|RELIVE THE ROMANCE OF
COLONIAL MEXICO AT A HACIENDA HOTEL
been riding in a comfortably air-conditioned Mercedes for nearly 75
minutes. My driver, Manuel, is a handsome man in his early thirties,
with jet black hair and moustache and skin the color of rich Mexican
coffee with cream. We’re headed for the fine old hacienda of Vista
Hermosa, now a luxury resort hotel just outside Cuernavaca in the State
of Morelos. This isn't the first old hacienda I've visited, and it
probably won't be the last. Not too long ago, it was quite possible to
ride over a bumpy road or even to travel by horseback, in the spirit of
colonial times. Today, we ride smoothly over one of Mexico's finest
highways. The volcano, Popocatepetl, shimmers to the east as we ride
past irrigation ditches, along the sides of dry barrancas and
across vast dry fields to the mile-long avenue of eucalyptus which forms
the entrance to the hotel grounds.
We pass old stone walls and water channels of
moss-green brick. We enter a gate guarded by two stone towers and find
ourselves in a large compound encircled by high walls of incredible
thickness. The gatekeeper waves and says, "Adios," that
Mexican goodbye which also means how do you do and God bless you.
"Welcome to Hacienda de San Jose de Vista
Hermosa," says Manuel in crisp English, as he helps me with my
bags. "Welcome to the former home of Hernan Cortes, Lord and
Captain of New Spain and the South Sea. As a reward for his conquests,
Charles V, King of Spain, honored him with the title of Marques del
Valle de Oaxaca and awarded him the patronage and rights over vast land
holdings, that take up four of our states, and 23,000 vassals."
I feel like I've been transported back in time.
Behind me is the main house, the casa principal and spread out
before me is an elegant garden ablaze with purple bougainvillea and red
flamboyant. Orchids perfume the air. A massive brick aqueduct arches
above my head. Through its arches flows a cerulean blue swimming pool
shaded by towering royal palms. There’s hardly a splinter of wood to
be seen. Everything is of stone, tile or adobe brick. In the distance is
a large domed building, which Manuel informs me was the former sugar
mill, now the hotel's restaurant.
Perhaps after manana, which means
tomorrow, there’s no word more common in Mexico
than hacienda. Throughout Mexico, broad
fields culminate in the facade of a great stone structure. Sometimes it
looks like a stockade, sometimes like a palace, sometimes like a
monastery. Sometimes it's resplendent and restored as is Vista Hermosa,
sometimes it's an utter ruin.
The Mexican hacienda was a giant farm, under the absolute domination
of an individual with powers often running back to a royal grant. Due to
the underdeveloped transportation lines, the haciendas had to be
self-sufficient. Along with the grant of land went a grant of Indians.
As farm laborers they worked the lands and produced their own food; as
carpenters, masons, blacksmiths, potters, weavers, they erected the
buildings, kept them in repair, and fabricated all necessary tools and
utensils. As servants they kept the owner--the hacendado--and his
family from ever doing any work. Some hacendados were so wealthy
that they could mint their own silver coins with their family's crest.
Sugar cane haciendas developed in the hot
climates of the states of Veracruz and Morelos, while cattle haciendas
were established on the dry central plains and southward lowlands of
Chiapas and Veracruz. Conquistadors founded henequin or sisal
hemp haciendas in the arid parts of the Yucatan, and cotton plantations
all over Coahuila. Haciendas also developed in areas with profitable
iron ore and silver mines.
Residences often had 20 to 30 rooms, on one to
three floors, including a salon, music room, billiard room, library, and
dining room. Larger houses had two kitchens and two to three patios,
with stone fountains, stone or wooden santos (statues of saints),
potted plants, flowering vines, shrubbery and fruit and shade trees.
European art graced some homes, others were
extremely Spartan, furnished only with a few leather chests, some
hammocks, tables, chairs, wardrobes, and a plaster Madonna. With the
passing of time, affluent and cultured owners acquired Italian bronzes,
stained glass, Gobelin tapestries, and paintings by El Greco, Goya, and
Murillo. Elaborate chandeliers hung in the dining rooms, and Venetian
cabinets held Sevres porcelain.
The Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries sent
from Spain played a key role in the brutal expropriation of lands from
the Indians. Consequently, there wasn't a single hacienda without a
chapel, with a bell tower or spire.
The Mexican Revolution brought reforms. The
former day-workers took possession of the abandoned manor houses and
stripped them for building materials. Before long, these symbols of
feudalism fell into decay and ruin.
Today, travelers, like myself, can find
haciendas in a rural setting, a handful of acres now, abandoned and
decaying, with a crumbling mansion, church, chapel, and utilitarian
buildings: most are windowless, doorless, roofless structures, lying in
silent wait for buldozers to obliterate them. But a movement to preserve
these historic structures has gained momentum.
Many of the great haciendas of Mexico, likened
to and often built to resemble the chateaux of France, castles on the
Rhine, or magnificent Italian villas have been rescued from decay and
transformed into hotels, not the highly polished resort type, easily
accessible by air, but luxurious out-of-the-way places that plunge the
traveler into romantic old Mexico.
Hacienda Vista Hermosa
After checking in at Vista Hermosa, Manuel shows me to my room on
the upper floor of the main house in an area known as the Big Canyon.
"In the early days this floor, with its vaulted-ceilinged rooms,
was used for storing and drying rice, while the lower level was open to
allow horse-drawn carts to load for shipment. Later, this part of the
hacienda was used as a monastery to house nuns and priests."
I'm a bit taken back by my room's grand size
and its unique 16th century paintings and furnishings. A ceiling fan
gently moves the air in the darkened room, as the warm sunlight streams
through the louvers on the doors leading to a small balcony overlooking
After making a final check, Manuel says,
"I hope you have pleasant stay at Hacienda Vista Hermosa, Señor."
