The Town Time Almost Forgot – Alamos, Sonora, Mexico

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.

Cathedral Nuestra Señora de la Concepción in Alamos' Plaza de Armas.

Cathedral Nuestra Señora de la Concepción in Alamos' tranquil Plaza de Armas.

 

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.

Wonderful architecture and pretty lanes abound in this pueblo magico.

Wonderful architecture and pretty lanes abound in this Pueblo Magico.

 

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!)

Entrance to Hacienda de los Santos.

The entrance to Hacienda de los Santos Resort & Spa.

 

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.

One of four swimming pools at Hacienda de los Santos.

One of four swimming pools at Hacienda de los Santos Resort & Spa.

 

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.

The Hacienda's wanderful bar, Cantina Zapata has more than xxx different tequilas.

The Hacienda's wonderful bar, Cantina Zapata, has more than 500 different tequilas plus an impressive collection of saddles, spurs and sombreros.

Just a selection of the xxx tequilas in Hacienda de los Santos Cantina Zapata.

Just a portion of the more than 500 different tequilas on offer in Cantina Zapata at Hacienda de los Santos Resort & Spa, even though owner Jim Swickard doesn't drink.

Pool in the main courtyard of the Hacienda de los Santos at night.

The pool in the main courtyard of the Hacienda de los Santos Resort & Spa--one of four pools at the hotel.

Children dess up in period costume at Alamos' Revolution Day parade.

Children dressed up in period costumes as part of Alamos' Revolution Day parade.

Pancho Villa wanna'bes at Alamos' Revolution Day parade.

Pancho Villa wannabes in Alamos' Revolution Day parade.

Cool old truck turned food cart in Alamos' Plaza Alameda

This cool old truck has been turned into a food cart and now sells snacks in Alamos' Plaza Alameda.

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Our Latest Work: Zacatecas, Mexico

The travel section of the  Dallas Morning News published a feature we did about the surprising charms of Zacatecas, Mexico. Thousands of masks, the most unusual sandwich we’ve ever eaten and a subterranean disco are  just part of the story.

Read it here first!

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

And don’t miss our latest round of hotel reviews and news from Mexico and the US including Posada Tacubaya a new family-friendly bed and breakfast in Alamos created by the same gifted family behind Hacienda de los Santos, the Aman group’s newest US hotel, Amangiri, and Las Alamandas, a bright spot (literally) on the Costalegre, Mexico.

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Ay, Chi hua why! – Chihuahua City, Chihuahua, Mexico

To be honest, the first time we visited the city of Chihuahua back in December we were surprised at how clean and orderly and historic this city is. Oh, and how pointy the cowboy boots are. Mate a stiletto with a traditional cowboy boot and you begin to get the idea. Make them baby blue or mint green or tangerine and made out of alligator skin and/or manta ray and you’ve hit the jackpot, so to speak.

The beautiful baroque cathedral of Chihuahua was begun in 1725.

Construction of the beautiful baroque cathedral in Chihuahua was begun in 1725.

 

This visit to Chihuahua, which is celebrating its 300th birthday this year, brought a new surprise: an actual boutique hotel.  We knew that Chihuahua had the usual suspects: your soulless chains like Holiday Inn and Best Western, and a whole passle of locally-owned el cheapo crash pads that are clean and safe and that’s about all you can say about them.

But Hotel San Felipe el Real is a whole different stay. Eight individually decorated rooms are clustered around an open-air inner courtyard with a gently gurgling fountain and bouganvillea draped back patio in a restored 19th century mansion located  in a quiet area tucked a few blocks off the main plaza.

Common rooms, including a library and sitting area, are peppered with antiques (just try to keep track of the number of antique sewing machines, record players and stoves in the place) and a made to order breakfast is served each morning by the ever-smiling Luz in a spacious kitchen and dining area which guests are free to use as well. Oh, and there’s reliable Wi-Fi throughout.

Hotel San Felipe el Real has managed to combine historic touches (original floors and ceilings) with thrift store chic decor and a charming mash up of Spanish and Mexican influences. The English-speaking owner, Santiago, is also a wealth of knowledge about the area including the Copper Canyon. The world famous Copper Canyon train actually departs from a station within walking distance of the hotel (we’ll be posting about our time in the Copper Canyon over the next few days). It sure as heck beats the el cheapo place we crashed in during our last visit to Chihuahua!

Apparently, in this economy it even tough to sell Chihuahua's in Chihuahua.

In this economy it's tough to sell chihuahuas even in Chihuahua.

gowns

Fancy gowns are big business in Chihuahua.

 

Apart from impossibly pointy day-glow cowboy boots, Chihuahua’s other fashion statement is fancy gowns for weddings and quinceañero celebrations–the mandatory party every 15 year old girl has. Think of it as the Mexican version of a sweet 16 party, only with peticoats, corsets and tiaras.

One of the dozens of fancy dress shops in downtown Chihuahua offers something the others don’t. Legend has it that the daughter of Pascuala, the owner of La Popular dress shop, was killed by a black widow spider bite on the eve of her wedding. Heart broken, Pascuala embalmed her daughter’s corpse and now uses it as a mannequin in her shop window. The thing is eerily life like. We’re just saying.

