Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Great House in San Miguel Chapultepec

We are accustomed to staying in hotels when we travel in Mexico. Back in the 1980's, we tried staying in B&Bs in the U.S. and a couple in Mexico, but with a few exceptions, they didn't suit our style. (That might be the subject of another post.)

About a year ago we became aware of, a service which brings together travelers and hosts in private homes or apartments. I was browsing its listings for Mexico City and was struck by an unusually attractive house in Colonia San Miguel Chapultepec. The guests' reviews were laudatory, without exception. We met a Canadian woman who had actually stayed there. She had enjoyed her stay but did comment that the selection of restaurants nearby was thin. I had a few doubts about its location a few miles west of our usual haunts of Colonia Roma Norte and Condesa. Despite that, we decided to book it to give us a new area of Mexico City to explore.

AirBnB plays its cards close to its chest. We knew the general area in which the house is located, but we weren't given the exact address nor the email address of the hosts until we had booked and prepaid. Prospective guests can communicate with tentative hosts through AirBnB. You can see the general area in the map below.

View Larger Map

The owner/hosts, Francisco and his wife, María Jose are busy professional people, so we didn't have a lot of interaction with them during our 5 night stay. But when we did, they were cordial and helpful. The linchpin of the Great House is  the housekeeper, Sra. Yolanda, who greeted us and who works tirelessly to ensure guests' comfort and that all is running smoothly.

There are also two to three dogs, the most notable is Maya, a huge, docile and sleepy St. Bernard.

Some practical aspects of our stay.

The neighborhood.
The house is located in a small upscale barrio of  narrow streets with homes of attractive exteriors that reveal little of what's inside. There are also a few more modern apartment and condo buildings. The barrio is bounded by busy avenues, of which the one a couple of blocks to the east is a rather deteriorated commercial strip. The western boundary avenue is along an attractive park.

Shopping, including an average bakery, farmacias and a large, modern supermarket, as well as banks and ATMs are within a 5 minute walk from the house.

Typical street in el barrio

Buses, (did not use); taxis, walking, and MetroBus  were our principal modes of transport. There are Metro (underground) stations six to eight blocks away. We did not use the underground Metro.

The House.
There is a large metal gate to the front parking area, followed by a foyer into the interior. Immediately to the right is a set of stairs to the bedroom level and upstairs, a reading lounge or small living room with a large window overlooking the parking area.

Directly ahead on the ground floor, the house expands dramatically, first, a small bathroom to the right, then an attractive library-study.
Immediately to the left, is a very large, contemporary styled dining room and an open kitchen.

Continuing directly ahead from the entrance, there's a very spacious and nicely furnished living room with a large screen tv. The left side of the living room has glassed doors that access the modest but attractive patio-jardin, also accessible from the dining room.

Security. We felt very secure in the house. The gate was well secured and the dogs provided some small measure of protection. One of the aspects that I appreciated most was that I could leave expensive electronic devices out without fear or hesitation. This is in contrast to hotel stays, where I take measures to hide these devices when we go out.

Paco reviewing the security detail
The Bedroom.
Our bedroom was the larger of two available to guests. It was reasonably spacious and furnished with a cama matrimonial, a solid desk with working drawers, a small sofa bench, a three section armoire, and a larger screen tv with Sky services, although we never could figure out how to navigate it, even with help from Francisco.

A specially nice touch was a small refrigerator and a microwave oven. These could be very useful, but we preferred to snack and heat food in the main kitchen one floor below.

There is a ceiling fan in the bedroom, which we used a lot. The bed was reasonably comfortable, although I would have preferred a queen size or two beds. However, there really isn't room for that.

Lighting was more than adequate, and with a little creativity, I found enough outlets in which to charge my electrical devices.

Noise levels were very low when our bedroom window facing above the patio was closed, and very little street noise came in. However, there is a nursery school or day care center close by, and some sounds occasionally came in during the day.

There was intermittent noise from jet planes flying overhead, especially noticeable at some hours of the night. That can be mitigated by wearing earplugs,

Our bathroom was very close to our bedroom. It was small but more than adequate. It was well supplied with soaps and shampoos, and Yolanda brought us a stack of fresh towels daily.
Hot water in the shower took a couple of minutes to arrive, but then it was o.k.

We had the bathroom to ourselves the first four nights, and shared with two other guests the fifth night. It was easy to work around this on a short term basis.

The wifi signal was strong and available in all areas of the house where I connected. It was a real pleasure to use.

Breakfast is included in the price. Breakfasts were cold cereal, toast, jam, butter, sweet bread, yogurt, cut fresh fruit, orange juice, coffee or tea. There was a wide selection of tea. One morning we were treated to Tamales Oaxaqueños.

