Text by Cristina Chapman; photos by Bob Chapman
Only an hour south of Mexico City, geographically varied Morelos State drops down from the foothills of the Ajusco mountain range into the hot, tropical agricultural valleys in the south. This is the historical highland region of Central Mexico, within sight of extinct and active volcanoes such as Iztaccihuatl and Popocatepetl.
The political and cultural hub of Mexico’s second smallest state is Cuernavaca, dubbed The City of Eternal Spring by explorer Alexander Von Humboldt. It has been a resort destination for centuries. Conquistador Hernán Cortés built a palace here, and Aztec nobles used Cuernavaca as their seasonal retreat from Tenochitlán, today’s Mexico City. In the 19th century, Emperor Maximilian Von Habsburg, of Austria, and his wife Carlota had their summer home at the Borda gardens and residence during their short reign. Clearly Cuernavaca is a sought after destination of royalty and the rich as well as vacationers, retirees, and those wishing to escape from one of the world’s largest cities.
As a cultural center, Cuernavaca is diverse. Soon after the conquest of Tenochtitlán, the Spanish began building cathedrals, churches, and monasteries here; many of these lovely colonial temples are still in use or have been converted to museums, restaurants, and hotels. Hernán Cortés’s former palace now houses the Cuauhnahuac museum and is the showcase for Diego Rivera´s famous mural of the conquest of Cuernavaca. Another must-see historical site is the Borda Gardens, built by the Taxco silver baron Jose Borda in the 18th century.
These and other colonial buildings line the cobblestone streets of the historic district, many converted to pedestrian-only streets. Abundant tropical foliage cascades from high-walled mansions and estates hidden from view, accentuated with fragrant scents from these flowering trees and vines. On weekends there are book fairs, art exhibits, and live music: everything from Cuban son and salsa to Celtic cloggers. On balmy evenings Cuernavaquenses and worldly travelers head out to enjoy downtown’s charming European-style cafes and outdoor restaurants.
Cuernavaca is a foodies’ paradise. Home to more than 4,000 foreigners from around the world, its restaurants offer northern Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Swiss, French, German, Spanish, Cuban, Brazilian, Argentinean, and American food. Regional Mexican specialties come from the Yucatan, Oaxaca, and Puebla, among other states. During the annual Sabores de Morelos event, in August, Cuernavaca restaurants offer their specialties; for the price of a ticket, guests can sample as much as they please, while quenching their thirst with delicious Mexican beers, tequilas, and margaritas. During October’s Food Expo and Wine event, top chefs compete to create the best new recipes of Mexican cuisine.
Throughout the year, high-end chefs prepare fusion dishes at Nouvelle Mexican restaurants. Cutting-edge culinary schools are affiliated with world-renowned European institutes. And Cuernavaca has one of only four Relais & Chateau Hotel & Restaurants in Mexico, the lovely Las Mañanitas Hotel Garden Restaurant & Spa.
Like all of Mexico, Cuernavaca is both modern and ancient, and the old culture still manifests in the present. Centuries-old herbal cures are employed by curanderas (healers) and brujas blancas (white witches); these concoctions are available in the traditional markets right next to the fruits and veggies.
This tradition of folk medicine combined with a spring-like climate and abundance of curative mineral springs has made Cuernavaca “the place” for restorative therapies. In and around Cuernavaca are luxurious spas and natural hot springs where visitors can enjoy purifying saunas (temazcales) and a variety of holistic treatments and practices including massage, yoga, and meditation. Aquatic parks offer more family-oriented diversions such as swimming, picnicking, and facilities for soccer and other sports.
Outdoor sports are enjoyed year-round. Bad weather rarely interrupts golf at one of the city’s luxurious country clubs, tennis at a professional clay court, or an equestrian event at the one of several riding clubs, all open to the public. People in bathing suits are a common sight in Cuernavaca, which some people say has more pools per capita than any other city in the world. Outdoor activities in or close to the city range from mountain climbing, spelunking, hang gliding, and ultra light flying to hiking, biking, waterskiing, swimming, fishing, and horseback riding.
Considering Cuernavaca’s world-famous climate, abundance of outdoor sports, spas, and water parks, and a vital cultural scene, it’s no wonder that Cuernavaca today attracts ex-pats and savvy travelers. The question is not “Should we go?” but “When we can we return?” and also “How long can we stay?”.
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