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YUCATÁN Mérida rising

The Yucatán peninsula is known for its crystal-clear water and iconic coastal towns, but the real heart of Yucatán state is the quiet, colonial-style capital of Mérida. A tranquil city-on-the-rise, this rustic haven is undergoing a contemporary cultural renaissance. Magnificent pastel mansions, peaceful evening promenades, a flourishing restaurant scene, and a booming restoration movement make this historic city not only a discerning traveler’s Eden, but also the adopted home of an elite enticing group of expatriate tastemakers who know a good thing when they see it. “Yucatán is rich with archaeological and cultural history, and our idea was to give the traveler the opportunity to ‘stay in a piece of history,’ says Christina Baker, the owner and general manager of Hacienda Xcanatun, a stunning 18-suite boutique hotel housed in an 18th-century building. The burgeoning boutique hotel scene has transformed some of MériCasa Lecanda

da’s finest colonial properties into enchanting one-of-a-kind destinations, but it’s not only hoteliers that are revamping the city’s stunning traditional abodes. But even as Mérida enters a new phase, it is the city’s low-key authentic atmosphere that continues to distinguish it from Mexico’s other popular hotspots. Afternoons bring locals and visitors alike to the quiet tree-lined Plaza Grande, where the 16th-century Catedral de San Ildefonso —the oldest cathedral on the continent— provides a dramatic backdrop. As evening approaches, the city’s restaurants open their doors offering traditional Yucatán cuisine that has long been admired the world

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over. Known for a unique amalgam of flavors —European, Caribbean, Middle Eastern, and Indigenous— Yucatán’s regional fare is held up as some of the very best in Mexico. And now, with the influx of innovative chefs exploring international cuisine and trying new takes on sought-after classics, Mérida is fast becoming an essential city-of-interest for any taste-seeking aficionado. “As the city grows, it’s drawing designers, sculptors, architects, artists, and chefs,” says Stefano Marceletti, the owner and general manager of Casa Lecanda, a 7-room luxury boutique hotel set in a painstakingly restored, traditional Yucatanean home. “It has all the services of a big city, but it doesn’t feel like a big city”, adds Marceletti. On Sundays, the city closes the Paseo de Montejo to traffic, allowing people to take a leisurely bicycle ride up

the central avenue that’s surrounded with historic mansions, including the must-see 16th-century Casa de Montejo. More and more, it’s not just sophisticated travelers that are seeking out Mérida’s serenity and charm, but creative insiders and hip expatriates that are looking for a place to call home. “It’s a genuine Mexico,” says Marceletti. “When you travel here, there’s a feeling of novelty, a feeling that you’re the first to discover it.” It’s precisely that sense of authentic Mexico, mixed with its uncommon cultural caché that attracts travelers from all over the globe. Pamela Norwood, Travel + Leisure’s Vice President and Associate Publisher, recently returned from the Yucatán concluding, “It’s a truly magical place with a rough gorgeousness that’s irresistible.”

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