Mérida, Yucatán Gem

Centro historico of Mérida

The Yucatán’s capital, Mérida, is an unhurried city of pastel crayon colored 19th Century Spanish Colonial mansions and traditional squares accented by popular public parks. One of the safest cities in Mexico, not only is it an architectural gem, it treasures its Mayan heritage. Folk dancing takes place on the closed off historic square on Saturday nights, and bike riding can be enjoyed in Paseo Montejo, which is closed to cars on Sundays. Mérida was founded in 1542 and was named after the town of Mérida in Extremadura Spain. The city was built on the site of the Maya city of “Tho.” Tho had been a center of Mayan culture for centuries and because of this, some historians consider Mérida the oldest continually occupied city in the Americas.

The Plaza Grande marks the center of the city, the centro historico of Merida. Bounded on four sides by buildings which include the Cathedral San Idelfonso, the Governor’s Palace, Casa Montejo (now inhabited by a Banamex), the MACAY museum, the Olimpo (a cultural center that houses gallery space, a movie theatre and the Planetarium) and the Ayuntamiento (City Hall), the Plaza Grande is a lovely park where people come to meet, sit, read the paper, sing, dance, chase the pigeons or just watch the world go by. Locals still ride in little horse-drawn taxis, which gather by the plaza in the evenings. Trios of trovadores wait to be hired for serenades and wander the corridors strumming their guitars.

At the turn of the century, merchants who had grown rich on the trade in sisal rope brought great wealth to Mérida. The city retains a European feel, with many of the older buildings built from French bricks and tiles, brought over as ballast in trading ships. Like the rest of the peninsula, it had little effective contact with central Mexico until the 1960s and looked to Europe for influence, thus the stark difference in character and style from most of other popular Mexican cities.

Ancient Mayan history is still evident in many buildings, carved Maya stones from ancient T’ho were widely used to build the Spanish colonial buildings that are abundant in central Mérida. Much of Mérida’s architecture from the colonial period through the 18th century and 19th century is still standing in the centro historico of the city.

From colonial times through the mid-19th century, Mérida was a walled city intended to protect the residents from periodic revolts by the indigenous Maya. Three of the original seven old Spanish city gates survive, but modern day Mérida has expanded well beyond the old city walls.The exposed brick streets were originally brought from Spain as ballast in the sailing ships, sailors replaced the ballast with ink wood harvested in Mérida.

Mérida and the state of Yucatán have traditionally been isolated from the rest of the country by geography, creating a unique culture. The conquistadors found the Mayan culture to be incredibly resilient, and their attempts to eradicate Mayan tradition, religion, and culture had only moderate success.  The surviving remnants of the Mayan culture can be seen every day, in dress, language, and in both written and oral histories. It is especially apparent on holidays like Hanal Pixan, a Mayan/Catholic Day of the Dead celebration. It falls on November 1 and 2 (one day for adults, and one for children). Many of the local ladies still wear the traditional white dress decorated in beautiful embroidery.

Not only is Mérida a wonderful draw on its own, the central location is the perfect starting point to explore the Mayan Route of ruins, cenotes (underwater sinkholes with crystal clear water), and refurbished haciendas. Some of the haciendas are private residences and we have access to the best of the best!

Uxmal

I spent three days with a couple of extremely knowledgeable guides – I was wildly impressed with both guides and loved exploring Mérida and Uxmal, one of the largest and most important archaeological sites of Mayan culture. The Mayan town of Uxmal, in Yucatán, was founded c. A.D. 700 and had 25,000 inhabitants. The layout of the buildings, which date from between 700 and 1000, reveals knowledge of astronomy. The Pyramid of the Soothsayer, as the Spaniards called it, dominates the ceremonial center, which has well-designed buildings decorated with a profusion of symbolic motifs and sculptures depicting Chaac, the god of rain. The ceremonial sites of Uxmal, Kabah, Labna and Sayil are considered the high points of Mayan art and architecture. Uxmal is only about 40 miles from Merida. Spend a week here and vary your days: lounging about, exploring Mérida and venturing out to the archeological sites.

Despite the large population of Mérida, the area feels sleepy and calm, it doesn’t exhibit the rush rush energy of a large city; small villages dot the country roads, week long fiestas are popular in the tranquil towns outside the city. Mérida, itself can lay claim to a couple of well known chefs – I met two who had trained under chef René Redzep at Noma, the world famous Copenhagen restaurant. Roberto Solis, owner and chef at Néctar is a former Noma chef and he also cooked at Per Se in New York. Our dinner at Néctar, a small unassuming restaurant was amazing and the  very reasonable tab was beyond belief for the amount of food and wine we enjoyed, under the watchful care of friendly and efficient staff. The New Yucatecan Cuisine, as Solis describes it, is traditional in a sense, but wildly innovative.

Don’t miss the Mercado market teeming with vendors of fresh fruits and vegetables, piles of  indigenous spices, housewares – a massive mecca of interesting food and home items. If you like poking through cemeteries, the Cementerio General is spectacular.

This is not a traditional bustling city like Mexico City – Mérida has a relaxed vibe, love the proximity to Mayan ruins without the crowds, love the authentic city and the very friendly locals.

Planning another escape soon! Highly recommend and we can help you organize the VV Best guides, dining, private experiences and hacienda resort stay. We can also arrange visits to private haciendas for cooking classes with well known local chefs.

Chablé Resort & Spa, Mérida

My first in-depth Journey to the Yucatan resulted in a new found love of Mexico. Eons ago, I visited Cancún, and other than a trek to the famed Mayan ruins, I have no fond memories of that visit. In fact, I would dissuade anyone from visiting the very touristy area that encompasses Cancún. The newish Chablé Resort is situated amid sleepy authentic villages and the bustling historic colonial city of Mérida. One of my favorite GM’s, Rocco Bova, has taken the helm at Chablé, if anyone inspires magic, it is Rocco!

Chablé Resort Casa Principal Verandah

Arriving to warm Merida at midnight, I was pleasantly stunned to see Rocco waiting for me. Welcome begins – chilled fragrant towel and water for the short distance to the resort which was punctuated by passing a lively fiesta in a local village – people wandering around carnival rides and dancing to live pulsating music…a colorful introduction!  A lantern lit path leads you past the Casa Principal, a magical evening arrival. My jungle casita was illuminated, flickering candles outlined the terrace, white mosquito net drawn around my bed and a delicious turkey sandwich left for me was a well appreciated late night dinner! Apparently turkey is an extremely popular ingredient in Yucautaen cuisine.

I spent a very relaxing week at the mystic Chablé Resort, barely 30 minutes outside of the charming city of Mérida. I’m almost an expert in the area, which abounds with massive limestone and stone Haciendas, some in ruins and many restored – many located on acres of ancient henequén plantations. The Haciendas are Mexico’s equivalent to American southern plantations, dating from the 1600’s, built by the wealthy henequén (sisal) producers. Most Yucatecan haciendas in the 19th century created rope from henequén, a variety of the agave cactus, which was exported for the prosperous shipping industry. Acres of agricultural fields of henequén, were tended by hundreds of men. As in the south, the haciendas enforced a social system based on race; the landowners were masters of the indigenous Mayan workers.

The main house or Casa Principal, was the largest building, where the haciendado maintained his home. One aspect I love about Chablé Resort is the masterful juxtaposition  incorporating the ancient stone hacienda and many of its still standing remnants of colorful outer buildings including the machine house – the life source of each plantation – into the body of the resort. The stone ruin of the Casa de Máquinas at Chablé has been restored into a stunning restaurant and bar, overlooking acres of rolling lawns and massive Ceiba and Tamarind trees. Glass walls edge the manicured grounds and intimate outdoor tables alongside a stream are perfect for dining at the elegant restaurant, Ixi‘Im, it is also prized for the largest private tequila collection in the world.https://i0.wp.com/chableresort.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Home-5.jpg?fit=1063%2C709

The gorgeous Chablé Casa Principal, has also been restored, soaring ceilings encompasses an elegant restful guest library, boutique, stylish cocktail lounge and is fronted by an elegant sprawling ceramic tiled colonnaded verandah – the perfect location to lounge under a whirling ceiling fan and enjoy a frosty drink and a book. The haciendas were architecturally adorned and artfully furnished with objects from around the world. A small chapel, San Antonio Chablé is within the Casa Principal, we can arrange private Mass if you desire.

Chablé Grounds

If inclined, bike around the compact dirt paths, lined by stone walls. Acres of clipped lawns punctuated with massive stone arches and brightly hued buildings, and dangling from the massive Ceiba trees are woven sisal ‘nests’ with cushions, purported to resemble a pigeon nest – crawl in and sway from the most important tree in the Mayan cosmogony. They believed the trunk connected the planes of the Underworld to the terrestrial realm and the skies, what better place to pass the time. Certainly a waiter will wander by to refresh your chilled libation.

Wander the 75 acres, which are remarkably compact, to explore; when you reach a center circle of rock path, you have found the winding trails to the 40 stand-alone pool Casitas in the midst of an emerald green jungle, backing up to over 750 acres of dry Mayan Forest. Each white limestone Casita is privately situated off a short path, with a slightly deep plunge pool, comfy dining terrace, outdoor rain shower and acres of glass to view the untamed jungle. I never closed my massive shutters or drapes, preferring to peer out of my glass box to the swaying green trees filled with jabbering jungle birds! Woodpeckers, Chic Bul, Northern Cardinals, cooing Doves, and of course, the social fly catcher chatter all day while hummingbirds dart and dance. Floor to ceiling white mosquito nets surround the bed, if bugs annoy you. Lucky me, they never nibble and I didnt see any mosquito’s. At dusk look for the lawn of fireflies on your way back to your casita – the lawn is teeming with them!

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Chablé Casita

Chablé Casita Pool Terrace

Hand loomed hammocks sway across the pool, culturally symbolic for the Yucatecans, most homes have hammock hooks on the walls, still a typical Mayan bed during hot weather. Look in the old haciendas and you will see the massive hooks still attached to the walls.

Chablé Entrance to private Presidential Villa

Two three bedroom Villas can accommodate families. Enter the Presidential Villa through an ancient stone portal, meander across a small deck through the jungle to reach the very private residence with a large pool and wide expansive decks and outdoor dining alcoves.  As with the casitas, the Villa furnishings are elegant and understated, mixing stunning art, authentically Mexican with accents of blue and sea green, calming hues meshing indoor and outdoor.

Chablé Villa

Don’t miss the morning Mayan ritual at the vast vegetable gardens – the Gratitude Ceremony K’aanchee’s; your nightly news sheet will remind you of the daily activities included with your stay.  Activities include, yoga, biking, interval weight training. Full post coming on the gardens.

Imagined as a hedonistic and utterly private retreat, the hacienda’s centerpiece is its incredible spa built beside a “cenote” – natural cave formations believed to be sacred to the Mayans. Do plan on spending a few days just to absorb the positive energy and spa philosophy. The modern spa is sleek and contemporary, several pools are dotted around the main building for quiet visits, intimate teak treatment rooms dangle over the cenote, a natural sinkhole considered by the Mayans to be a spiritual gateway. Initiate a ritual cleansing by sitting quietly on the glass deck overlooking the jungle greenery and the deep clear mystical pool. Look for upcoming Spa post soon – yes, I enjoyed a burning sage cleanse, prior to my two hour treatment.

Chablé immediately immerses guests in the rich culture and history of the region, creating an authentic experience that harmoniously blends nature, luxury and an unmistakable sense of place. Every aspect in the development of Chablé has been carefully planned and executed to honor the history of the property and the ancient Mayan culture.

Evening dining on the terrace of IXI’IM RESTAURANT

Dining – Chablé’s culinary menu was designed by the acclaimed Chef Jorge Vallejo, who was recently awarded as the #12 best Chef in the world, and #1 in Mexico, by the “World’s 50 best restaurants”. Under his leadership, Luis Ronzon,  Executive Chef enhances the gastronomic experience at three restaurants – Ixi‘Im, Ki‘ol & Spa Restaurant which is based on organic & seasonal cuisine mostly sourced from the on-site traditional Mayan Gardens.
The chef is committed to using only the freshest ingredients to create wholesome, flavorful cuisine paired with traditional Mayan dishes. Interested in selecting herbs from the garden and taking a cooking class, just inquire!

Chablé is located in a cultural area brimming with Mayan Ruins. We have access to sophisticated knowledgeable local guides for day trips to Uxmal, Chichen Itza, The Puuc Route Ruins, among other important sites; additionally visits to private cenotes and biosphere reserves, as well as some of the region’s best museums, art galleries and thriving colorful markets. Just 25 minutes from the Merida International Airport.

Chablé’s incorporation of ancient architecture with modern amenities and design combined with the preservation of Mayan culture and traditions defines the distinctiveness of the resort.

I am plotting a return – maybe during All Souls Day to understand more of the Mayan traditions.

Highly recommend, call us for VV VIP Access!