Vallle de Bravo: Top Weekend Get-Away Gets Even Better
Part 2 of 2
Valle, with its clear, pine-scented air, is being restored to a nobler, historical look. Like other attractive inland towns, it is getting rid of ugly advertising posters and the black strands of electric cables that spoil the views of beautiful facades, old buildings, trees, and clear skies. Along with Mexico City’s historic center, Valle seems to be one of the first places where this process is nearly complete.
Traffic is still a little chaotic where the last roads are still being dug up and pedestrians still have to cross the road, or scale mountains of rubble on some street corners, e.g. Bocanegra with 16 de septiembre. But everyone notices the difference and there is a detectable frisson of pride rippling through Vallesanos (as Valle’s denizens call themselves) as their town sheds the cords that bound it to a tattier, uncared-for image.
However, Valle de Bravo has been breathtakingly picturesque for a long time, with its wide slanting terracotta eaves, iron-wrought balconies, and heavy wooden-beamed doors. It was declared a “Ciudad Típica” in 1971, meaning significant restrictions on the construction of new buildings, or buildings over a certain height.
Those familiar with the town’s dynamics might question whether this was part of an effort to draw in tourists to appreciate the town’s historic style and poise, or whether it was to satisfy its weekend inhabitants.
As various journalists and puzzled travel writers have noticed in the past, Valle hasn’t seemed to care for tourism promotion. Known among Mexicans as a weekend escape for the extremely wealthy—Valle is about two-hour's drive from Lomas—it seemed to have all the visitors and money it needed.
Presidents of the largest companies in Mexico own intriguing, glass homes that glint on the edge of the lake, while La Peña in town and the suburb of Avándaro are both established getaways for the country's jet set and politicians.
This gives it a split personality compared to many Mexican towns whose inhabitants originate where they live, and do not have such a weekend — weekday divide. This also leaves it somewhat divorced from its history, both pre-Conquest and recent.
Located in an area that was home to Nahua, Matlalzinca and Purépecha cultures, its pre-Hispanic history tells of the Aztec king Axayácatl, who conquered the area from the Matlalzincas and established what was to be the last bastion of the Aztecs, on the border with the Tarascan empire.
There is little information on these events in Valle and the only ethnic group to be in evidence now is the Mazahuas. Visitors will see Mazahua women, with their colorful layered skirts, edged with lace and often dangly, gold earrings, selling embroidered handicrafts in the Zócalo.
The Spanish conquest came less than a century later after the Aztec conquest, and the Franciscan friar Gregorio Jiménez de la Cuenca named the settlement (in 1539) San Francisco Temascaltepec (Nahuatl to mean “hill of steam baths”) del Valle. It received its current name in 1861, to honor General Nicolás Bravo, who was joined by people from this town to defend Chapultepec Castle in 1847 against the U.S. invasion during the Mexican American War.
This could be of interest to visitors, as well as the under-exploited history of the building of the dam. Photos on display in the floating restaurant Los Pericos are grainy and dim, but engineering feats always capture the imagination and such a transformation is worthy of a small museum of its own.
The town's two major festivals are May 3 (fiesta de La Santa Cruz, better known locally as “la feria de Santa María”), and October 4 (San Francisco) and maintain many old Mexican traditional games and dances, as well as elaborate fireworks. If you plan to come on these dates, or on a weekend, make sure you make hotel reservations well in advance.
To avoid the crowds from the capital and grab lower hotel rates, visit during the week for a more contemplative experience, suitable for those who wish to hike and enjoy the pristine views. Although some restaurants and shops close at least one weekday, there are some great spots to eat at that cater to locals.
At the southeast corner of the Zócalo (usually here referred to as Plaza Independencia) two stalls offer heavenly stand-up fare, perfect for breakfast or a mid-morning snack. A great way to start your day from around 8:30 a.m. is the fresh jugo de naranja con piña (orange with pineapple juice) with the barbacoa de puerco (pork, here meaning steamed to succulent perfection). A mere 8 pesos will get you a big dollop on a double tortilla. Note that “Juan” closes when he sells out, which happens well before Mexican lunchtime begins, so get there before midday to avoid disappointment (Bocanegra s/n, with Pagaz).
Later in the day, and until late, head to el Callejón del Arco, a sizzling little cobblestone street that everyone knows as el callejón del hambre (hunger alley) because of the wonderful beef tacos cooked up here on makeshift stands for a song (9 pesos a serving on two tortillas). Open from 2:30 p.m. until about midnight, you can slap on a variety of sauces, but unaccustomed stomachs should avoid the fresh cilantro (one block east of the Parroquia de San Francisco).
Lastly, la Paletería La Michoacana is the place for fruity ice lollipops, some of the best being zarzamora (blackberry) and zapote (a sweet, inky black fruit). The custom is to go and pick up a bag of campechanas (thin sugary pastries) sold on every corner of the Zócalo, and stroll around, taking alternate bites of ice and pastry (Plaza Independencia s/n).
A good lodging option is the Hotel los Arcos, four blocks north of the Zócalo. An attractive patio full of plant pots offers a pretty view and, on a lower level, a pool. The 24 guest rooms are simple, but have cable TV and spacious hot showers. Some have fireplaces, while other have balconies with views of the mountains and village (tel: 01 - 726/ 262--0042 or 262—1363).
For backpackers with little to spend, there is a very cheap establishment right on the Zócalo, next to the Arawi bookstore. The 11 rooms (at around 350 pesos each) in the Posada Girasoles are on the bare side and may smell of detergent, but staff is friendly.
By Barbara Kastelein - reporter for EL UNIVERSAL/The Herald english daily publication
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