white.

Our room was, by far, the whitest room we’ve ever stayed in. Clever DIY design touches like an elegant lump of driftwood mounted to the wall as a headboard and rebar (painted white, of course) twisted into towel hooks and light switch covers keep the feeling homey, not antiseptic.

The pool at Hotel Azucar on the Costa Esmeralda in Veracruz State is just steps from the beach and cleverly employs an actual black inner tube as a life ring.

Hotel Azucar is also a bargain with $145 weekday rates, a very well-priced spa (60 minute massages start at around US$40) and a delicious restaurant with good-value dishes that let you choose your meat (beef, fish, calamari, chicken, pork, etc) and your preparation style for around $10 a plate. Sadly, their wines are incredibly marked up.

Our room at Hotel Azucar on the Costa Esmeralda in Veracruz State was almost entirely white except for...

...this bathroom sink stand which was made from bright green molded fiberglass and lit from inside.

Turns out people have been enjoying the charms of the Costa Esmeralda for quite some time. One day we turned off the coast road and toured the resting place of some of them at Quiahuiztlan Toltec Archaeological Ruins (admission 31 pesos).

The Toltec people lived (and died) here for hundreds of years and archaeologists have unearthed more than 70 mini-temple-shaped tombs here, all located high enough up the flanks of the towering Cerro de los Metates to get cooling breezes and enjoy million dollar water views. If a cemetery can be bucolic then this is it.

Quiahuiztlan Toltec Archaeological Ruins with Cerro de los Metates towering behind.

Pyramid 2 with the sea in the background at Quiahuiztlan Toltec Archaeological Ruins.

 
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Our Latest Work: Dunton Hot Springs, Colorado

Ever since we first learned about Dunton Hot Springs resort we’ve dreamed of going to check out their decadently resurrected mining ghost town in the Rocky Mountains. We finally got the chance to stay at Dunton Hot Springs (we’ve included a few photos, below) and it more than lived up to our dreams.

Read our review here

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Filosofy in the Flats – Turneffe Atoll, Belize

We were eating breakfast at Turneffe Flats Lodge with other guests fueling up for a day filled with adventures like fly fishing for bonefish, permit and tarpon or SCUBA diving some of the most colorful and life-filled sites in the world. Here on one of the largest and most diverse collections of islands (cayes), atolls and mangroves in the world, the day is never dull. A fisherman at our table was wearing a perfectly worn in, perfectly comfortable, perfectly cool Turneffe Flats baseball cap. We coveted his cap, which was obviously made of memories, not mere cotton at this point, and the fisherman confessed that he feared it was on its last legs just as it had reached perfection.

Belize - Turneffe Flats Lodge - fishing & Belkin Beer

It got us thinking about what we could learn about life from looking at his sun-bleached, frayed across the brim, sweat-stained cap:

1. Style matters but not as much as shading your eyes so you can keep them on the prize.

2. Your favorite things will last longer if you’re gentle (hand wash whenever possible).

3. When something (or someone) goes from simply being worn to being worn in things start to fall apart so be sure to appreciate the events and adventures and lessons and moments that get you to your perfect point.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled posts about travel in Mexico and travel in Belize.

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Clowns and Cloisters – San Luis Potosi, Mexico

The charms of San Luis Potosi are more subtle than those of many towns in Mexico, but there are charms nonetheless–not the least of which is the fact that much of the central downtown area is either a car-free pedestrian mall or a lovely leafy plaza anchored by a church. Every Mexican city has plazas and churches but SLP has more than its share and it gives the city a garden-town feel.

San Luis Potosi's baroque cathedral was built between 1660 and 1730.

San Luis Potosi has a lot of pedestrian-only streets. This one leads to the cathedral.

Plaza del Carmen.

With such lovely places to congregate, it’s not surprising that a good deal of life in SLP takes place on the streets and in the plazas, disturbed only by a preponderance of clowns which give Karen the heeby-jeebies. Always have. Maybe they can smell her fear because one persistent clown roped Karen into his schtick and wouldn’t set her free until he’d given her a balloon flower. Which would be sweet except for the creepy shoes and fake sad makeup.

Karen is force to face her fears after getting roped into a street performance by a CLOWN.

Museo Regional Potosino is housed in what was originally part of a Franciscan monastery which was founded in 1590.

San Luis Potosi also has more than its share of high-end restaurants too and the city lays claim to some every day edible attractions as well such as enchiladas posotinos and an extremely tasty take on traditional pozole which is pleasingly heavy on the cilantro (or so it seemed to us). We enjoyed both dishes at a comfortable and affordable restaurant called El Pozole which, we are happy to report, is now open until late at night not just until 3:00.

San Luis Potosi is filled with many lovely squares, including Jardin de San Francisco.

Another thing that SLP has that most Mexican cities don’t is a Parisian hotel. Okay, not really. But Palacio San Agustin Museo Hotel comes as close as you’re gonna get within the borders of Mexico.

The hotel, which claims to be the first “Museum Hotel” in Latin America, is housed in what was a mansion  before becoming a kind of guest house for monks and visiting dignitaries associated with SLP’s San Agustin monastery in the late 1600s. The hotel’s current owner, a regional big-shot who prefers to remain pretty-much anonymous, bought the property and spent five years (and at least that many millions) amassing a collection of more than 700 certified French antiques. Even the chef is from France, though he’s just of normal age.

Local artists were commissioned to copy historical European decorative styles on almost every paint-able surface. The owner even added a to-scale replica of the carved stone facade of the San Agustin Temple that’s just down the street and installed it at one end of the lobby floor. Subtle he is not.

The 20 room hotel opened in 2008 (be warned, a couple of the rooms are windowless closets) and, to be honest, the place can be a bit overwhelming, especially when they’re blasting “Flight of the Valkyries” over their excellent hotel-wide sound system. But even if you hate classical music and can’t stand tapestries, you have to be awed by the sheer feat of the place. It’s worth signing up for one of their guided tours (60 pesos or about $5)  during which a staff member (English is available) will walk and talk you through the hotel’s fascinating nooks and crannies. Then you get a cocktail.

The wonderful staircase in the Palacio San Agustin Museo Hotel.

Looking up into the spiral of the wonderful staircase in the Palacio San Agustin Museo Hotel.

http://www.palaciodesanagustin.com/

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