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.
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!
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 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.
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.