After living in Mexico for a year, I’ve been a bit delinquent in checking “spend lazy weekend in gorgeous centuries-old hacienda” off my to-do list. When friend Emily alerted me to her discovery of just such a place north of San Miguel, I jumped at the chance to experience all that a remote countryside hacienda has to offer. This particular spot seems to be best known as an amazing destination wedding venue for many lucky couples from the US & beyond, but they welcome groups of all sizes for whatever timeframe you can spare! Below is an account of our lovely weekend escape, which will hopefully inspire the rest of you to consider Las Trancas for your future lounging-about needs…
We departed DF for Hacienda San Joaquin de las Trancas at about 12:45PM on Friday afternoon, with an eye towards avoiding traffic heading north out of the city later in the day. Despite the ongoing construction of a crazy new elevated viaduct along the Pereferico Norte & some additional construction near San Miguel de Allende, we had virtually no problems getting to the hacienda in <4 hours. It’s located just north of Dolores Hidalgo in Guanajuato State (here’s a rough map to clarify). While ~4 hours may sound like a ways, the bulk of it is on toll roads where you can coast along at 80mph (while passersby blow your doors off at 90mph+). Also, you would be amazed how fast the time goes when you have a new friend in your car & have placed upon her the enormous social pressure of creating the road trip soundtrack on the fly with her Ipod, while your husband sits in the back seat shouting “Next song!” every 30-45 seconds.
Anyway, the written directions from the hacienda’s website were quite clear & the roads largely well-signed (a rarity for these parts!). Once you turn off at the sign for Trancas (key note: look for it at km marker 100), you’ll start down a lovely well-paved road but then you may become suspicious as to whether you’ve made the right turn when the pavement stops & turns into dirt. Just keep going!!
We extracted ourselves from the car & entered the lush grounds of Las Trancas. As soon as we were spotted, Gerardo instantly offered us margaritas, chips and guacamole (yum). Kathleen also kindly welcomed us and encouraged us to begin our exploration of the grounds. We scampered off to tour each of the 11 rooms, all tastefully decorated with unique handicrafts, stunning wood furniture, vaulted ceilings, & the majority of which are enormous suites. The four of us in the first carload were quickly seduced by the novelty of the separate-level bathrooms, which I think 3 of the rooms have…. Stairs lead down from the bedroom to a bathroom the size of your average New York City apartment. This is how I was meant to live.
Wandering into the back half of the building, we discovered a beautiful fountain and open courtyard surrounded by some of the many horse stables onsite (they have 10 horses & 2 burros, and guided rides are included in the price!). We headed off to the right, winding our way back towards the garden where a pool and jacuzzi awaited discovery amongst the fruit trees and flowers. The garden revealed the source of the squash flowers (flores de calabaza) that we would later dine on, filled with potatoes and lightly fried. There seemed to be a vineyard in the works, but it was tough to tell how successful it is just yet. Circling back around, we stopped to chat with the pretty ponies (and braying burros), and promptly returned for further debate over whether we’d each made the correct room choice.
From a historical perspective, there were plenty of interesting tidbits to be had. Construction on Las Trancas began back in 1567, but it didn’t receive the official “hacienda” moniker until 1709. (Centuries-old? Check.) As elaborated upon on the website, it housed notable visitors during Mexico’s turbulent fight for independence like Father Miguel Hidalgo, whose fav room John & I stayed in. One of John’s top pics from the trip shows a wall on the back side of the property that is riddled with bullet holes, perhaps at the expense of the group of renegade soldiers who hijacked a caravan of silver passing by & were rounded up to be “dealt with”. There are also some unexcavated tunnels leading out from beneath the hacienda, used by a prior owner for as a secret escape route as needed.
Since we were only there from Friday afternoon through Sunday afternoon, we didn’t personally make any escapes out of the village area. However, I could see this being a great spot for a week-long stay due to the proximity of Dolores Hidalgo, San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, etc. (hello, Talavera pottery shopping, anyone??) The hacienda offers several activities to keep you entertained at no extra charge (i.e. a surprisingly nice gym, the aforementioned pool/jacuzzi, horserides, mountain biking, and near-constant eating), and there’s also a spa onsite. We took advantage of a horse ride through the cactus-laden terrain– good times had by all.
