Saturday, 18 March 2017

Mexico San Cristobal de las Casas, Hotel Casavieja

San Cristobal de las Casas ©Solange Hando

In the highlands of Mexico south of the Yucatan peninsula, San Cristobal de las Casas is an attractive prosperous town with an impressive cathedral, stylish colonial buildings and quiet lanes, such as this one, where character hotels are tucked away behind traditional colourful façades.

Casavieja, Cool Arcade in Inner Courtyard ©Solange Hando

One would never guess what hides beyond the plain entrance of Casavieja, the 18th century building converted into a boutique hotel with rooms to suit a range of budgets. Character aside, the hotel top attraction is its central location in a quiet lane, just five minutes walk from the cathedral and downtown pedestrian area.

Standard Room in Casavieja ©Solange Hando

Guests can choose from 4 suites and 36 rooms furnished in colonial style with a few artefacts from the Chiapas region. Room size and facilities range from basic to luxurious according to price. 
Accommodation is on two levels around the inner courtyard. Heaters are provided in the rooms and free coffee is available in the lobby.

Quiet Corner in Casavieja ©Solange Hando

Brightened up with flowers and plants, reading areas and cosy corners are scattered around the building so guests can relax, meet friends and enjoy quiet times away from the hustle and bustle of downtown.
It's a little haven and even conference guests appreciate the peace.

Cool escape in the Courtyard, Casavieja ©Solange Hando

The courtyard is definitely a bonus filled with flowers and greenery, decorative features and convivial seating in the shade. Warm colours befit the traditional character of the hotel.
The Casavieja has a well-stocked wine cellar and two restaurants serving Spanish and Chiapas specialities.

Casavieja, Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico ©Solange Hando

Saturday, 4 March 2017

San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico

San Cristobal de las Casas, Cathedral ©Solange Hando

In the central highlands of southern Mexico, this stunning cathedral in San Cristobal de las Casas draws locals and visitors alike from morning to night. With its warm colours and slender minaret-like turrets, it's the most striking legacy of colonial times in the ancient capital of the Chiapas state.

Weaving in Chiapas State ©Solange Hando

But alongside the Catholic faith, the indigenous culture is alive and well and the tourist market outside Santo Domingo's church is a great place to bargain for local craft. Chiapas is known for hand-made textiles -head for the villages to see weavers at work-, amber and jade but you will also find the usual assortment of tourist trinkets from hats and gloves to dolls or water bottles.

Southern Mexico Central Highlands ©Solange Hando

At 2,200 metres, Cristobal de las Casas nestles in a valley framed by pine-covered hills where streams,waterfalls and springs babble in fragrant greenery. Up in the mountains indigenous communities often live in isolation, following their own set of rules and even laws. 
Chiapas may be part of Mexico but as proved by its turbulent past and frequent unrest, the descendants of the Maya are their own boss and do not appreciate any kind of interference.

Market Day in San Juan Chamula ©Solange Hando

Up in the hills, roughly 10 km from San Critobal de las Casas,  the weekly market of San Juan Chamula attracts a fair number of visitors keen to enjoy the bright local colour and have a look in the unique temple-church. There, families who gather to pray sit around candles on a floor covered in pine needles; no pews or chairs, only indigenous gods and Catholic saints jostling side by side along the aisles.

As long as you are prepared to respect the rules, it is well worth a visit. No photos in the church or market except from one specific spot on the square. Don't try it on, you will be caught, shamed in public and unless your guide has untold patience and connections, you can say goodbye to your camera. Same applies to most of the of nearby villages.

Colonial Style, San Cristobal de las Casas ©Solange Hando

Back in town, the atmosphere is far more relaxed as you wander past elegant villas and cool arcades or head down the pedestrian street with its enticing restaurants and café-terrace, its food vendors and balloon sellers, giggling children and Maya women who do not shy away as long as you're prepared to bargain and buy.
On the town square, elders and weary-eyed tourists doze under the trees while the hypnotic notes of a traditional xylophone -played by three pairs of hands- drift in the evening air.

  San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico ©Solange Hando

Meanwhile in the back lanes just minutes away, lovely character hotels hide among the colourful local dwellings which line the paved alleyways, heading straight as arrows towards the wooded highlands. 
Cristobal may be a city these days but it is still called 'the most magical village' and in the fresh mountain air, it truly feels like it.