The breakfasts were fresh and wholesome, although I would have like some protein foods, but I never got around to requesting them. Even hard cooked eggs or a couple of slices of cheese would have been welcome sustenance.

Neighborhood Restaurants and Street Food.
The nearest restaurant is La Poblanita de Tacubaya, a traditional Mexican restaurant with an extensive menu. I'll review it later.
There are a couple or more pizza places, mostly chains, but one charming and unique spot, to be reviewed later. There are coffee shops and comedores económicos, but we didn't eat at any.

There is also "El Matador", a grilled meat restaurant, which we did not try.

Most of the local street food stands along a major avenue didn't appeal to me, but one morning I did buy a couple of deep fried empanadas, which were hot, a little salty, but good.

Fried empanadas
One of the highlights of the barrio is Amor Casero, a small ice cream stand featuring small selection of excellent ice creams and sorbets, made on the premises. I had one of the best chocolate ice creams in my experience.

Summing it all up; we enjoyed our stay, the house was spacious yet secure, we were welcome to use the kitchen as we wished, we felt "at home"; the barrio was not as convenient to our usual favorite areas of the city, but we learned to use the MetroBus and came to enjoy it. Our hosts, including Sra. Yolanda were genial. It's a good option for visitors who wish more space in their accommodation and relative tranquility.


Tancho said...

I first heard of AirBnB from a friend that used them, it is a relatively new venture by two guys up in the Bay Area. A friend used them and was impressed with their screening service.It is certainly a great alternative to hotels especially when you consider that they are usually quiet, away from the hustle and bustle of downtown, ( although some are located in those areas) but more , they offer expereince of a more casual relaxed way to visit cities. Instead of sitting in your hotel room, you can use the living room and enjoy home style living. I hope their venture is successful we many decide to use it one of these days.

As always you have a great report!iv

DonCuevas said...

Many thanks for your feedback and compliment, Tancho. I hope that you will take advantage of this service some day.

Don Cuevas

John Calypso said...

Don Cuevas - Fine report as usual. I would find it difficult to be comfortable in someone's home - just not our style I think, But interesting - your experiences. Gracias.

DonCuevas said...

Calypso, I think of it as a type of B&B. My opinion of B&B lodging has changed over the years, mostly toward the negative. But although our stay at this house was a mostly positive experience, I would still prefer hotels in the future.

Don Cuevas

Andean said...

Thanks for the AirBnB link. Never heard of it before, nice to browse through and learn about it. I passed it on to some frequent travelers...

Francisco said...

Hi , my name is Francisco and im the owner of the Great House.

Is kinda strange to me to find such a big description of myself an my house in this blog, and still makes me feel that I would like to make a comment myself.

I appreciate the good comments posted on here an I must say we found our gests, Mr and Ms Cuevas, a very interesting and educated persons.

I must agree with other comments and must say that indeed Airbnb is not for everybody,
although as ms Cuevas said I must assure that even if its a "transaction" in my case I must say I don't need this money at all, and I do it mainly because we like to meet other people, there is a thing that I feel is very sad Mr Cuevas didn't comment here, I would bet that no any hotel will provide the kind of attention we give Mt and Ms Cuevas for the price they Pay. And this in mainly one of the biggest issues here, actually several times when we do know gest we didn't charge them at all, since they are our friends.

We like to treat gests as part of our family and try to help them have a good impression about México ant Mexicans, is not all about "business"

I take note about the breakfast comment.although is much more than you get for free in any kind of hotel or bed and breakfast , , maybe I could make a "la carte" breakfast and charge it, but then I would be just another business hotel.

DonCuevas said...

Francisco, I do appreciate your visit to my blog. But I think that you may have misunderstood what I wrote.
(First of all, I am "Mr. Cuevas". Mrs. Cuevas does not write here.)

You would be best served to focus on what I originally wrote. Overall, we thought that our stay in your house was very pleasant. But of course, there are some aspects which do not please everyone. I would have been false if I did not point them out. But perhaps because it is your house, you took my remarks quite personally. I'm sorry if that bothers you.

Subsequent comments, as between John Calypso and me were peripheral and do not refer specifically to our stay in your house, but to B&Bs in general. However, it is the nature and style of this blog to freely discuss such things, as long as it is done courteously and respectfully.

I know from having met you and from your messages to me on AirBnB that you are very responsive to your guests' needs. It's good that travelers and visitors can choose between so many lodging options, to have the type of hotel or B&B that best suits them. For those who wish a B&B stay, yours is a good option.

Wishing you and your wife well, saludos a Yolanda tambíen,
Mr. and Mrs. Cuevas