Merida, we had been told, is best visited ‘in season’. The months of December and January are when out-of-towners flock to their renovated Mexican haciendas for winter sun and to ring in the new year with dinner and dancing. In recent years this sleepy Mexican town has become the destination for architects, artists and ex-models, all drawn by the faded limestone mansions available at rock-bottom prices.
Our trip, however, is definitely off-season. But given that neither Mr Smith nor I is an architect or an artist, and we’re definitely not ex-models, we figure that the low season will suit us just fine. We land in hot and steamy April, delighted about a weekend away (sans kids) and even more excited about our choice of hotel, reputedly one of Merida’s best. Not long after hailing our airport taxi, we pull up outside Rosas & Xocolate, a glorious vision in Pepto-Bismol pink. Even in a town choc-a-block full of tropical-coloured houses, this hotel can’t fail to stand out.
It only took a few moments of gazing at a run-down mansion on Avenue Paseo de Montejo for owner (and Sean Connery-lookalike) Carol Kolozs to be certain he had found a home (two, actually) for his dream hotel. After Kolozs decided his mother’s name would grace the hotel, it only seemed natural that a colour scheme of bright-pink be chosen for the façade and much of the interior. He contemplated how to infuse the ever-present Mayan influence before settling on xocolate, the sweet treat traded as currency at one time in the Yucatán. The hotel’s namesakes are ever present, thanks to the in-house chocolate shop and fresh-cut roses topping tables.
Created from two 1930s colonial mansions that were knocked together, Rosas & Xocolate is now a luxury 17-bedroom boutique hotel. Inside the design is old meets new with original French doors and antique columns, suspended walkways and loads of pink. Rope sculptures sit artfully in alcoves and passageways and corridors, and at night the barely illuminated hallways up the romance factor – until Mr Smith nearly trips over one of the spooky statues.
Our room is a deluxe king with 20-foot high ceilings, a gloriously downy king-size bed and wooden shuttered windows overlooking, somewhat disappointingly, a side street. Mr Smith laments the absence of a pool view and I look around eagerly for a cacao treat. Any disappointment quickly evaporates, however, once we see the private outdoor bath that’s cavernously deep and more than long enough to fit a tall Mr Smith.
Given the heat, we head to the pool. It’s small, in fact Mr Smith worries for a moment that he’s jumped into a water feature, but there’s no one else around so we commandeer the handful of deckchairs, order a couple of beers and spend the rest of the afternoon doing absolutely nothing. It’s wonderful. That night we dine in the hotel restaurant. We’ve heard great things about this place; executive chef Mario Espinosa has previously worked at some of Mexico City’s finest restaurants including Pujol that’s ranked among the world’s best. Sure enough, it doesn’t disappoint. We share a handful of local starters and then Mr Smith tucks into a fillet of beef cooked to perfection and I choose the black sesame tuna. Both are outstanding and the service is faultless.
After breakfast the following morning, we head into town. Having not stepped foot outside the main doors since our arrival, we hadn’t quite appreciated our location on Paseo de Montejo. This wide Champs-Élysées-inspired avenue is lined with Beaux-Arts mansions including the stunning Palacio Canton now home to the Regional Anthropology Museum. Horse-drawn carriages clip clop up and down the street in the evenings and on Sunday mornings the road is closed to traffic to make way for cyclists.
Narrow cobbled streets pass pastel mansions that date back to the mid-19th century and we follow these through shaded church squares to the heart of the city, the leafy Plaza Grande. We circle Merida’s sombre 16th-century Cathedral of San Ildefonso built using stone from Mayan temples, and stop by Casa Montejo, now a cultural centre and museum. Here, we learn that at the turn of the 20th century Merida was once one of the richest cities in the world thanks to the lucrative export of sisal, rope made from the local agave plant. Suddenly the hotel’s rope sculptures make sense.
Merida’s once-wealthy past is visible in the grand opera houses, Belle Époque architecture and bohemian cafés. We stop by Chaya Maya, a popular local eatery where women in traditional Mayan dress make corn tortillas and families tuck into bowls of lime and tortilla soup. We try the house speciality, Los Tres Mosqueteros (The Three Musketeers), three tortillas filled with shredded turkey, each covered in a different sauce. It’s filling and delicious.
A facial on our final morning beckons from the serene spa specialising in Mexican therapies using 100% pure cocoa products. The smell is heavenly and halfway through I wish I’d opted for a longer treatment. Glowing, and smelling not dissimilar to a Mars bar, I head off to join Mr Smith by the swimming pool. We spend our final few hours here before it’s time to pack up and wave goodbye to our fuchsia-pink palace. I pause at the hotel’s boutique for souvenirs for the sweet toothed. At least with these bars of artisanal chocolate we can take home a little piece of Rosas & Xocolate.