Presidente InterContinental Hotel Mexico
IT was with a sense of adventure and a touch of trepidation that I made the decision during my descent into Benito Juarez International Airport for the first time that I will totally immerse myself in the local culture and navigate the public metro system to my hotel. From reading online traveller forums beforehand, this is akin to madness. But I fancy myself streetwise (what’s that saying about fools and self-confidence?) and I’ve been sharpening my schoolboy Spanish, so I think I’ve got this one. And besides, my destination is a convenient five-minute walk from the Auditorio station at the other end, so it makes perfect sense. Right?
Imagine my surprise to discover a metro system that is at once cleaner, more modern, safer, more punctual and at five pesos (18 British pence) per ride – monumentally cheaper than the London Underground, the NYC Subway and the Paris Metro put together. And, yes, it’s almost totally devoid of tourists. Patting my intrepid self on the back, I emerge from the earth and into Mexico City’s upscale Polanco neighbourhood unscathed. And there in front of me, rising high out of the trees like a beacon of modernity, is the Presidente InterContinental Hotel.
The hotel, all steel, glass and sharp angles, lends itself easily to preconceived notions – it must be modern, soulless and devoid of charm. But that would be repeating the whole metro issue all over again. In fact, it is anything but, and I find myself pleasantly surprised.
Walking into the lobby, I am greeted by an enormous, modern art installation in a bright, open space. Bilingual bellhops are immediately on hand to see to my luggage and I am checked in almost instantaneously. Things are off to a good start. Off to my right and down a flight of broad stairs is a swanky bar with businessmen at one end and a family having a meal at the other. It’s a juxtaposition that says everything about the hotel: despite its imposing façade, it caters to business and families alike.
I ride the elevator up to the hotel’s loftier levels and, once in my room, a chic, plush affair, I pause to take in the view. It is a magnificent panorama of the sprawling metropolis – the fifth largest in the world – within which it stands. It’s dusk and the city’s night self is twinkling into existence. I decide to head out into the surrounding neighbourhood for an aperitif.
The upscale Polanco neighbourhood, Mexico City’s most exclusive, has an illustrious history, is ethnically diverse and is home to some of Mexico’s wealthiest families. It is far enough from the city’s hectic centre yet near enough to the beautiful, wooded Bosque de Chapultepec (one of the largest city parks in the Western Hemisphere) and its museums to make it a highly desirable place to be, and its leafy streets make for a pleasant evening stroll. I have a couple of margaritas, because it’s what you do when in Mexico, at Karisma, a friendly restaurant and bar across the road from the hotel. The bartender shakes them out with skilled ease and the tequila in them is smooth. We chat a bit but the gaps in my well-intentioned Spanish eventually catch me out and he is called away to another patron. Or perhaps he is just being polite. Nonetheless, appetite opened, I head back to the hotel for dinner at Chapulín.
The restaurant’s name is Spanish for ‘grasshopper’, which I learn is a local delicacy and one that is available on their menu. I baulk at the suggestion that I should try some (did I say that I was intrepid?) but instead go for some of the other options, all fine-dining representations of regional Mexican cuisine. A burrito and taco joint this isn’t, though tacos do feature. After a well-suggested cucaracha (gold tequila, Kahlúa and Triple Sec in equal parts, set alight before serving), I decide to start with some tacos after all. They arrive filled with pieces of suckling pork and each bite falls apart in my mouth, such is the tenderness of the meat.
Following on is chicken cooked in a mole, a typical Mexican cooking sauce and pronounced as moh-lay, that I am told originates from the northwest of the country. It is rich, deep and spicy and my chianti complements it perfectly. This is an entirely different experience from the ‘Mexican’ (read Tex-Mex) food I have had before outside Mexico, and I am impressed with the complexity of it all. A fellow diner tells me that one of the other of the hotel’s many restaurants, Au Pied de Cochon, is equally fantastic and I have no reason to doubt him. The Presidente is obviously a serious player in the local gastronomy scene.
The next morning I head up to the Executive Club Level for breakfast – well worth paying the extra for – and am treated to one of the best views in Mexico City. It is set on the very top floor of this skyscraper hotel, and the panoramic view is astounding. The breakfast bar faces out and runs the length of the window so that I can enjoy it to the fullest.
Again, businessmen sit alongside families and the place has relaxed yet sophisticated affair. I eat my cooked-to-order scrambled eggs and longaniza (a variety of spiced Mexican sausage) whilst watching a marathon in progress snake its way past the National Auditorium. Invigorated by proxy, I decide to join them outside, so I make my way down to the reception.
