Calle 3 Oriente 610, Centro, Puebla, Mexico
Built from the remains of a former tile factory and an old house for nuns, Cartesiano is the newest luxury addition to Puebla's hotel scene. With elegant interior design, modern art, and reinvented Mexican cuisine, it showcases a cool, contemporary Mexican style set to thrive alongside the city's many colorful churches and baroque buildings from the colonial era.
The UNESCO-listed historic center of Puebla was founded by the Spanish in the colonial times. It was the first city in the Americas planned from start to finish, so stylish and perfectly designed that, according to the Spaniards, "only angels would have managed to plan such a project," hence the common local name "Puebla of the Angels."
A lot of work has gone into cleaning up and improving safety in this industrial city over the last 10 years. With the arrival of the International Museum of the Baroque and luxury hotels, such as the recently opened Rosewood Puebla, Puebla feels like a city on the rise. Only two and a half hours drive from Mexico City, it´s an easy weekend getaway, a chance to explore a destination that's now blooming with highly regarded regional cuisine and picturesque streets and galleries. The city sits under the shadow of active Popocatépetl volcano, which gently fumes away nearby.
Now, Hamak, the same hotel company responsible for the success of Chablé Resort & Spa in the Yucatán Peninsula, has created Cartesiano here, a modern, elegant design hotel. A member of the Leading Hotels of the World, it has 78 rooms, a rooftop pool and spa, and a restaurant serving modern Mexican dishes along with international cuisine.
The hotel embraces both the building's past and the city's vibrant culture. Constructed on the site of an abandoned parking lot and two former mansions (a house for nuns and an old ceramic tile factory), architect Julio Blanco has created unique spaces, including suites with exposed walls that still show the faded paint from 400 years ago. A botanical garden, the work of engineer Pedro Pablo, also features exposed brick in the antique arches, alongside colorful tiles that decorate the walls.
Cartesiano is situated right on the central avenue that divides the downtown from the rest of the city, with valet service and parking right by the entrance making for easy access. The Zócalo, Cathedral, museums and cafés of the historic center are just a few minutes' walk away from the entrance. Some of the most iconic streets in Puebla are right next to the hotel, including the colorful "Callejón de Los Sapos" ('Toad Alley'), a street where you can see the colorful facades of antique stores and try to find a bargain.
After stepping into Cartesiano, you instantly feel the openness of their high ceilings and streaming natural light. There's modern art all around from Mexican artists, like the intense Agave in Red painting by Carlos Clausel, or the eye-catching Fish Above Water sculpture by the Axolote Collective, effectively avoiding the common mistake some hotels make of overdoing traditional Mexican bright colors and textiles. There are big business-like desks for a speedy check-in in the lobby and several leather couches that match the warm wood of the walls.
Opening out from the lobby, glass walls overlook the main patio and quiet courtyard, where there are orange trees, ferns and a fountain decorated with some of the tiles that were once made in here.
The sense of space continues through the lounge area, which blends with a lobby bar with good cocktails. It's a perfect area for reading a book or for a meeting. Plenty of coffee table books are laid out, covering different aspects of Puebla and the surroundings, such as the city's many churches, Popocatépetl volcano, and the famous Talavera (painted ceramic tiles).
Up on the rooftop, where the spa, gym, pool, and restaurant are located, there's a stylish modern vibe. It's common to see people dressed up to be seen, even by the infinity pool, which has modern aqua and grey tiles. The pool is set in a wooden decking area with huge sunbeds, umbrellas, and a great view of a colonial church. It's not difficult to relax and sunbathe up here, with snacks or cocktails, although the busy traffic of the main avenue can sometimes be heard and felt from the rooftop and restaurant terrace.
At the restaurant Centena Quatro, you can enjoy an al-fresco meal on the terrace, overlooking the Cathedral and Popo volcano (as locals call it) smoking in the distance, or in the restaurant's glamorous and colorful interior. The chef offers international favorites like Japanese sashimi, steaks, and pasta dishes. There are also plenty of traditional Mexican flavors and dishes, each with a touch of creativity, like a cactus salad with goat cheese, Mayan Tikin Xic—style red snapper, or Mexico's Independence Day specialty (invented in Puebla) Chile en Nogada, a stuffed green pepper with a white sauce made out of nuts, sour cream, and pomegranate. It's not really the type of restaurant that goes for fancy jellies and foam. Instead, they serve typical Mexican food with a touch of reinvention that fills your stomach. There's also a wide selection of international and Mexican wines, and, of course, a long list of Tequilas and Mezcals. The service at dinnertime is generally fast and helpful, though room service, when we ordered it, did take a long while to be delivered and arrived cold.
Breakfast and lunch are also served in Centena Quatro. You can mingle with the locals conducting business meetings and groups of elegantly dressed ladies having their weekly catch-up. Breakfast ranges from Continental options (pastries, croissants, eggs…) and healthy shakes to Mexican dishes, such as Huevos Divorciados (two fried eggs covered with different sauces) and Chilaquiles (a fried tortilla chips covered with salsa and sprinkled with chicken, cheese and sour cream). Service in the mornings sometimes felt a disorganized, but it's still attentive and friendly, and it's a very pleasant start to the day to drink coffee while taking in the view from the terrace and watching people walking by on the street below.
After spending your days exploring the busy city, it's easy to relax back in the hotel's suites and rooms, where the traffic noise outside has been effectively muted. The rooms are spacious, with high ceilings, and are decorated in neutral colors, including grey, white, and beige. Exposed stone walls from the past meet with the new white plaster, the rooms lit with a smart system of indirect lighting. They're also furnished and equipped with everything you could need to relax. There's a large desk, a little couch by the bed, and dark wooden closets, as well as a coffee machine and a complimentary mini bar with sodas and artisanal, local beers. Of course, it's always a pleasure to find a surprise little truffle or tiny cake in the room after the turndown service has been completed. You can enjoy it while watching a movie on the Smart TV, playing music on the Bose sound system or taking a bath in the spacious, bright, white bathroom. The bathroom has a powerful rain shower, a comfy old-school bathtub and sculpted twin white sinks, with Ortigia products used throughout.
If you spend a morning in and by the rooftop pool, you can walk right across to the spa. At the reception, where the ceiling is filled with lavender flowers hanging upside down, you can sit and receive advice on the treatments available while enjoying a green tea. The experiences on the menu range from classics like renew and repair, deep tissue, or relaxation to Pulsed Light Photo Rejuvenation treatments, all with the use of Naturopathica products.
The spa's interior is decorated with pristine whites, marble, and occasional touches of warm woods. There are modern, fully equipped treatment cabins, as well as a hydrotherapy pool, sauna, and resting area. It's quiet and peaceful inside; most of the time it seems you can have the area just for yourself. Staff are welcoming and accommodating, and the massage therapies are relaxing, thorough and professional.
Overall, Cartesiano is helping to put the resurgent Puebla even more firmly on the tourist map. With its art, design, and food, the hotel is both a bold statement of pride in its Pueblan and Mexican heritage and a cool, comfortable hotel fit for modern times.
Web Address: hotelcartesiano.com
Total Number of Rooms: 78
Published rates: $198 to $742.40
Review by Andrea Moreno, photos courtesy of the hotel.