‘Merida is Mexico’s most creative and affordable city’: Condé Nast Traveler

Polychrome facades on Calle 59

Polychrome facades on Calle 59

 
After spending a few blissed-out days playing house in this cultural lightning rod of the Yucatán, you’ll want a fixer-upper of your own. Only here it’s actually doable, writes Paul Brady in the May 2017 issue of Condé Nast Traveler magazine.

It’s approaching midnight and Genoveva de la Peña, an art teacher turned bee conservationist, is making a toast. “Each of you has been special for me in a lot of ways, and right now it’s important to choose with whom you share your life,” she says, raising a glass of red wine to the mishmash of stylish friends seated around the sturdy farmhouse table: a sculptor from Mexico City, a ceramicist from Germany, an American textile designer who lives in the nearby pueblo of Telchac, a Japanese pianist from Amsterdam, a former New York ad man who did spots for Kodak, and John Powell, our host and Mérida’s unofficial town mayor. “I love that all of us come from so many different backgrounds, but find that we have a lot of interests in common,” she adds. As two of Powell’s dogs—a hairless Xolo and a plump Jack Russell—are running between our legs, we all clink glasses, and I wonder how I can move here and crash parties like this all the time.

I had first heard good things about Mérida from a friend, when trying to figure out where to go on my honeymoon—no pressure as a travel writer. My wife and I wanted to do Mexico City, but since we live in New York, we didn’t want to spend a whole week stuck in traffic and chasing impossible-to-get restaurant reservations. A friend suggested we split our time, adding a few days in Mérida, a smaller city filled with incredible villas that rent for next to nothing and where the only thing we’d be stressing over is which taco place to hit for lunch. We booked a five-bedroom colonial that had preposterously high ceilings, a giant kitchen with traditional pasta-tile flooring and plaster walls, a master suite that recalled Philip Johnson’s Glass House, and a lap pool in the manicured courtyard. The place cost us $134 a night. Within a day, we were looking at real estate listings online and considering how to keep our jobs while working remotely. Or maybe we’d just quit! “Sixteen years ago, when I first moved here, it was only retired school teachers on a budget or ex-CIA guys who have all disappeared into the jungle and died,” says Powell, who, in addition to throwing great dinner parties in his restored mid-century modern home, runs Urbano Rentals, a small property-management agency in Mérida. “Now things are much more interesting.”

The Iglesia de San Juan

The Iglesia de San Juan

As popular as Mexico is with Americans, Mérida has remained largely under the radar. But over the last 15 years or so, a small but growing group of artists, collectors, designers, and antiques dealers began moving in, lending the city the sort of creative energy you find in places like the Berkshires, Marfa, or Tangier. The painter James Brown and the sculptor and MacArthur Fellow Jorge Pardo have houses here, as do collectors like César Reyes (an unofficial patron of Pardo’s) and Leïla Godet Voight (who opened a gallery in 2015 called Centro Cultural La Cúpula to showcase local work).

Today, a younger generation is gravitating to the city as much for the creative vibe as the affordability. Mérida’s Centro, or historic core, has an enormous stock of Spanish colonial buildings, in a kaleidoscope of sherbet-hued orange, red, green, and pale blue. Many of these homes are in total disrepair—more than a few have trees sprouting in their living rooms and facades crumbling into the streets—but a growing number are being lovingly maintained or refurbished by Mexicans and expats alike, who find in the bones of the city a canvas for their architectural fantasies. For those used to cutthroat markets in Miami or New York, the prices are literally unbelievable: A two-bedroom in need of a serious refurb, $25,000. A fixer-upper with room to add an in-ground pool, $115,000. A fully restored two-bedroom with a plunge pool and two-and-a-half baths, $160,000.

 

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Source: cntraveler.com

 

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