Tom Bangay continues his tour across Mexico, leaving the bustle of the capital en route to Yucatan, stopping at country’s fourth largest city, the World Heritage colonial-era settlement of Puebla…
Many make Puebla their first stop when plotting an escape from Mexico City. It takes a couple of hours to get there – at least an hour is spent escaping the relentless urban sprawl that is the nation’s capital – and a couple more hours would get you to Veracruz. This strategic location between capital and sea port is why the Spanish chose to settle a town here, originally called Puebla de los Angeles, with its people affectionately dubbed Angelinos.
It’s hard to imagine when strolling around its brightly coloured streets, craft markets and tree-shaded main square that Puebla was the setting for many fierce battles as Mexican, French and American forces struggled for dominance. The town is still scarred by the events of 18 November 1910: the Serdán family were some of the first to conspire against the government of Porfirio Diaz, and federal troops surrounded their house until a lethal gun battle ensued. The firefight left both Serdán brothers dead and the building riddled with bullet holes, still visible today.
For us, Puebla is a handy place to stop off between Mexico City and Oaxaca, but it has another serious attraction: La Purificadora, our hotel, squeezed in between the conference centre, the Templo de San Francisco, the public library and the cinema. La Purificadora occupies a former water purification plant used in the manufacture of ice, remodelled to dazzling effect by Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta.
We arrive in the middle of an early-rainy-season thunderstorm that thrusts everyone inside or into a taxi, and we stumble dripping into the lobby. The design of the hotel is immediately dramatic – rings of fire are smouldering in the seating areas straight ahead, and an imposing black staircase leads upstairs to the left, bisected by running water. The bell tower at San Francisco peers over the walls, sparkling through the thick, heavy rain that pounds the courtyard.
Inspiring though the design is, after check-in we quickly discover it’s not for the faint of heart, in particular for sufferers of vertigo. Stepping out of the lift upstairs we find ourselves on transparent floors, staring down at concrete a long way below. The walkways and some of the staircases are clear underfoot, which I find rather exhilarating. My heights-fearing partner disagrees, clinging to the walls and banisters as we navigate the upper floors. But happily, inside the bedroom, the floors are solid underfoot.
More importantly the room is gorgeous – polished wood skirts the walls, and the wardrobe is a transparent structure at the edge of the bathroom area. The wetroom/toilet arrangement, divided by an opaque wall, remind me a little of the Standard High Line (still my favourite hotel of all time). The twin pillars of a gratifying Mexican hotel – AC and Wi Fi – are both present, correct and fully functional. Large glass doors lead to the balcony, which is less of a sun deck and more of a window onto the sheet lightning and the unstoppable deluge coming down outside, but it’s an engaging view nonetheless.
The high point, in a very literal sense, of the hotel is definitely the swimming pool. It’s a long, thin lane of cool water that clings to the edge of the top floor, allowing you to traverse the Puebla skyline underwater. As luck would have it, the pool provided me a fairly unbeatable spot from which to watch the Champions League final too. The pool’s right next to the bar area – a popular nightspot in its own right – with a crowd of young, upwardly mobile Angelinos cheering on both Madrid teams. My partner is less interested in sporting affairs and makes do with a cocktail, a discreet sun lounger and a jacuzzi. The heat gathers as the match draws on, and when Ronaldo scores the decisive penalty the weather takes its cue and begins the day’s storrm. We retire to our room to watch the fireworks in comfort.
There are few more elegant places to be stuck in the rain.
For more information about La Purificadora, visit www.lapurificadora.com.
For more information about Puebla and Mexico, visit www.visitmexico.com.
Tom’s trip concludes next weekend when he arrives in Merida, at the height of summer, but soon finds the definitive antidote to the searing heat…