The gridded streets of Puebla’s old town contain one of the largest concentrations of Baroque architecture in the world. Church façades painted like oil pastels include the tangerine St. Jerome and robin’s-egg blue Immaculate Conception. At Iglesia de San Cristobal, the columns are carved like rigatoni noodles and the façade is a stone tapestry of vines and grapes. Other church decorations mimic intricate embroideries, even wedding cakes as light as meringue.
The cathedral climax is the Capilla del Rosario, a gilt trip like none other. Behind the altar rises a four-story golden wall filled with intricately carved niches and statues. Gilded relief covers the ceiling and flanking chapels are sculpted to the nth degree—the Baroque as a glinting coral reef. Arches, cupola, cornices, columns, and spandrels all aflame with carved, emblazoned plasterwork. It’s almost blinding.
But a visit to Puebla, which is the capital of the Mexican state Puebla and a two-hour drive from Mexico City, is not just a church itinerary. The stores lining Calle de los Dulces sell local dessert pastries and candies. Among them at the Tortillita de Santa Clara are sweets made by the nuns of the nearby Iglesia de Santa Clara. Along the street history was also made: The Mexican Revolution began at the unassuming Casa de los Hermanos Serdán. There is also the Artist Neighborhood, an allèe of 43 tiny workshops, and the internationally renowned Uriarte Talavera (uriartetalavera.com.mx) ceramic workshop, founded in 1824 and the godfather of the Talavera style of raised blue shapes on a white background.
At night, linger among the café-restaurants on the Zocaló or have dinner at the restaurant Augurio for traditional Poblano cuisine raised to a high level. Mezcal tasting bars include Licoreria San Pedritro, Miel de Agave, and Mezcaleria Coyoacán. In 2016, the state opened the International Museum of the Baroque , a modern architectural tour de force of curling and swirling concrete slabs designed by Japanese architect Toyo Ito. It’s actually the place to start your visit because the digital wall displays bring you eye to eye with the fabulous details of the city’s buildings, especially the churches, which you’d have to have wings to see.
In 2017, Rosewood opened a magical 78-room half-modern, half-historic hotel with an underground wine cave and rooftop pool. It’s since been renamed Azul Talavera (azultalaverahotel.com) and features Cobalto Spa, utilizing indigenous ingredients among its range of healing therapies and treatments. The city’s second high-end hotel, the Cartesiano (hotelcartesiano.com), opened the same year. Dubbed an urban wellness center, guests make selections from a menu of programs focused on circadian health, mental health, and healthy aging. Among the many specialized treatments and equipment is a quartz bed, the MLX iDome for detoxing, and the Gharieni Spa.Wave system for vibration therapy.
The facility was resurrected from a series of derelict buildings, including a villa, a parking garage, a tile plant, and a home for retired nuns. Furnishings made in Mexico have mid-century modern lines and many rooms incorporate centuries-old walls. Library Suite 33 is long, deep, and high with 14-foot ceilings. Forty standard rooms in the hotel’s modern buildings don’t try to mimic the vintage feel. They’re sleek and efficient, and they incorporate the hotel design vocabulary of lightly textured wood and stone and offer the best views from the fourth and fifth floors. The rooftop restaurant, which looks out to the region’s famed volcano Popocatépetl, goes all out when it comes to authenticity: The tacos are all blue-corn and handmade, the red rice in the mole is pre-Hispanic, and the torta de agua (cake of water) is the traditional bread of Puebla. But you can still order a pizza. —Gary Walther