Entrada: A spark for CDMX
In October 2019, I was just stopping there on my way to Guatemala. From the sky, the stereotypical portrait of Mexico City, which is often described as overcrowded, polluted, dangerous, appeared to me.
I was impressed by this urban chaos; by the extent of this city located in the heart of an ancient lake. Hesitant, but curious in front of this megalopolis whose sprawling arteries slalom between volcanoes and evolve under a layer of poisonous mist.
During my brief stopover at Mexico City’s Benito-Juárez airport, let’s just say that the meal from chef Enrique Olvera served at the Centurion Club had pleased me a lot, and that it was just a taste, albeit a polished and sophisticated one, I grant you, of the authentic, chaotic and intoxicating Mexico City – or CDMX, the capital’s new name in effect since 2016.
January 2020. It is by reading the travel guides Monocle and 300 reasons to love Mexico that a more realistic portrait of the Mexican destination takes shape for me, which seems to be one of the gastronomic capitals of America, and one of the most culturally effervescent cities. For a curious person like me, or even two curious people like my boyfriend and me, it was just right!
Being the travel adept that I am, here is the menu for this article (happily written for the milesopedia community) which will be couple with all benefits brought by the Platinum Card® from American Express.
- Primero: Impressions of business class flights and lounges
- Segundo: Hotel Umbral (Curio Collection) Reviews and Gold Hilton Honors Membership Benefits
- Postre: CDMX must-sees
Primero: impressions of the flights and lounges
Having found (after long hours on Google Flights) a round-trip flight in Business Class that was comparable in price to Economy Class, we flew on Air Canada with a little more comfort than usual. Yes, business class, without the points!
However, the trip did involve a stopover in Toronto (on the way there and on the way back), but hey… we have to say that we love the airport vibe and enjoying the experiences that the American Express Platinum Card® and lounges offer, so we don’t mind the stopovers!
Short flight from Montreal to Toronto (and back). Despite the slightly faded and outdated condition of this A330, it’s still nice to be able to lie down for a shrimp cocktail on the way to Toronto. It goes by in a snap!
Expedited passage through the Toronto airport with the Platinum CardMD from American Express that avoids the lines. Always nice during rush hour!
A sweet moment of waiting in beautiful chairs at the Maple Leaf Lounge, Toronto: access to the lounge is included, as we have a business class ticket. Simple, but delicious aperitif.
Flight from Toronto to Mexico City (and back) Whatever one may say, one quickly gets a taste for Air Canada’s business class on board the A319. Give me good food, a good glass of wine, a little more space and personalized service: I am a happy man!
In short, despite the fact that it is simple and not very luxurious, I am still very satisfied with the business class on this aircraft.
Centurion Club lounge at MEX, accessible with the Platinum Card® from American Express. I love the elegance of the décor and the attention to service in Centurion Lounges.
In addition, the meal offered is signed by none other than Enrique Olvera, a prestigious Mexican chef. As for alcoholic drinks, it’s open bar and the wine is delicious!
Finally, upon reservation and at no extra cost, you can have a beauty or relaxation treatment (even a 15-minute massage, or a pedicure, among others): which we did!
In short, an excellent lounge to wait for the next flight.
Segundo: review of the Umbral Hotel (Curio Collection, by Hilton)
The cornerstone. The Umbral Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton. Our nest for a week. Our benchmark.
A few years ago, we fell in love with Hilton’s Curio collection of independently owned, upscale hotels that are handpicked and brought together under one banner.
Chic hotels (yes!), with a signature that leaves no one indifferent. Hotels whose essence exudes authenticity, and which provide travellers with an extraordinary experience.
The Umbral Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton was no exception, we remained under the Curio spell.
Why Umbral (which means “threshold”)? For in almost all of the hotel’s spaces, the visitor is on the border between light and shadow; invited to continually cross the threshold between the two.
To the room
We could go far in the symbolism, but architecturally speaking, the result is breathtaking. I’ll tell you about it!
From the marble entrance hall, all lit up in white, tastefully decorated, to the front desk plunged into darkness, which contrasts with the warm and luminous reception, the old original screened lift leads to the rooms. These are arranged around the periphery, creating an impressive gaping hole in the heart of the building.
From the first floor, if you look down, the glass tiled floors project the shimmer of the hall lights to the top of the terrace.
Accompanied by the valet, we push open the door of the room, which opens onto a hallway completely plunged into darkness, from the ceiling of which hangs an enormous illuminated metal sculpture.
Once you cross the threshold of this narrow space, the room, with its king bed and sober colours, is spacious, inviting and soothing. The man drops off our suitcases, which we hadn’t touched since the airport, and fills us in on the architectural concept of the hotel opening in 2019.
Left to our own, we discover the small joys that the room offers: a long comfortable bench, technological accessories necessary for modern and trendy travellers, local toiletries, and a cozy bed whose sheets are manufactured here in Mexico, as are the towels!
Two swing doors are pushed open to access the bathroom, which glows with white and contrasting wood accents. The shower: a favourite. Vast, made of white marble. Beautiful.
A bit of history
Located right next to Constitution Square – the Zocalo – the Hotel Umbral, Curio Collection by Hilton is an old place where many professionals passed through and worked over the years when the Mexican revolution was raging.
The name Edificio Espana, 1924, can be seen on its sober pink façade. Left abandoned for a few decades, it was redeveloped in the 2010s.
Today, an entire team of women is at the helm of the building’s management. A special mention to Karel, the chief concierge who does an extraordinary job!
Let's talk about rooftop terrace...
The Umbral Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton is now one of the trendiest places in the historic district thanks to its rooftop terrace which is worth a few words. On the east side of the house is the sunny breakfast room, decorated with a multitude of plants.