A couple of our companions also discovered a secret cactus farm/shop just down the hill from the hacienda, where a family sells some of the most amazing cacti (cactuses?) that I’ve ever seen. We bought six of them– this from a girl who’s longest prior flora relationship was with a basil plant purchased at the grocery store & raised in a pint glass for months until it was time for a big batch of pesto. (Wish me luck on this new engagement…)
From a food perspective, I would say the food we had was very good & well-prepared. I wouldn’t say it’s fancy-pants/gourmet, but rather very well executed classical Mexican dishes. We didn’t make any specific meal requests in advance, but I got the impression they would be happy to accomodate any Mexican dishes that you’re hoping to sample. (P.S. Ask for the coconut ice cream. Mmmm.) They also have a wide selection of wines & liquors; we didn’t take advantage too much, since being cheap midwesterners, several of us came prepared with our own wine. However, I did appreciate their super-reasonable prices starting at $7 USD/bottle (and the fact they weren’t annoyed by all the $80 peso crap we carted in).
A couple other notable highlights of Las Trancas include:
The Spa. The hacienda owners have worked with the surrounding village to create/train a coop of women who provide all the spa services onsite. The prices are highly compelling, with options ranging from a 90-minute hot stone massage or facial for a mere $35 USD, and a 60-minute total-body or reflexology massage for $20 USD. You’d be hard pressed to find those treatments in the US for less than triple any of those rates, which almost offsets the cost of lodging if you look at it from that perspective! This spoke to John’s bargain instinct, resulting in this spa virgin having THREE treatments over the course of 2 days (including a facial). All met with his approval. I tried both the hot stone & total-body massages, and found them to be quite effective in relaxing me– most notably when I heard myself almost start snoring during one of them.
- The owners are good people. Hacienda Las Trancas opened in its current incarnation just a few years ago under the watchful eyes of Kelley and Stephen, two gringos who entered a more active early retirement than they ever bargained for! Their interest in & efforts to give back to the Las Trancas community is obvious, starting with the 18 people they keep employed full-time year-round. 50% of the income from renting out the hacienda gets put back into the community, via “Proyecto Pueblito” to improve infrastructure & create jobs. The rest goes to back into the hacienda, which I’m sure requires plenty of maintenance to keep it looking so immaculate. So while staying at the hacienda may not be the cheapest weekend outing in Mexico, it certainly helps to know that your money is actually helping local residents instead of lining the pockets of some rich hotel baron!
To that end, you may be wondering how much does all this magical hacienda-ness cost & how can you make a reservation. As I mentioned previously, Las Trancas seems to have gotten a lot of business from destination weddings, family reunions, & other week-long type bookings like those. But much like all of Mexico’s tourism has suffered at the hands of swine flu & narco concerns, so has business at the hacienda. They welcome guests for any length of time you are able to escape, but I would say you’d have the best luck making a weekend-only booking for a couple or small group within a 2-months-in-advance window (since most weddings would be booked prior to then). In that scenario, I would expect to pay something in the neighborhood of $185/person/nite, which is inclusive of all meals, a welcome margarita/guacamole, the activities I mentioned earlier, and a chocolate on your bed each night.
I would say the ideal scenario is getting at least 10 folks together, at which point you can reserve the hacienda fully for your group & probably negotiate a better rate. For instance, we brought 15 folks in total & paid $125/pp/nite pre-tax (but they have capacity for up to 35 w/extra beds, etc.). Obviously all of this will vary by season/circumstances/etc., so I would encourage you to email Kelley directly for a quote. One bonus about the layout/size of the hacienda is that it’s very easy to find your own space/not all be on top of each other, so you don’t have to worry much about whether your group is all BFFs or whether you might get maxed out on interacting with Crazy Uncle Dave. Despite us being there with a total of 15 people, we often came out of our room & didn’t see/hear anyone else.
I want to add a few final comments to address any safety concerns that potential visitors may have coming from the US, where the news regularly paints Mexico in an “unflattering” light at best. I can’t think of many places less at risk from narco violence than this random hacienda in the middle of nowhere, Mexico. The countryside is beautiful, with mountains, rivers, plus a huge variety of cacti (cactuses?) and other scrubby plants that don’t make the land conducive to drug traffickers easily scampering around. Also, the nearby gringo-filled community of San Miguel de Allende should serve as further evidence, with large numbers of Americans living calmly without the threat of drug violence.
So maybe this year, consider an alternative to your annual trip Señor Frog’s bar on the beach & your stay in a 20-floor high-rise hotel with 4,000 other foreigners. I promise that a hacienda can have dance parties that are *almost* as wild as what you will find at those beach bars. Feel free to peruse a few more pics below to help seal the deal on your impending trip to Hacienda Las Trancas. Tell them Emily & Julie sent you, and we look forward to hearing how many cactuses you bought.