It was a two-hour ride from the airport in Mexico City to the Mata Redonda Estate, but the time flew. My host, Santiago de Lyon, pointed out interesting landmarks and told me stories about the estate which was our destination. I was thrilled just to be able to put down the window and let the warm breeze blow through my hair. It was February. Back home in Pennsylvania, opening a window would be inviting frostbite.
We wound our way through pine-covered volcanic mountains and slowed to enter the cobbled streets of Valle de Bravo. "Valle" (as the locals call it, which means "valley") is a colonial town which traces its origins to the earliest days of Spanish rule. It acquired an enormous manmade lake in the 1940s, and became an instant favorite of the Hollywood crowd of the 1940s and 50s. They built elaborate hideaways around the lake and partied in the town.
Today Valle still has a delightful mix of restaurants, museums, 18th-century churches, shops, galleries, and a lively nightlife--especially on weekends when visitors come down from Mexico City. During the week, it's blissfully quaint and peaceful, a wonderful place to stroll.
Celebrities and Mexico City's cognoscenti aren't the only ones attracted to the area. Monarch butterflies - black and orange and beautiful - migrate here from North America, arriving during January, February and March to mate and die. That's why I was here - to ride with the butterflies. But would the reality measure up to my expectations?
I would soon find out, but my immediate attention was focused on Mata Redonda, the 700-acre estate which would be my home for the week. Santiago had been modest in his description of the place. It is stunning, with indoor and outdoor swimming pools; indoor and outdoor tennis courts; a spa with Jacuzzi, steam room, and sauna, and Italiante gardens where the only sound is the splashing waters of fountains. There are only ten guest rooms, and it was immediately obvious I was going to be waited on hand and foot. I felt like aristocracy already.
As soon as I unpacked and changed, I made a beeline for the stable. It turned out to be equally luxurious, with a fountain in a beautiful courtyard and 25 friendly and well groomed horses. I did the math: 25 horses, 10 guest rooms. Surely I could find a suitable mount. And I had my choice of English or Western tack. The Charros saddle favored by the Mexican cowboys looked good to me. I would try it, for sure.
After a wonderful dinner and a blissful night's sleep, six of us - all escapees from various frozen parts of the U.S. - and a cheery guide set off on our first ride. Every day we followed a different trail, and every day was highlighted by lakes, villages, mountains or pristine forests. We had ample opportunities (according to abilities and comfort level) to canter or gallop or just dawdle along enjoying the scenery.
But the best experience, one I will always remember, was riding in the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary, passing quietly and in awe through clouds of thousands of fluttering butterflies.
I can still feel the brush of their wings and hear the soft whir of their flight - but now I know I am dreaming, and a glance out my window will reveal drifting snow, not a moonlit Mexican garden.