Hotel Condesa DF, Mexico City
Nestled in the centre of Mexico City is the guilelessly stylish barrio of Condesa. While its grand Art Deco and Art Nouveau residences were once home to many of the enigmatic stars of Mexican cinema in the 1940s–50s, the neighbourhood has since become a mecca for a more creative, bohemian set. At the heart of its verdant streetscape sits Condesa DF, a 40-room boutique hotel housed in a charming French Neoclassical-style building originally built in 1928, but refurbished inside by architect Javier Sanchez and interior designer India Mahdavi in 2005. In the six years since it came into being, Condesa DF – a creation of savvy hoteliers Grupo Habita – has become the pied-a-terre of choice for design-savvy guests of all cultural persuasions when paying a visit to the Mexican capital.
The chill of the aeroplane window nips at my cheeks as I lean against it to catch a glimpse of one of the world’s most renowned urban sprawls. As the plane circles the evening sky over Mexico City, flashes of coloured light leap out from amongst the city’s buildings. Closer inspection reveals that the bursting rays of light are, in fact, fireworks leaping into the sky throughout the giant metropolis. Like a garden of pyrotechnic flowers springing to life, it’s the most festive welcome I’ve ever had to a foreign city.
Later, as we navigate the packed, traffic-laden streets of Mexico City, my driver tells me that the fireworks are part of the celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe – an indigenous peasant who became a revered Catholic icon of the Virgin Mary. Every year, devout Catholics make a pilgrimage to the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City in commemoration – and great celebration ensues across the city.
The sheer enormity of Mexico City is somewhat overwhelming. My lungs are unfamiliar with the dry air that is the constant companion of high altitude, as well as the notorious cloud of smog that weaves its way throughout the city. The cacophony of traffic, despite it being close to midnight, reveals a city where peace and quiet seem like rare commodities.
But just as I think I might have Mexico City pegged, the dirty streets soon turn into leafy avenues, and dilapidated industrial buildings become grand Art Deco-era townhouses. When the driver announces our arrival at Hotel Condesa DF, we are parked beside a French Neoclassical-style building occupying a narrow corner block. Just outside its entrance, a group of fashionably clad locals huddle together in jovial conversation, having just spent the evening in one of the hotel’s bars.
I wander into the lobby and an instant feel of calm embraces me – I’m not sure whether it’s the soothing aquamarine tones of the walls, the understated yet deftly designed interiors, or the ambient music emanating from the surroundings. When I finally reach my room, my energy expended from the thrill of experiencing a new and unfamiliar destination, I collapse onto the bed and into a heavy slumber.
Streaks of sunlight tickle my eyelids the next morning, teasing me awake – in my eagerness to sleep, I had forgotten to close the curtains. Through the glass doors I glimpse a sun-drenched balcony nestled in greenery and I pad barefoot across the hardwood floorboards to welcome the day with some fresh morning air. It’s a glorious day outside, and the neighbourhood’s denizens are milling about happily in the streetscape below.
The brilliance of the Mexican sun lights up my room with an irresistible cheerfulness and I wander around in wonder, taking in all the subtle design intricacies of the space. There is an innate contemporary aesthetic to the design and yet it’s devoid of the austerity common to so many modern boutique hotels. From the woven rug sprawled across the end of the bed, to the ebullient floral-pastiche of the armchair, and the books and magazines placed thoughtfully on the table, there’s an unpretentious cosiness that embodies the room. So much so that I’m tempted to linger here all day.
But my curiosity convinces me otherwise, and I bound down the three flights of stairs to El Patio, the botanic and breezy courtyard that forms the centre of the building (the hotel’s rooms form the perimeter). Breakfast is served and it’s a heavenly spread of fresh berries, melons, juices, cheese, bread, pastries, and all manner of saporous delights. Settling at one of the tables, I soon realise that the others partaking in this delectable buffet are not simply guests of the hotel. As I later discover, Condesa DF is also the locale of choice for the neighbourhood’s creative set, with all manner of designers, filmmakers, artists and other hipsters taking advantage of its ultra-cool setting, delicious epicurean fare and ubiquitous WiFi, to hold their tête-à-têtes – both laborial and social.
Later, I set off to explore the intricate nooks of the hotel (in the process, encountering the locale’s resident pooch, a chocolate labrador named Conde). Space for lounging is ample throughout the hotel, including a reading room filled with books on Mexican cultural icons such as Diego Rivera, photographer Manuel Alvarez Bravo, and artist Gabriel Orozco. French interior designer India Mahdavi, who designed most of the hotel’s furniture and homewares, has artfully fused her refreshing modern aesthetic with a distinct nod to the hotel’s Mexican roots (more than one cowhide couch occupies the space). In fact, the distinct design aesthetic of Condesa DF is so encompassing that I can’t shake the feeling that I’m somewhere near the seaside, rather than at the centre of a metropolis of 20 million people.
My exploration culiminates on the rooftop terrace, overlooking the treetops. I settle back into a lounge – a mescal, cucumber and mint mojito in hand – and revel in the sunshine. There might be a whole city to explore but, for now, my journey lingers right here.