Within view of the Mexican volcanoes of Tequila and Ameca, nestled in the Ahualulco de Mercado valley, the Hacienda El Carmen is a working country estate that produces its own fruits and vegetables using organic and sustainable techniques. It is also a haven for the traveller who is willing to venture an hour and a half out of central Guadalajara. As one of the earliest partners in a project by the state of Jalisco to entice tourists out of the city, Hacienda El Carmen is a benchmark by which other converted haciendas are measured.
The picturesque colonial structure is draped in ivy and surrounds a courtyard festooned with romantic lanterns by which one can while away the evening. There are 19 suites in total, decorated in traditional colonial style, much of the furniture and fittings unchanged since the current owner, Mónica Baeza, came here to stay with her grandparents when she was a child. There is a captivating chapel at which weddings can be held, an exclusive and modern bridal suite away from the main building, and a several versatile event spaces.Mónica has a brusque and direct manner; within moments of meeting her, I was swept on a whirlwind tour of her favourite childhood places, including the once-forbidden rooftop (much to the consternation of my travelling companion, abandoned below). It’s clear to see who is holding the reins at the hacienda now, but she was keen to point out the endeavours made by the business in promoting the welfare of the working people who support the estate and live in the adjoining village. As well as providing work and training, Hacienda El Carmen encourages and funds environmental awareness, healthcare and education about the culture and history of Mexico. An ethical traveller would be hard pushed to find luxury accommodation more firmly rooted in the reality of Mexican rural life.
Luxury is, however, not a second thought but a thread woven through the guest areas. Our rooms were across the courtyard and each held an enormous double bed, ensuite facilities and the experience of travelling into an earlier century, surrounded by solid, dark wood furniture and grainy photographs of our host’s ancestors. My room, Don Porfirio, was named for Porfiro Diaz, a general and former president of Mexico, very much in keeping with Mónica’s desire to preserve and promote knowledge of Mexican history. My companion’s room, Azul, was the former spa and had the unique feature of a sizeable plunge pool located in the middle of the floor. Fortunately, the room was enormous enough not to be negatively affected by the perpetual steam, but one was required to watch one’s step if going to the bathroom at night!The old spa, now Azul, has been replaced by a new spa, located in a former grain store at the front of the property. We were keen to test it out and were treated to the full experience, using a hydrotherapy circuit which is included in all therapies. The circuit consists of steam with eucalyptus to clear the head, before one is invited to alternate pressure spray, heated jacuzzi and cold shower, step across a pebble pathway and sip on refreshing chlorophyll water. It is quite lovely to look up at the vaulted brick ceilings, which give the spa, including the treatment rooms, a rustic and spacious feeling, enhanced by the sounds of birds and running water. My holistic relaxing massage, with expert masseuse Lupita, was exactly what I needed to fully attune myself to the country pace after the bustle of Guadalajara.
The produce grown by Hacienda El Carmen is used first in its own restaurant, supplying ingredients for its seasonal menu. We enjoyed three courses, starting our dinner with a taste of excellent unusual tequila, such as the artisanal brand Fortaleza, and Mexican beer. I enjoyed a superb sopa azteca, in which the tortillas retained the perfect crunch and the combination of different types of chili was smoky and complex. My dining companion had chile poblano, another classic Mexican dish. This was followed by tuna with a tart orange sauce and finally a unique take on chocolate truffle that combined pumpkin with flavours of mole. The ambiance was perfect; dining on the patio under the stars it was easy to believe that we had been transported into the colonial past of this historic hacienda.Hacienda El Carmen is surrounded by the lush landscape of Jalisco’s farming country, but there are other reasons for the tourist to venture through these parts of the state. Activities such as horse riding and bicycling are easy to arrange (keep hydrated!), the infamous town of Tequila itself is nearby, and you can explore the many ages of Mexican history that are still visible in this area. In fact, a nearby archaeological site known as La Guachimontones, is the main structure remaining from the time of the Teuchtitlán people (Mesoamerican era) and has only been fully excavated in the last ten years. The unusual circular stepped pyramids provide an amazing view of the surrounding area, as well as giving history buffs an opportunity to see ruins that are vastly different to those build by other Mexican peoples.
Visiting Hacienda El Carmen is like stepping back in time, without having to forgo any of your modern amenities. An excellent location for weddings, as well as a delightful place from which to explore Jalisco beyond Guadalajara, the historic relationship of the estate with its people is at the heart of this enterprise. Your contribution as a guest allows the estate to undertake more social responsibility projects and sipping your drink in your private plunge pool is a pretty fun way to ensure that the education and culture of the local community continues.
Hacienda El Carmen Hotel & Spa
Diaz Ordaz 2-1
Ahualulco de Mercado