Piñatas fill a hallway of the market.

Mass produced piñatas fill a hallway in one section of a downtown market building.

 

Piñatas are also big business and range from crude likenesses churned out by entire famlilies of workers to hand-crafted pieces with amazing details like curled hair and artfully painted eyes.

A particularly artistic and deatailed piñata getting the final touches.

This special order piñata is particularly artistic and detailed.

Piñata's in process

Piñatas in process.

Piñatas

Luckily piñatas don't need sunscreen.

 

Santiago, the gregarious owner of Hotel San Felipe el Real, got us into a food show that was being held at the convention center in Chihuahua. Mennonite cheese makers (there’s a huge and prosperous community of Mennonite farmers not far from Chihuahua) rubbed shoulders with guys hawking machaca, a tasty dried and shredded beef and gourmet potato chips. It wasn’t long before we’d worked up a powerful thirst.

Luckily, the food show also had Tecate and Corona beer on tap and a stall doling out sips of Hacienda de Chihuahua sotol, a regional drink that’s distilled from a member of the agave family. The process is similar to tequila making but, in this case at least, the end product is smoother.

No convention center event is ever truly complete without scantily clad women traipsing around “promoting” something-or-other. At this event a gaggle of young women in tiny tops, tinier skirts and the kind of boots that would make Nancy Sinatra blush satisfied that need in their roles as the official Tecate Girls.

The Tecate girls, not to be confused with the Modelo girls, having a snack at the food show.

The Tecate Girls grab a snack.

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Hasta la Vista, Amigos!

Well, today’s the day. After using up our first six month Mexican visa and spending the past four months in the US it’s time to (finally) cross the border once again. We are Mexico bound and we couldn’t be happier about it. The food! The friends! The freedom! The fiesta!

For any nervous Nellies out there we are officially NOT worried about Swine Flu or Drug Violence. Why? We wash our hands. With soap. Also, we have no plans of either a) becoming the chief of police of Juarez OR b) attempting to encroach on a dealer’s turf.

Our first stop in Mexico has us doubly excited (if that’s possible). We’ll be spending a couple of weeks in the Copper Canyon with Dave Hensleigh from Authentic Copper Canyon. The three of us will be on a totally flexible schedule (the very best kind) with an emphasis on finding people and places in and around the Copper Canyon that tourists on the usual Copper Canyon train trips never get to see or meet. We think of ourselves as guinea pigs on this exploratory trip and we can’t wait.

This means we’ll be out of touch for a little while but expect some worth-it stories and pictures and information about what to eat, where to sleep and what to do both on the rim and deep inside the canyon that’s seven times a grand as our Grand Canyon. We may even start calling it the “Grander Canyon.”

To keep you busy while we’re gone, check out this newspaper story we did about Zacatecas, our last major stop in Mexico before our visa ran out. This town’s got what just might be the most unusual disco, most shocking sandwich and most breathtaking catherdral view from a hotel room in all of Mexico, and that’s just for starters.

Here are some shots from Zacatecas:

The cathedral in Zacatecas was begun in 1730.

Construction of the cathedral in Zacatecas began in 1730.

Zacatecas is filled with small streets, alleys and plazas. That along with the architecture reminded us of Europe.

Zacatecas is filled with small streets, alleys and plazas. That, along with the architecture, reminded us of Europe.

The European-like streets of downtown Zacatecs

The European-like streets of downtown Zacatecs.

The view of the cathedral from our balcony at the hotel Santa Rita was spectacular.

The view of the cathedral from our balcony at the Santa Rita Hotel was spectacular.

A pedestrian callejon, or alley, in Zacatecas.

A pedestrian callejon, or alley, in Zacatecas.

The Museo Rafael Colonel aka the Mask Museum has a collection of over 2,000 masks.

The Museo Rafael Colonel has a collection that includes thousands of masks.

Two nuns walk into a jewlery store....

Two nuns walk into a jewelery store....Zacatecas was built on silver mines and the stuff is now made into everything from key chains to religious items.

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Our Latest Work: Villa Ganz, Guadalajara (our kind of B&B)

We just posted our latest hotel review and it’s all about a restored mansion in Mexico’s second largest city. Villa Ganz in Guadalajara is part of the Mexico Boutique Hotels group and it actually manages to get the bed and breakfast thing right: no doilies, just 10 of the most luxurious and charming rooms in town.

Read our review here

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Our Latest Work: An Airstream for Everyone

Busy, busy, busy! Following the publication of our road trip package in the current (August) issue of Every Day with Rachael Ray magazine (see previous post) we’re excited to bring you our latest piece for Travel + Leisure magazine’s web site which commissioned us to write about the World’s Trendiest Airstream Hotels.

Read it here

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As you know, Airstream travel trailers have been near and dear to our hearts ever since we got to know them inside and out while living in a Safari SE for six months at end of 2008 and producing a blog about our Airstream Adventures. Read our piece and go test one out for a night or two for yourself!

 

Not a hotel, our Airstream in front the Mittens, Monument Valley

Not a hotel, but the Airstream Safari SE we were lucky enough to live and travel in for six months. Here we're in front The Mittens at Monument Valley.

 

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