A Brief Visit to Hacienda El Carmen, the Fortaleza Distillery and the Ruins of Guachimontones.
When most people think of Mexico, they think of beaches, seaside resorts, and fabulous food. The real treasures of Mexico can be found inland, in spectacular colonial cities where the foods and crafts you love really originated.
Guadalajara is one of those cities. Mariachis, tequila, and that gorgeous handblown glass with the blue or green rims featured in restaurants all over the America originates from the Guadalajara area, and the state of Jalisco. Much of the beloved Mexican candy also originates here. The region is also famous for charros – Mexican cowboys. Not churros – but I’m sure you can find them in Guadalajara as well.
Last month, I finally got to visit the area for a brief trip and can recommend it highly. Guadalajara has a number of boutique and larger hotels, but for a more peaceful stay, consider Hacienda El Carmen. This historic property is known locally as the site of many an affluent Mexican wedding, and is a wonderful location for a small destination wedding, friends trip, or exploration of the nearby tequila distilleries.
The property, outside of the small town of Ahualulco de Mercado dates back to 1755, and was originally a monastery with panoramic views of the Tequila and Ameca volcanoes. The Beace’ family purchased it in the 60s and lovingly restored it. Each of the 19 suites, 6 master suites, 2 grand master suites, and 2 special rooms features unique decor full of antiques collected by the family. There’s a pool, jacuzzi, horseback riding, golf, a spectacular spa, free wifi, mountain biking, wonderful food, and excellent service. There’s even a barrel of Fortaleza Reposado tequila with a special dipper. Osckar, the friendly concierge, will be happy to dip into it for you. You can also buy bottles at the front desk if you don’t have time to visit the distillery, or didn’t buy enough while there.
Several excellent locations exist for indoor or outdoor weddings and receptions. There’s even a consecrated Catholic chapel.
One afternoon we visited Guachimontones, a nearby prehispanic archeological site. The circular pyramid structures date from 300 BC to 900 AD and can be visited in a couple of hours. We didn’t have time to see the museum, where artifacts found at the site are displayed.
The next day we happily visited Fortaleza, a small tequila distillery so excellent that my finely curated neighborhood wine shop features their Blanco, Reposado, and Anejo. After an informative tour of the production facility, we had a tasting in the underground cave with Guillermo the founder and owner. Aside from being a 5th generation tequila producer, he’s a very interesting guy who regaled us with stories of a more well known producer in town.
Our group of wedding planners and travel specialists were treated to special meals, mariachi performances, spa treatments, and a mock wedding reception to explore the capabilities of Hacienda el Carmen and their wedding vendors. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the hotel to couples who want a unique destination wedding.
Guadalajara itself has a wide variety of hotels for all budgets, wonderful craft markets, beautiful plazas, and historic or modern architecturally significant buildings. Lovers of mariachi music won’t want to miss the annual Mariachi festival each August, that attracts groups from all over the world.
The weather was spectacular, with sunny days in the 70s or low 80s.
In full disclosure, parts of Jalisco are rated Level 3 by the US State Department for potential for violent crime, but there are no restrictions on State Department employees for stays in Guadalajara, Puerto Vallarta, or Lake Chapala (home to 1000s of expat Americans and Canadians). I never felt at risk during my visit and would visit again with no hesitation.
Please contact me next week to arrange a well curated trip to the tequila distilleries, Guadalajara, or your dream destination wedding at Hacienda El Carmen. Hacienda El Carmen is also a fabulous spot for a family reunion, bachelor/bachelorette party, or a friends trip with spa services and tequila!