This weekend begins a 3-part hedonistic odyssey across Mexico, a la Arb. Think beds on balconies and mezcal nights, from Puebla to Merida. To open the batting, considered one of the ‘hippest’ stays in CDMX, Tom Bangay checks into ‘the suitcase’. Get any of that? Read on…
Take 21 million people, an altitude of 2000 metres above sea level, UNESCO-protected cuisine and a hot, smoggy environment and you get Mexico City – confounding, overwhelming, exhilarating, the largest metropolitan area in the western hemisphere. The heat, the air quality, the mosquitos and the altitude should all be oppressive but I forgot them all after the first few tacos al pastor at breakfast. CDMX, as the capital likes to be called, is too often overlooked by tourists, particularly English-speakers who skip it for the party chic of Cancun and Playa del Carmen. This is a huge mistake: although its bustle and size can seem impenetrable, the experiences on offer – both cultural and sensory – are simply not to be missed.
CDMX being the first step on our Mexican odyssey, we waste no time in throwing ourselves into local life and buy tickets for the evening’s entertainment: Lucha Libre, the bacchanalian masked wrestling spectacular at the 16,000-capacity Arena Mexico. Six sets of combatants take to the turnbuckles in an array of spandex, hoods, fake fur and glitter, leaping onto each other and into the crowd with wild, sweaty abandon. The undisputed highlight of the night is the grudge match featuring Puma, a glossy, enigmatic fighter who spends most of the bout hanging upside-down from the ring before joining the fray with a glorious swan dive from the top rope. Popcorn and insults fly all around us, and our front-row seats afford us access (whether we want it or not) the splash zone created when fighters crash into the walls and seats.
Good clean fun, but for a more genteel evening, there are upmarket restaurants aplenty, away from the ubiquitous and constant delight that is CDMX’s street food. Pujol, with Chef-patron Enrique Olvera at the helm, is a mainstay in the World’s Best Restaurants lists, with just thirteen tables tucked into an understated salon off a sidestreet in the leafy Polanco district. Olvera’s affectionate twists on traditional cuisine demand to be sampled, with the showstopper being the ever-mutating mole madre. The team at Pujol made a traditional mole poblano, then the next day they added to it with more ingredients, serving some to customers; each day it was remade slightly, the taste maturing and evolving, with new elements augmenting the old. Don’t worry, they won’t run out – when I tasted it, the sauce had been growing this way for around 970 days.
For our base in the megacity, we chose – where else? – Roma Norte, your slice of hipster Bohemia in CDMX. Its early-20th Century architecture, tree-lined boulevards and preponderance of art galleries give La Roma a distinctive feel, and you’re spoiled for choice with restaurants, cafes, museums and cultural spaces. But for a hotel, I was looking for something truly special. Something I’d never seen. Something appropriate to CDMX’s unique charms. I found it.
La Valise sits in a blue, French-style terrace on Tonolá, a quiet sidestreet. A fingerprint scan gets me inside; a trek up the stairs takes me away from the street and the heat and up to my suite. There’s a kitchenette ahead and a bathroom to the right, with a rain shower packing the kind of water pressure I thought was a distant memory after a few days in Central America. The bedroom itself has a beautiful Air France/Mexico poster looking over a stylish lounge of wood and velvet curated by Chic By Accident, the design crew responsible for the thunderously cool American Apparel showroom a few streets away. Glass panel doors stretch from one wall to the other, separating the bedroom from its generous terrace, sheltered by trees and telephone poles. With the air-con humming gently, it’s a fine spot to fall asleep.
It’s an even better place to wake up. I rustle up a quick Nespresso while my partner still sleeps and silently open the terrace doors. I lean against the side of the bed, put my shoulder into it and give it a firm push. Smoothly, it starts to slide: the bed is on runners, mounted on rails. After all, in the heat of the city, your morning lie-in should really take place outside, while the sun’s still gentle and the birds can be heard. I slide the whole bed out onto the balcony just in time for breakfast to be delivered to the suite; breakfast in bed, on a balcony, three floors above the Mexico City streets. An improbable dream made real, and perhaps the biggest surprise yet in this city full of twists and turns. I don’t recommend settling for anything less.
For more information about La Valise, including details of their quirky suites and information about the city, visit www.lavalise.com.mx.
Tom’s Mexican adventure continues next weekend as he seeks purification in Puebla, exclusively in The Arbuturian…