Las Joyas de Mexico
Hotel Colonial, Puebla
by Lynne Doyle
Lynne Doyle is a longtime Mexico File subscriber and contributing editor from Maine. The object of the Las Joyas de Mexico feature is to highlight for MF readers some of the lesser-known but most rewarding of Mexicoís geographic, human and artistic treasures. Lynne can be contacted at LinfordD@aol.com.
I donít know why it has taken me so long to tell you all about this great hotel. I have been staying here whenever I am in Puebla for about 15 years, and itís one of my all-time favorite places in Mexico. Donít get me wrong Ė this is not a boutique hotel. There are no spa facilities nor is there a pool. Most of the rooms donít even have air conditioning, but then, I have never been in Puebla when I have actually needed AC.
What Hotel Colonial does have is a great dining room, the best view of Puebla at night from its roof, and clean, reasonably-priced rooms with reading lights and good water pressure. And washing machines and computers for the use of the guests.
The location of this hotel is also ideal Ė at least for me. It is one block from the zocalo in the heart of the historical district of the city, three blocks from the artisans market El Parian, and very close to just about everything I have ever needed or wanted to see. The waiters are polite, professional and efficient, and while the food is not gourmet, it is very good, there is plenty of it, and it is usually served promptly. There are often bands playing in the dining room during dinner Ė primarily made up of students from the Universidad Autonoma de Puebla located across the street, but all of them very skilled and entertaining.
The Colonial also has a very unique style. The original structure has appeared on maps of Puebla since 1668, when it was built as a monastery by the Jesuits to be used in conjunction with Iglesia Espiritu Santo (known now as the Iglesia de la Compania) and its college (now Universidad Autonoma). These buildings are right across from the main entrance to the hotel and are easily identified by their bright marigold yellow color. The hotel remained a monastery until the end of the 1700ís, when it was purchased by one of Pueblaís leading citizens, a Mr. Covarrubias, for the purpose of housing wealthy guests traveling from Veracruz to Mexico City. From the 1850ís to the present it has served as a hotel and restaurant Ė until 1930 as Hotel Jardin. After its purchase by the De Campo family in 1930, it was restored and re-named Hotel Colonial. There were several more owners and administrators until 1956 when the hotel was purchased by Augustin del Puerto Barba and administered by his son Agustin del Puerto Bello. This family has owned and run Mexican hotels since the early 1900ís in Veracruz and Oaxaca, as well as in Puebla.
By 1959, the running of Hotel Colonial had passed into the hands of Salvador Ortiz de Montellano Murua and his wife, Maria Luisa del Puerto Bello, and today is run by the second generation of the same family. Under their careful management, Hotel Colonial enjoys an excellent reputation as an old-fashioned stopping place for travelers in Mexico. It definitely is not a resort hotel, nor does it pretend to be. It is comfortable, friendly and always busy. More popular with Europeans (mostly French and German) than with Americans, the hotel also hosts its share of Mexican business people. During the summer, it is home to a number of summer programs from American universities, and the rest of the year hosts several different cultural programs for elderly Canadians and Americans. There are usually lots of different groups staying at all times of the year and many different languages can be heard around the reception desk in the lobby.
But what is most notable about Hotel Colonial is its magnificent architecture. It is a UNESCO Historial Monument because of its great colonial structure and probably most distinctive is the way the current management has preserved not only its structure, but also those characteristics that reflect all the hotelís different periods. For instance, the hotel elevator is one of the oldest working elevators in the country. By most standards, it would be considered barely an elevator as it is tiny and hand operated. Most times, either you or your luggage can be in it, but not both at one time. Also distinctive are the artifacts from the hotelís various incarnations that still remain Ė the crucifixes hanging in the stair wells, the ancient monksí desks on the mezzanine, the statuary and portraits of Spanish Viceroyals hanging on the walls. In every nook and cranny can be found ancient pieces of Spanish and Mexican history Ė old pieces of Talavera, gold-leafed mirrors, antique wrought iron candelabra. At dusk, itís not hard to wander the halls of this wonderful old place and imagine yourself living at some period in its history, which is one of my favorite things about being there. Of course, once you step into the street, you are instantly swallowed up by the bustling, urban pace of modern industrial Puebla, but coming back each evening up the worn stone steps into the lobby, I find myself immediately slowing right back down again. Itís a unique experience not to be undervalued.
Rooms are generally about $52 for a single and $63 for a double and the hotel also offers rates for triples and quadruples. Prices vary slightly between seasons. You can make reservations by either calling toll free 01-899-013-0000 or by emailing HotelColonial@colonial.com.mx. Replies regarding room availability are usually prompt and precise. A credit card number for the first nightís charges is required, but cancellation policies are liberal.
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