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San Miguel de Allende

San Miguel de Allende

By on Oct 20, 2014 in Adventure, Drink, Food, Hotels, Luxury, Mexican, Mexico, Mezcal, Reviews, Travel | 1 comment

Food wise, Mexico has an incredible amount of variety to offer the gourmet traveller, and whilst Oaxaca is known as the culinary capital of Mexico, there are a number of distinct regions with their own unique dishes, celebrating native produce, forming a base of traditional Mexican recipes that have been handed down over generations. Whilst there are understandably some influences from America, notably in cuisines in the North of the country, as well as significant influences from the Spanish who of course infiltrated Mexico, bringing animal husbandry and butchery with them, in fact the majority of Mexican cuisine is just that: Mexican. Provenance of some of the more notorious dishes such as the burrito can be ambiguous and most Mexicans will tell you the burrito is an American invention, whereas the taco (perhaps surprisingly), is an entirely Mexican staple. Signature ingredients include chilli (of course), achiote, lime, coriander, rice, eggs, avocado, corn flour, maize flour, beef, pork and chicken. However, as I discovered on a recent trip to San Miguel De Allende via Mexico City, there are many more styles of preparation and ingredients to explore, ranging from the exotic to the frankly bizarre. Preparation of Mexican meals can often be a painstakingly slow labour of love, resulting in a table that groans under the weight of food, at which the entire family will sit to dine. I will never forget the first meal I saw taking place in Mexico, in a big old rustic diner in the Yucatan with a high vaulted ceiling, timber beams and wagon wheels bolted to its stone walls. I had just arrived in Mexico for the first time, with a couple of London lads and a Swedish girl. We were agog at the vast frozen Margaritas that were brought to our table, in glasses the size of hollowed out footballs and swimming with premium gold tequila. Although we were four young and excitable travellers, freshly arrived in this magical land of mountains and deserts, soft sand beaches and palm trees, Mariachi bands and Mezcal, it was in fact the table of twenty or so Mexicans opposite us who commanded the most attention. This was an entire family, out to dine and mingle on Saturday night,...

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Adios Mexico City

Adios Mexico City

By on Apr 15, 2014 in Adventure, Airlines, Commentary, Hotels, Mexico, Mexico City, Travel | 0 comments

The sun rose and shone characteristically brightly on our last day in Mexico City. It had been an epic four days, with so much to see and take in. With such a rich and fascinating history and so many different cultures and languages, I found it amusing to compare with my homeland of England, where we speak English, and English only. The presence and influence of the Spanish obviously can’t be ignored when you visit Mexico, but there is so much more to the country than the Spanish influence alone. The native Mexica peoples and their forebears essentially created what the Spanish then came and dominated. Spain came hungry for gold and land to conquer. They took what they could get and it was often a brutal and bloody process. Fortunately however, the legacy of the Mesoamerican civilization still survives in relics, ornate stonework, sculptures, friezes and frescos, costumery and even in some texts. If you’re visiting Mexico City and are interested in history, culture and art, then you should most certainly head to the National Anthropology Museum. It’s the most visited museum in all of Mexico, attracting footfall of two million people a year, and was designed by three architects, namely Pedro Ramírez Vázquez, Jorge Campuzano and Rafael Mijares. Built from volcanic stone hewn from a nearby site, the expansiveness of the space is quite a spectacle in itself, and the artefacts housed inside create yet more marvel.  Street vendors selling fruit and sweets, frequently seen around tourist areas. We were fortunate enough to have a fantastic guide named Myrta, whose factual knowledge of detail was scholarly to say the least. Anything we wanted or needed to know, she was able to tell us or at least to find out. Contact me should you be planning a trip to Mexico City and I will gladly make the necessary introduction. It only remains for me to thank Aeromexico for making this trip possible, the Mexico City tourist board for providing Myrta’s boundless energy and insight, and Starwood hotels for accomodating us in the Sheraton Maria...

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Mexico City Day 3

Mexico City Day 3

By on Mar 27, 2014 in Adventure, Drink, Hotels, Mexico, Mexico City, Mezcal, Travel | 0 comments

From the hangar we headed to Plaza San Jacinto, to browse the plethora of stalls selling handicrafts made by the Nahua peoples indigenous to this region. Silver and leather jewellery abounds, and there are some beautiful designs, often based on classic Aztec patterns. There are also numerous delightful cafes and restaurants such as the one pictured above. Sadly we didn’t get time to eat here, but we did sample some of the fantastic mezcal. It’s a similar drink to tequila but with a smokier flavour, and has a delightfully mellowing effect. I also had a seriously rich and robust double espresso to boost energy and search out some of the earthy Latina flavours I’d been craving. Although there is no mescaline in mezcal, the combination of flavours and effects had me grinning like a Cheshire cat. This is an experience I would highly recommend. The atmosphere inside this colonnaded square with the sun blazing down was hypnotic, and to a soundtrack of violins playing Mexican ditties and a visual feast of intense colours of fruits and flowers bathed in glorious sunlight, I sipped the last of the espresso to my complete satisfaction. Enraptured, steadfast, for the first time settled in this vast city, it struck me that even the world’s most densely populated zones have their zen spots. Outside our next port of call, a delightful little family run restaurant by the name of Las Lupitas in the Coyoacan district which has some beautiful homes and architecture, we met this chap who was sat patiently waiting for his owner. Las Lupitas has been a restaurant for many many years, and it would seem the same personnel run it now that opened it back in the day. Service was extremely relaxed and very friendly. The food wasn’t bad but wasn’t anything to write about. However the atmosphere was pleasant and it really is a beautiful spot to lunch in. At times it’s the little things you notice that remind you more than anything of where you are. A city’s inhabitants have their own unique foibles and quirks, and it is these as much as the historical and civic structures that evoke a sense of place.  That and the mezcal… ….and...

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Mexico City day 2

Mexico City day 2

By on Mar 2, 2014 in Adventure, Airlines, Food, health, Hotels, Luxury, Mexican, Mexico, Reviews, Travel | 2 comments

Awaking at 7 am, I drew back the curtains with eager anticipation for the day that lay ahead. The previous day’s exploration had felt epic, and our platoon were all pretty whacked by nightfall. Of course it’s always good to start the day with exercise, so I took a swim in the rooftop pool at our hotel, The Sheraton Isabel Maria. It was a special feeling to be swimming in a heated pool with amazing views out over Mexico City, and I pushed myself in order to build an appetite for a big breakfast. Our group chose to eat in the lounge on the 20th floor so we could appreciate the urban cityscape as we tucked into another hearty meal, which on this particular morning consisted of fried plantain and tamales with salsa. I chose plantain not just because it was delicious but also a good slow release energy food for the day ahead. They say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and it certainly feels like it at the Sheraton Isabel Maria. Our hosts for this trip were various and as well as Starwood hotels, we were also accommodated by the Mexico City tourist agency and of course Aeromexico, who were naturally keen to show us seasoned travellers their new fleet of Boeing 787-8 planes which were awaiting inspection at their brand new hangar. In spite of the fact none of the group seemed too excited at the prospect, I was very keen, as it’s not often one gets to experience such unique aviation gold. Once we had cleared security we entered the hangar, and within a millisecond the group’s tune changed. It was quite breathtaking, to enter such a vast space, still gleaming in all it’s newness. The hangar is also used for events, including a mass (of course!) and opened out naturally onto the airfield and runways, where the planes stood waiting. We ventured out, cameras poised, and quite literally had a field day, snapping away at the inside of the turbines. Much to our surprise, we were given permission to pose inside the jet engines. This was a photo-opp not to be missed. Each of us took it in turns to shoot...

