I have always loved family vacations. I know they are complicated, and exhausting... but I treasure the increasingly rare opportunities to spend time with all the people I love most in the world, even if it is a given that some of it will be spent fighting. Each trip occupies a very special place in my memory - and as I probably have the worst memory in the world, that is really saying something.
One of my favorites was a road trip during the Christmas vacation of 2005 (or maybe 2006?...) I don't remember exactly how it happened, but believe that the trip was organized by my father, which is unusual. The entire family would drive from Mexico city to Michoacan, spend a day in Morelia, then a couple of nights in Patzcuaro before driving on to the Pacific coast for the remainder of the Holiday.
The trip was a complete success. There was something for everyone to enjoy in the places visited, the food was delicious and conflicts were kept to a minimum (we have been known, as a family, to remember locations from our travels together as " the place where so and so cried...") Without a doubt, the highlight of the trip was our stay at Casa de La Real Aduana, in Patzcuaro.
Over 10 years later, my memories of the hotel were - surprise, surprise - quite vague, but when planning a trip to the pacific coast with friends,I was adamant that we should drive back to Mexico City via Patzcuaro and stay there again. It never occurred to me that the hotel wouldn't be there or that it might have changed. My memories of it were so lovely that I assumed it would just be there, ready to bestow magic on a new adventure. And so, after a long, wet car drive we arrived once again at Casa de la Real Aduana and luckily, It is even more beautiful and magical than my memories of it.
Staying at "Casa de la Real Aduana" is more like spending time at a fabulous friends' house than a typical Hotel stay. Gemma Macouzet and Didier Dorval welcome you into their labour of love: a home that they have painstakingly restored and furnished with their fascinating collections of objects. They are fine artists and musicians who have lived, and travelled all over the world. Their passion for Fine Art and music is clearly a driving force in their household and examples of it are exhibited throughout the building.
A Fascinating and eclectic collection of art and objects is displayed throughout the house, creating a permanent exhibition space. Pre hispanic objects and fine examples of local craft mingle with 20th century European and Mexican artists. Often, collections of similar items are grouped together for impact: Many blowers of various styles hang above the dining room fireplace; Small cherub masks line a wall, creating a graphic pattern.
Some of the art displayed is by talented local artists that Gemma and Dider are passionate about and have agreed to represent. This in itself, is worth a visit.
Classical music can be heard throughout the day, enhancing the atmosphere of the central patio with its lush tropical garden. Sometimes, live piano music drifts across the building. This is Didier, a frenchman, practicing in the room where chamber music events are often hosted. As it turns out, this is more a cultural center than a Boutique Hotel. The owners often host intimate concerts on the property, which feature international performers from their long list of friends and connections. A larger concert space, which will seat 50 is currently being built at the back of the property
The Building itself dates back to the 16th century, and was built by the Spanish as the first Royal Customs House of the pacific coast. it is a perfect example of colonial architecture, featuring a central Patio and wraparound Veranda. Back then, Patzcuaro was intended to be the capital city of the state of Michoacan which explains the grandeur of the urban architecture. When Gemma and Didier bought the property it had been "modernized" to 60's standards, Formica covering the Terra-cotta tiles and wood beams. They spent two years restoring it, uncovering and repairing the original features.
Each of the four guest rooms has been individually decorated with a mix of European and local antiques. The art and collections extend into the rooms, which are both luxurious and comfortable. I now remember roaming through all the rooms on that first visit and vowing to come back and stay in each of them, especially the suite with the domed ceiling covered in frescoes ( Our dear friends and traveling companions stayed in it this time around, which only gives us an excuse to go back!)
.It rained incessantly during our stay, due to a freak weather event , which only made the fireplace lit breakfasts in the dining room and the lemon tea and local pastry delivered to our rooms every afternoon, feel more welcome and luxurious.
We left, once again, making plans to come back. Maybe next November, for the Day of The Dead festival, which is celebrated most exuberantly in Lake Patzcuaro than any other place in Mexico, or maybe just for a long weekend in the winter.... or maybe in another 10 years. All we know is that at some point, we need to relive the magic of this place.
Casa de la real aduana: