For a tiny town, Bernal, Mexico less than an hour from the city of Querétaro, has a lot going for it, including what some say is the second largest monolith in the world, a unique brand of peace and quiet, and access to one of the oldest wineries in the Americas.
The big rock of Bernal
Peña de Bernal (Bernal Peak) is, according to some estimates, the second largest monolith in the world after Mt. Augustus in Western Australia. At 1,115 feet (350 meters) tall, the big rock in Bernal is also the fourth tallest (or third tallest, again, depending on who you ask) monolith in the world after Mt. Augustus, the Rock of Gibraltar and Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio. As you can imagine, a pedigree like that means a lot of rock climbers travel to Bernal.
Bernal, stuck in time
Bernal was designated a Pueblo Magico by the Mexican government in 2005 and it delivers a pleasantly stuck-in-time look and feel with simple buildings, festive colors, and a central square dominated by a lively church. Old men sit around and do what old men do while younger men gallop down the cobblstone streets on horses. Every once in a while a woman pokes her head out of the shop or restaurant she’s running. It is altogether nap inspiring.
Where to sleep in Bernal
While in Bernal we stayed at the Hotel Parador Vernal about a 10 minute walk above town itself. The lobby is largely populated by big colorful birds in even bigger ornate cages. Our room, #8, had one wall which was painted entirely electric green and featured a huge, loosely looped wool area rug that felt like walking on a sheep. The bed was comfortable and the view of Peña de Bernal couldn’t be beat.
Some of the hotel’s other rooms (there are 13 in total), however, seemed a bit small and dark so ask for room 7 or 8 if you plan to stay the night. Or just pop up for a bite or a drink in the dining room or outdoor bar with an unobstructed view of the monolith.
Where to drink in Bernal, including historic Mexican wine
Throughout Mexico we rarely saw beer on tap, so we were surprised and delighted when we walked past a pretty cafe in Bernal with outdoor seating and cerveza de baril (beer on tap) on the menu. And that’s not the only beverage surprise the area had in store for us…
About 30 minutes from Bernal, in the town of Ezequiel Montes, is the Cavas Freixenet winery complete with tours and wine sales and a kind of manic crowd on weekends that seems intent on downing as much of their newly purchased wine and sparkling wine right then and there at tables and chairs set up in an open-air courtyard.
We missed the last tour of the day so we just wandered around trying not to get between the Mexican couples and their wine. Weirdly, there wasn’t a single black bottle of the too-sweet Cordon Negro sparkling wine that we associate with the Freixenet brand in the U.S. In fact, none of the wine for sale even had Freixenet on the label. The sparkling wine was called Petillant and turned out to be just as sweet as Cordon Negro.