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Mexico City, day 1: Teotihuacan

Mexico City, day 1: Teotihuacan

By on Feb 19, 2014 in Adventure, Food, Hotels, Mexican, Mexico, Travel | 0 comments

After a sound sleep on the flight, we arrived in Mexico City at our scheduled arrival time of 0600 and were met by our tour guide, the delightful Mirta, who escorted us to our home for the next  two nights, the Sheraton Maria Isabel hotel, situated in the heart of the city, immediately adjacent to the famous Angel of Independence monument, essentially Mexico’s equivalent of Nelson’s column. The column forms a centrepiece to a vast roundabout, encompassed by palms as tall as the 14 storey hotel itself. The immediate feeling was one of immensity; even though the city was just waking up, as were we, it had a gentle buzz to it. As early morning light cast hypnotic shadows through the dense foliage and settled in mottled patterns on glass and concrete of the urban landscape, I was immediately taken in. Our hosts greeted us as we sat down to breakfast, and although we had been on Mexican soil for just a couple of hours, it was already time for some culinary exploration. The breakfast options included English, American, continental and Mexican, so naturally I went for Mexican.   In the centre is cactus, which I really enjoyed. When asked to describe it, the best explanation I could give was a sort of dense, bitter-sweet courgette (zuchini). At 1 o’clock is mole, at 6 a spiced maize cake steamed in banana leaf, at 9 a Mexican cheese and 11 is some sort of pounded pork pattie. A recurring theme on this trip was that I ate a lot of food I couldn’t identify, and when I asked for help in identifying it, the response was a little vague. However it didn’t stop me eating my way through mountains of the good stuff, and of course taking pictures of it. Culture beckoned, so we drove over to the Basilica de Guadalupe. This is Catholicism’s answer to Mecca, with as many as 6.1 million people having made the pilgrimage here in 2009. The Basilica was designed by Pedro Ramirez Vazquez, a notable Mexican architect. There was a hushed reverie in spite of the vast crowds, all assembled to pray and find forgiveness. It’s an amazing building and like a lot of the structures...

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In the lapland of luxury

In the lapland of luxury

By on Feb 11, 2014 in Adventure, Drink, Food, Hotels, Lapland, Luxury, Real ale, Reviews, Travel | 0 comments

“There’s no such thing as a free lunch” or so they say. “They” however weren’t bloggers. I jest of course. Writers, journos, bloggers, or anybody with the ability to generate publicity are often schmoozed in exchange for exposure (steady on) and there is nothing so criminal about that in itself. However it can prove tricky when you’re asked to experience and review something that falls well below what you might consider a reasonable standard. For my part I tend to pick a destination or press trip very carefully, vetting it for quality before attending, and quite simply if I don’t enjoy the experience I will tell my host and give them the opportunity to correct it or avoid publication. Harsh, but fair. However, occasionally you do strike gold, and end up having a fantastic experience, such as was the case in the run up to Christmas last year, when I headed along to the Ice Bar in London for a bash dedicated to all that is Northern Sweden’s Lapland, a destination I have long yearned to visit since reading AA Gill’s descriptions of riding across a starlit snowy tundra, downwind from a nitrate rich fug of husky guff, sleeping on blocks of ice wearing nothing but a reindeer pelt. Or was it a wolf skin? Lapland is a wild and expansive destination in the far North of Sweden, known for a range of profoundly unique points of attraction, both natural and man made. Aside from the fact there is obvious beauty in the sub-zero crystallisation of swathes of wide open countryside, draped in a thick blanket of snow, there is also the breathtaking spectacle of the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights; a natural phenomenon that occurs when magnetism created by solar flares, bounces off the earth’s outer atmosphere resulting in a celestial light show of swathes of luminescent refraction. Some clever people decided this would be an ideal spot to install a winter break destination so they built the Ice Hotel and yes, it is a hotel made entirely of ice. I’ve never been there, but a trip to The Ice Bar in London was the next best thing. First off we were taught how to sculpt ice, which was...

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