Have you visited the colonial town of Valladolid in eastern Yucatán, a tranquil community full of history and traditions? If you have, no doubt you have strolled through the main square, admired the San Servasio Cathedral and bargained for hammocks and colorful embroidered dresses with local artisans. You’ll have called in at the Zaci and Dzitnup Cenotes and you may have even toured San Bernardino Church and the sprawling colonial Sisal monastery, but if you are planning another trip, here are three of the town’s treasures you may want to visit.
Casa de Los Venados
Located at Calle 40, a short walk from the main square is Casa de los Venados or the “House of the Deer, ” a 17th-century private residence and a museum that pays tribute to the rich tradition of Mexican folk art.
Recently rated Valladolid’s top attraction by members of the Trip Advisor online travel community, Casa de los Venados is an impressive casona or hacienda-style house built between 1600 and 1620. During the Colonial period it was the home of the Alcalde or Mayor and later to a prominent Valladolid family.
Abandoned since 1964 and crumbling into ruin, it was purchased by American couple and former Royal Resorts members John and Dorianne Venator who embarked on a 10-year restoration project. They commissioned Merida-based architect William Ramirez who blended contemporary architecture with the original colonial features and facade in a way that has won the house awards in architectural competitions in Yucatan, Mexico and in Costa Rica.
In addition to being a private home, Casa de los Venados houses a huge collection of Mexican folk and contemporary art, the reflection of a lifelong passion.
John Venator started collecting Mexican folk art in 1963 when he visited Puebla on a student exchange program and since then he and his wife have traveled the length and breadth of the country, visiting artisans in remote villages in search of pottery, carvings, textiles, metal work and more.
More than 3,000 pieces ranging from giant trees of life, ceramic jaguars and carved masks to Day of the Dead art, Frida Kahlo-inspired tiles and chairs, traditional wooden furniture and murals by local artists are exhibited throughout the house. Everywhere you look there is art and every exquisite object tells a story. Talavera vases, brocaded textiles from Chiapas and glazed green ceramic pineapples from Michoacan share space with miniature hand-painted figures in traditional dress, beaten copper dishes, Mata Ortiz pottery from Chihuahua and award-winning piñatas. It is one of the most extensive collections of folk art in private hands, and a joyous celebration of the creativity, color and humor of the country’s artisans.
Guided tours of Casa de los Venados and its collection are available at 10 a.m. and take around one hour. Visitors are asked to give a 60-peso donation to the owners’ charitable foundation to support local causes such as a clinic and community health programs, education and the arts in Valladolid.
Calzada de Los Frailes
Stroll along Calzada de Los Frailes, a pedestrian-only street linking the center of town with San Bernardino Church and Sisal Convent. En route, you can shop for arts and crafts and sample Yucatecan cuisine at La Casona, another colonial mansion that was restored by the Xcaret Group.
Nestled in the garden at La Casona, the shrine and fountain dedicated to Valladolid’s patron saint, the Virgin of the Candelaria is a work of art. Created by five Xcaret craftsmen using Talavera ceramics, it took almost a year to assemble and five more months to install in Valladolid. Inspired by the floral designs of a Yucatecan dress, it depicts the Virgin and Saint Bernardino of Siena, Saint Lucia, Saint Servacio and Saint John, who are also honored in Valladolid.
During a walk along Calzada de Los Frailes, visitors can watch cacao beans being ground to make chocolate using traditional techniques, or call in at the Coqui Coqui perfumery which is full of the fragrance of native herbs and flowers. Be sure to sample some locally made xtabentún, a liqueur made from honey, a native flower and a hint of aniseed, and buy some honey to take home. The Maya have been beekeepers since time immemorial and Yucatán honey is some of the finest in the world.
On the outskirts of Valladolid, the stiff grey-green spikes of the native henequen plants mingle with fields of blue agave, the plant that has given the western state of Jalisco such fame as the source of tequila.
Several years ago, a local rancher and businessman planted the blue agave on his land and the plants are now being harvested and processed to produce a spirit that resembles tequila. You can see every step of the artisanal production process at the Mayapan distillery, which uses techniques used for over 400 years.
While Mayapan cannot be called tequila because of its origin, it does have the characteristic smoky taste and is available in blanco, reposado and añejado. You’ll be able to taste it at the end of the tour and purchase a bottle, and a wide range of tequilas and mescals in the distillery craft shop. Mayapan is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed on Sundays.
Contact Thomas More Travel to arrange a private trip to Valladolid, in order to visit these three attractions and more.