On the west side, you will have a breathtaking view of the city, and you can sip a delicious freshly prepared cocktail at the bar, or even take a dip in the pool or whirlpool.
You’re sure to enjoy a drink in the pool and watch the sunset to Mexican pop music.
Finally, I can’t help but address the elegance of the screening room, the vintage look of the lounge, the fine design of the various common areas, the exhibition rooms (which showcase works by local artists) and even the bathrooms!
Hilton Honors Benefits - GOLD Status
As you will have understood, I consider the Umbral Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton to be a real gem in the heart of the historic centre of CDMX.
Certainly, the Hilton Honors Gold status I earn with my American Express Platinum Card® brings a host of benefits that contribute to the unforgettable hotel experience I had.
Normally, I would have been entitled to an upgrade to a room of my choice, but since it was spring break, there was no availability.
I still got free breakfasts (for my boyfriend and me) for the 7 days of my vacation!
And they are delicious meals, served with coffee made from good beans… believe me, I love good coffee!
That’s without counting the access to high-speed Wifi, as well as the little extra amenities: two free glasses of Tequila, a plate of nuts and chocolate offered during an aperitif…!
For more information on the benefits of Hilton Honors status, I strongly encourage you to read the following article.
Postre: Mexico City must-sees - CDMX
Before I present my must-do activities in Mexico City, I must point out some classic cultural and tourist sites about which you will find information and reviews all over the web.
Starting with the historic centre and its public square, the Zócalo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You will find the huge Mexican flag flying in the heart of this quadrangle that hosts the buildings of important national governmental and religious bodies.
In terms of museums, the Palace of Fine Arts and the National Museum of Anthropology are among the most popular. If you’re just passing by, you’ll already have a great view!
The collections that each one contains are unique, impressive and offer a diverse panorama to better understand Mexican culture and to sharpen our references in the matter.
Finally, the Polanco, Roma and Condesa districts are trendy neighbourhoods (which have become gentrified in recent years) where you can stroll through streets lined with restaurants and bars, shops and cultural and religious centres.
Inviting yourself into the intimacy of Frida Khalo and Diego Rivera
The Frida Khalo Museum is the perfect place to enjoy the elegant residences, the smell of coffee and the diversity of the flora of the residential area of Coyoacán.
Even if you have to book your spot and visit among dozens of tourists, Casa Azul is worth the detour, as it offers a real entry into the intimacy and life of the famous painter and her husband Diego Rivera.
I had a soft spot for the gardens and for the room where Frida was bedridden for months after the accident that marked the whole of her life and work.
Just a few minutes away by Uber (a great way to get around here, and very economical!), further south, the Museo Diego Rivera Anahuacalli will definitely amaze and intrigue you! By erecting this museum in the form of a pre-Columbian temple, Rivera wanted to bequeath to Mexicans a legacy of more than 50,000 pieces that he collected throughout his life.
Already, the atmosphere in this museum is enigmatic… and if you go down to the basement, you will feel like in an adventure movie!
Stroll through the Colonia Roma district
If Roma Norte has become the epicenter of the Mexican hipsters, it is still worth a visit for anyone!
It was in this residential area that I most enjoyed walking around with the morning smells and sounds. Nevertheless, at any hour of the day, it is a pleasantly trendy area where you will find, among others: the Mercado Roma, the delicious restaurant Contramar, the bookshop El Pendulo, and the magnificent rooftop of the Balmori.
Interestingly, this is the setting for Ignarittu’s film Roma, which depicts the tense context of the country in the 1970s. Architecturally speaking, you can feel the Spanish influence, and it’s eye candy!
Pamper your taste buds with the Pujol culinary experience
It is the most famous restaurant in CDMX, because of its chef Enrique Olveras who has taken Mexican cuisine to another level, and who also owns a restaurant in New York.
The Pujol experience is complete. First, the restaurant occupies the entire space of a mid-century style house: trees under skylights cohabit with wood and marble furniture. The atmosphere is hushed.
Then, each service is choreographed: all the waiters and waitresses enter the dining room in single file and synchronize their movements so as to serve all the customers at the same time, with bewitching fluidity of movement. A real show.
Speaking of service, the dessert service is done directly in the backyard, which allows you to change air and discover another space of this exceptional site.
Oh! And what about the dishes…! Olveras gives back to Mexican gastronomy its letters of nobility (did it ever have any?) by serving dishes of great freshness, elaborated from sometimes surprising ingredients (ant powder, mole madre aged for more than 3 years) but with a taste well arranged to offer a real treat!
An experience at Pujol is not cheap, but it is unforgettable and the most extraordinary I have ever done.
Let yourself be enchanted by the jacaranda trees in bloom
Finally, if you’re wondering about the best time to visit Mexico City, I’d answer: school break!
Mainly because it’s a city that no one seems to have thought of for a family break, or a couple. Moreover, the temperature is mild (around 20-25 Celcius)…
But, above all, because one of my favourites is to have been able to see the jacarandas in bloom at this precise moment of the spring season. It’s MAGNIFICENT.
I found a few sweet spots : near the Soumaya Museum (worth a visit), along Reforma Avenue, and all over Coyoacan.
Suggested activities in Mexico
Here are some suggestions for activities in Mexico with our partner Viator:
Mexico Travel Guide
Here are some travel guides on Mexico that we recommend from the Ulysse bookstore:
Credit cards with no conversion fees
In addition to the Platinum Card® which offers you benefits for airport lounges, security lines at Toronto Pearson and status at Marriott Bonvoy and Hilton Honors Hotels, we recommend that you hold a credit card no foreign currency conversion fees.
This way, you will save 2.5% on each transaction made abroad as well as in Mexico!
Here are the 3 best no-conversion fee credit cards available in Canada: