A few weeks ago we wanted to get out of bustling Mexico City, but we only had one day free, so we decided to look for a place where we could see some sights, eat, enjoy ourselves and still be back before the day was over. We found not just one, but two gorgeous towns that fit the bill in the state of Hidalgo, just over an hour north of Mexico City.
The picturesque town of Real del Monte, also known as Mineral del Monte, is a small pueblo mágico (the Ministry of Tourism’s designation for a unique and historically significant village) with a long and rich heritage. It was one of the first mining towns the Spanish established after La Conquista. Much of the silver and gold mined during the colonial and post-colonial periods came from this part of the country.
Mineral del Monte was heavily influenced by the Cornish immigrants who came to the area in the 19th century. Many mining companies from Cornwall came to Mexico to exploit the abandoned mines using new technology created during the Industrial Revolution. These British immigrants not only brought technology with them, but also soccer (the first soccer matches in Mexico were allegedly played by mining workers here), architecture and, most importantly for us, the pastes.
Pastes are a type of stuffed pastry similar to pasties eaten in England. As the story goes, miners needed a snack deep underground, but because it was impossible to wash their hands before a meal, the pastes were adapted with a special baked-in handle of crust along the side. This was used to grip the paste so that it could be eaten, and then the dirty crust handle would be tossed aside. In our trip to Real del Monte, we visited one of the most popular pastes bakeries in town, Pastes El Portal, for breakfast. We ordered the traditional meat and potatoes paste and washed it down with a cup of hot cocoa.
Our trip to Real del Monte would have been worth it for the pastes alone. But we also walked around town and marveled at the colonial- and English-style buildings that lined the hilly, curved cobblestoned streets. After enjoying some beer and tequila at a local cantina, we decided to have lunch at another pueblo mágico, Mineral del Chico, located just a few miles away.
The road to Mineral del Chico is a beautiful sight to behold. The highway climbs mountains and winds through a thick forest, giving the impression of traveling back in time to medieval England. Mineral del Chico is a much smaller town than Real del Monte, but we found it much more enchanting. It was also founded by Spanish conquistadors during the gold and silver rush of the 16th century. Today, the main attractions of this area are the forest and all the outdoor activities that this spectacular natural setting offers. Guided visits to old mines are also available for people interested in hiking, climbing and learning more about the history of mining.
Pastes are also popular here. However, we decided to have lunch at Restaurant Los Morrongos, right in the center of town. Hidalgo’s mutton barbacoa is recognized in all of Mexico as one of the country’s best, and it’s definitely one of our favorites, so we were excited to learn that this was a specialty at Los Morrongos. However, we also learned that the restaurant cooks its barbacoa in a green salsa, which is something we had never seen before, so we were a little skeptical too. But when the plate arrived we were immediately won over; we loved how the green salsa gave the meat an extra sour and spicy dimension.
Our last stop before heading back to the city was Las Tachuelas, a bar whose most popular drink is also known as Tachuela. The recipe is well guarded by the Olmos family, which has been serving it since 1960, but we detected some herbs, wild fruit and berries in our drink. It’s still one of the most popular alcoholic libations in town for locals and visitors alike. Tachuelas were the nails that miners wore on the soles of their shoes to give them traction in slippery mines, and the drink, which is served in a shot glass with a cracker, resembles those nails – hence the name. Unsurprisingly, our Tachuela didn’t make it any easier to leave this town, but it was most definitely an enticement to return.
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