Begun in 1529 by Hernan Cortes, Vista Hermosa
has had a long and tumultuous past. After Cortes' death, his son, Don
Martin arrived from Spain to take over the hacienda. He became the
leading figure of the time and eventually led a conspiracy against the
Viceroy. The hacienda ownership left the Cortes family in 1621 and a
series of eight more hacendados ruled Vista Hermosa before Emiliano
Zapata and his followers evicted them in 1921, destroying crops and
distributing the sugar leaving it in ruins. Engineer Fernando Martinez
found it in 1944 and created this luxurious refuge.
Another former estate and sugar plantation of Hernan Cortes,
Hacienda Cocoyoc– Cocoyoc means "Valley of the Coyotes" in
the Nuahuatl language–is located nearby. To establish a firm hold on
the land, Cortes married, Isabel, daughter of Moctezuma II and built
Hacienda Cocoyoc in 1520 as a token of his passionate love for her. He
added a chapel and aqueduct in 1600, and in 1613, the Count of Monterrey
installed a sugar mill. The overseer of the cane fields lived in the
mansion. Later, it became the site of the first Dominican monastery in
An arch over an old wooden door at the entrance
is engraved with the message: "The Door to the Paradise of
America." Considering that the temperature rarely varies from the
high 80's at noon to the low 50's at night, the nomenclature, given by
Antonio de Mendoza, first viceroy of New Spain, is justified. Rains
usually occur in the evening during the summer, thus the mango
grove-shaded golf course is always green. Paulino Rivera Torres, a
Mexican businessman, restored it to its 16th-century grandeur
over 40 years ago. Rooms, in new additions, are more modern. The hotel
also features an excellent spa.
Hacienda del Cortes
Hacienda del Cortes, the Cuernavaca home of Cortes during his stay
in Mexico, is one of the smallest and most charming. Also located
outside Cuernavaca in Atlacomulco, this all-suite hotel has enough
flowers, fountains and history to overwhelm almost anyone.
Known formally as the Hacienda de San Antonio
Atlacomulco, it was begun by Cortes, who left it to his son, Don Martin.
He made it into the most important sugar plantation in New Spain. It,
too, became a gathering place for colonials, who loved to wander about
its gardens, filled with somersaulting waterfalls and fountains. Later
on, Emperor Maxmillian delighted in visiting the hacienda to take
advantage of the fine weather around Cuernavaca. Eventually, the estate
fell to the Cortes heirs, the Dukes of Monteleone, who gave new life to
the lands. Unfortunately, their success was cut short with the advent of
the Mexican Revolution. Today, the heirs to the title of Monteleone are
buried beyond the gates. The hacienda sat in abandoned ruin until 1973,
when Dr. Mario Gonzalez Ulloa transformed it into this charming hotel.
Hacienda San Miguel Regla
One of the most authentic of the hacienda hotels is the 17th-century
Hacienda San Miguel Regla, built by Pedro Romero de Terreros, the
richest man in the world at the time. Located in the hills east of
Mexico City in the Valle de la Huasca above the town of Pachuca, in the
State of Hidalgo, Romero named it after the Province of Regla from which
he hailed.. Originally a gold and silver refinery, its former truncated
ovens tower over the grounds, studded with oaks and pines, with a lake
for boating and rose-lined paths for quiet walks. Graceful arches of the
original aqueduct surround the patios and ovens.
Huge red iron doors frame a stone drive leading
to a chapel adjacent to the casa principal. Trees, surrounding an old
fountain, fill the main square. All 76 units have names. Double rooms
lead off the main patio. Suites and villas, scattered throughout the
grounds, feature a fireplace. Buffet-style meals, served in a long
beamed-ceiling hall of the main house with a view of the garden, are
One of the newest hacienda hotels, Hacienda Xextho, in the northern
part of the State of Hidalgo, stands far off the main road in the
mountains of the Sierra Madre. Founded by Franciscan monks in 1585 but
soon taken over by the Augustinians, Xextho means hole in a mulcahette
stone in the Otomi language. Long after, it became a private home owned
by Arturo and Luce Alvarez Malo, who had nine children.
Xextho’s 25 rooms and suites, all named after
parts of historic haciendas–La Troje (grain storage), El Jacalpoor
(worker’s house), La Chimenea (the chimney), feature luxurious antique
furnishings and cost only $48 to $65 a night!
Haciendas aren't just hotels, but experiences
that transform. Each revives and regenerates the energies of all who
stay within their walls. Before I go to bed, I take a stroll away from
my room and look at the stars; the sky shimmers with thousands of them.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
HOTEL HACIENDA VISTA HERMOSA
Avenue Insurgentes Centro No. 149,
O6470 Mexico, D.F., Tel. 915/566-7077, 915/566-7700, FAX 915/566-7555.
HOTEL HACIENDA COCOYOC
Reservations: Avenue insurgentes No
2383, Piso San Angel 0100 Mexico, D.F.; Tel. 917/35-2-20-00 or in Mexico
City at (915)511-4460, FAX 3-3390.
HACIENDA DE CORTES
Reservations: Mexico City: Hospital
Dalinde Tuxpan 27, Esq. Baja California, Colonia Roma Sur; Tel.
915/64-59-98; or in Cuernavaca: Apdo. Post No. 273-D, Atlacomulco,
Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico; Tel. 917/15-9944.
HOTEL HACIENDA SAN MIGUEL REGLA
Reservations: 43500 Huasca, Hidalgo,
Mexico; Tel. 771/702-80, 702-33, or 702-37.
HOTEL HACIENDA YEXTHO
Tel (545) 5 35 88; fax (545) 434-8765
Res in Mexico City 550-8656 and 652-0717