The very first impressions of a city are in that initial trip from the airport to your accommodation. However, flying along in a cab late at night after a 34-hour door to door trip from Sydney meant, try as I might, I wasn’t really taking it in. Motorway turned into suburban streets, and soon we were deposited outside a building of unknown colour – the paint hue was tinted with the bright glow of the red fairy lights strewn through the tree in the front yard. We had arrived at the legendary Red Tree House.
We were met at the gate and quietly ushered through the shared areas of the house, through a patio garden and up to the Lafayette Suite – our home for the next week. They were expecting us, and there was ‘no need for formality after such a long journey’ – the check in process could be completed the next day. As the door shut, all we really took notice of was the large amount of space, the charming design and the comfy-ness of the bed.
Breakfast at The Red Tree House is a lively affair. They are filled to capacity pretty much most of the time, and with their expansion over the years to next door and across the road they cater to 50 guests in 25 rooms, so you are guaranteed stimulating and inspiring conversations over your morning meal and at happy hour in the evening. On that first morning we were lucky enough to meet Craig, who lives at this unique B&B with his partner, Jorge. Craig gave us perfect suggestions for the first day of our first visit to Mexico City. So while the staff plied us with sustenance by way of several courses, we planned and took notes and were itching to venture forth. We found the breakfasts at The Red Tree House were always wonderful, thanks to the talents of Guille. Each morning began with the usual continental options, including fresh fruit, breads and cereal, followed by the cooked option that changed daily. Mollete (pronounced mo-yet-ay) was the cooked course our first morning – half a long bread roll with re-fried beans spread on top, toasted with melted cheese (non-vegetarians had ham on it, too). The best bit was a bowl of spicy salsa provided as accompaniment (“careful, it’s very piqant”)…which I dished up far more lavishly than suggested. They must be used to guests with a tamer palate than mine, because I thought it was of a perfect ‘hotness’ and just piled it on top of the cheese. Excellente!
Following the advice of our hosts, we pretty much spent our entire first day in Mexico City walking. I have become quite a big fan of arriving in an international destination late in the evening (after excessive travel time). Exhaustion leads to a good night’s sleep and you wake up refreshed and ready for it all. Topping that off with a lot of walking makes combating jetlag a breeze. And so we set off from our cozy little spot in upmarket Condesa and headed towards Bosque de Chapultepec – 1,000 acres of parkland in the centre of Mexico City. This spot is such a draw card for residents and tourists as it isn’t just a gigantic park; it is also home to some pretty amazing and important museums. [For more on this day’s adventure, go to Part 1 of our Mexico City adventures]
Our first evening back at The Red Tree House we got to experience the quite famous ‘happy hour’, which is pretty much a continuous pour administered by attentive and charming staff catering to whatever liquid whim takes you. While the complimentary wine is delightful, the true fun is in the sharing of it with other travellers. It is the perfect opportunity to once again congregate to tell of the day’s adventures and make personal recommendations – “Oh, you simply MUST…”
We headed from our cosy, communal sitting room in front of the fire out to what was for us a late dinner (but completely normal hour for locals). We were hankering for some proper food after the peanuts we had picked up at the flash, high-class, corner wine and cheese store. We walked around the corner to Lampuga Condesa, which specialises in seafood, but they had plenty of alternatives for us vegetarians. We had grilled vegetables in terrayaki, grilled asparagus, artichokes (which were a bit of a let down – thought they would be artichoke hearts, not whole, so very chewy – didn’t eat outer bits), and sautéed chillis. John gave up on those after his first huge and confident mouthful – it was enough to scare anyone off, but I persevered and just took them in smaller pieces, less fiery that way. The place was packed, but service was fairly prompt, and the live music finished the day off beautifully.
Exploration further afield was the plan for our second day in Mexico’s capital, and a tasty local specialty of chilaquiles for breakfast was a solid start to the day. Our vegetarian version consisted of an egg on top of black beans, corn chips and a spicy sauce (spicy, but not hot). Love visiting a country where breakfast is all about the savoury options.
Art was one of the numerous enticements that drew us to Mexico. And while they may seem obvious choices, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo were the brightest beacons. For the time-poor tourist, there is a clear challenge as to which of the many museums and galleries should be at the top of the list, and even in a week we still didn’t get to all of them. But we managed to visit most of the ‘biggies’ dedicated to the work of these national heroes. [For more on this day’s adventure, go to Part 2 of our Mexico City adventures]
We soon familiarised ourselves with the routine of living with friends in The Red Tree House and exploring Mexico City. Mornings began with a fresh, new breakfast (during our 7 morning’s stay there was not a repeat menu), followed by a full day of discovery planned out the previous evening, that still allowed for serendipitous impromptu moments to divert us in our adventures. No day was complete without communal time at ‘happy hour’, and on the evenings where we were not inclined to venture out like most guests, we enjoyed the company of our hosts, Jorge and Craig, over fine Mexican tequila.
When planning a trip and searching for accommodation, we do enjoy finding special independently owned and run treasures like this one. And one aspect in particular that made our holiday so delightful was the staff – all of them! The friendly smiles of those on breakfast duty, the drivers with their excellent English, the absolutely spot on personal advice from Alejandro or Christian or Victor on anything you could possible want or need to know about this city and all it has to offer, all made for an unforgettable, marvellous time. The Red Tree House feels like a community rather than a work place, like we were staying with mates who enjoy hanging out with us, not employees. That’s pretty special.
This was our first visit to Mexico City, and the entire team at The Red Tree House made our stay so…well…perfect that we look forward to our next. There is no point at all in trying to keep this gem a secret – it’s a top recommendation in all decent guide books, and I have no idea how many years it has been number 1 on TripAdvisor! We were so fortunate to have found this place; its relaxed atmosphere, distinctive artworks and décor, and friendly and charming (yet professional) service make it a unique experience you are unlikely to find anywhere else.
Read our full Mexico City story here:
Part 2: Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo
Part 3: San Angel to Coyoacan
Part 4: Centro Historico
Part 5: Teotihuacan
Mexico City Accommodation (current): The Red Tree House