On the elevator ride down, I muse again about misconceptions and how refreshing it is to have them dispelled. The Presidente InterContinental does that with flair. The balance that the hotel strikes in catering for the busy professional and the discerning family is just right and shows throughout. Back in the reception area it’s busy – the word is obviously out about this hotel. I walk over to the concierge for some information about my day’s adventure. As expected, the staff are extremely helpful with their advice and before I know it, I am being led to their travel agent and a taxi is being arranged, but I smile, thank them and decline. I’m taking public transport. After all, I’m an old hand at this now.
Four Seasons Hotel Mexico
When you’ve spent several days in Mexico City, one thing is for sure: you don’t go to it so much as it comes to you. It seems inescapable. Bold, brash and full of life, this is la vida loca in the truest sense of the word. But like it or loathe it, this city thrums with a vibrant, honest life force like no other in those of its northern neighbour, the United States.
So where, in the midst of this glorious din, can one find respite? The guidebooks point to several contenders such as the green spaces of Bosque de Chapultepec that heave with hawkers, peddlers and happy Mexican families. But peaceful respite does exist right in the midst of the hustle and bustle, just off the city’s main artery, Paseo de la Reforma, where the Four Seasons Hotel is sanctuary, haven and oasis all wrapped into one.
From the outside, the hotel, sitting on the leafy boulevard, presents its understated, charming façade with quiet elegance. It feels no need to compete with its skyscraping neighbours. As I arrive, a happy – genuinely happy – bellhop sees to my bag as I check in at reception. To my left is a corridor that leads through a series of living rooms decked out in modern comforts and accents. The walls are glass cabinets filled with expensive trinkets and fare. Like the exterior, the effect is classy.
On the way to my room I spy the courtyard. It’s night and everywhere is lit by fairy lights with a giant flambeaux roaring in the central fountain. Upstairs, the bedroom itself is a grand affair with muted lighting, high ceilings, a tasteful, modern décor, a bathroom of noble proportions and an enormous bed.
Back down in the courtyard, fellow patrons are already sipping tequila and rum cocktails at the in-house bar, Fifty Mils, an indoor-and-out establishment that drips with atmosphere. It boasts a floor-to-ceiling, heavily bottled bar, which is staffed by some of Mexico City’s hippest hipsters who shoot oh-so-inventive cocktails straight from tattooed hips. I try the Louis XIV, which mixes whisky, citrus bitters and chamomile tea, and toast the mellow musical vibes that seem to perfectly match it, but that’s probably the drink talking. The bearded bartender is not shy with the whisky.
The next morning the sun reveals the courtyard as lushly verdant, and breakfast is served al fresco. The skyscrapers tower upwards around the courtyard and seem to lean in all around, trying to catch a glimpse of this tiny paradise. But they do not disturb the courtyard’s serenity and there’s something strangely exhilarating about this. I order the huevos rancheros – a classic Mexican breakfast of fried eggs served with a spicy tomato and bean sauce with corn tacos – but leave space for a pastry at Pan Dulce, the Mexican baker’s cum French patisserie just down the hall from the reception. The fare is done to a very high standard and is unbelievably good.
Suitably filled and pampered, I’m ready to face another day in the Mexican capital. Today it’s the Museo Nacional de Antropología. The bellhop, just as friendly as the night before, rushes to get me a taxi, but it’s a beautiful day and I fancy a stroll. Besides, the Four Seasons is strategically located to be near enough to the heart of the action. The museum is an easy five-minute walk away. Before I leave, I make a dinner reservation at their very own upscale Italian restaurant, Il Becco, having spied the mouth-watering menu back in my room. Yesterday’s spicy taco adventure amongst the rough and ready tacquerías of Calle San Lopez has me feeling slightly on the delicate side and I figure a healthy serving of oysters followed by the salt-baked sea bass will nurse me back to gastronomic health. Life in luxury is hard.
Finally stepping out into the mild winter air, I marvel at how refreshed I feel. I muse that it must come from having all of my senses titillated. And that’s what this hotel offers: titillation of the senses and luxury in spades. I consider a last minute grooming at Gentlemen’s Tonic, the hotel’s English-style barber shop (they really do have it all here!), but I’m on vacation, so I figure I’ll keep the stubble a while longer. Besides, I reckon it gives me a bit of edge, just like the city itself. –
by Aaron Trinidade