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Silver mines, Cervantes and sarcophagi

A cultural tour of Mexico’s Guanajuato

Narrow winding streets, spicy tamales and smile-inducing Mariachi melodies – Guanajuato is a vibrant city with serious zing. Start your Mexican adventure at Villa María Cristina, a luxury hotel cradled in the Guanajuato mountains. If you can tear yourself away from the views, from here you can dip into the city’s historic heartland for everything from street theatre to silver mines.

Villa Maria Cristina

COUP DE THÉÂTRE

Cervantes famously wrote that “he who sings scares away his woes” – and it would certainly seem that way in Guanajuato city, where constant music is the soundtrack to strolls through the brightly walled streets. A scenic walk from Villa María Cristina brings you to Teatro Cervantes, a theatre dedicated to the Spanish writer and his works.

His most famous creation, Don Quixote, stands outside in brass magnificence at the Plaza Allende – the central hub of the annual Festival Internacional Cervantino. Each October, theatres and plazas around the city come together in celebration of Cervantes, to host events, performances and street spectacles. So, if you’re a Cervantes connoisseur, that’s the time to visit. Outside of the festival, you can still attend performances in the theatres, but the content is a little more varied than the Spaniard’s seminal works.

Plaza Allende

A MORBID FASCINATION

For a culture that’s so full of life, Mexico embraces (and almost celebrates) death like nowhere else. And Guanajuato is no exception. Each year, between October and November, the city hosts its own Day of the Dead festival, La Calaca. It is both an opportunity to honour the deceased, and also to explore the traditions, artistry and theatre that the festival represents. The buzz that comes with this annual celebration is felt all across the city, with preparations turning the already bright backdrop into something beyond this world.

The city’s fascination with life and death is not limited the four-day Day of the Dead festival though. One of Guanajuato’s more unusual lures is Museo de las Momias – literally, the Museum of Mummies. It’s a bizarre – yet humbling – attraction that’s both an eye-opening experience and a fascinating insight into Mexico’s celebration of life beyond death. The 45-minute walk through the cultural centre of Guanajuato brings you back to Villa María Cristina, where you can ease off the day’s exploring and reflect on what you’ve seen in the Roman spa.

MINE, ALL MINE

Guanajuato is also home to some of the most significant silver mines in the world, giving the city a rich heritage for precious metals. Learn how Guanajuato built its fortune at the restored La Valenciana Mine, which takes you 60 metres underground through a network of tunnels and caves. This eerie attraction gives you an idea of the conditions that brought about the city’s wealth. And the guides are often happy to answer questions, as many of them are former miners at the site.

Back above ground, you can visit the landmark San Cayetano church. This pink-stone icon of Baroque architecture is astounding both inside and out. With an extravagant altarpiece almost entirely covered in gold leaf, the church stands as an opulent reminder of the wealth produced from the mining industry. For panoramic views of the city, take the road route back to Villa María Cristina, which takes you past the Monumento el Pípila.

With such a strong history in metal mining it’s no surprise that silver and gold are available in abundance in Guanajuato. For bespoke jewellery and handicrafts, look no further than La Casa del Quijote. As much an art gallery as a place to shop, the pieces range from pottery to textiles to modern art – with something to suit all budgets. It’s the perfect stopover to pick up souvenirs, gifts, and mementos of a culture that lives beyond its earthly borders.

San Cayetano Church