Enrique Olvera, who introduced much of the world to fine-dining Mexican at destination restaurants Pujol
in Mexico City
and Manhattan’s Cosme
, among others, grew up and resides in Mexico’s capital. But his heart belongs to Oaxaca, the UNESCO World Heritage city and surrounding state of the same name that he has visited since childhood. There, the chef is building a house behind Criollo
, his restaurant in the peaceful colonial town of 250,000, where he fantasizes about retiring someday and where, he insists, the sun itself shines differently.
“As soon as I step off the plane, the colors seem strangely brighter,” he says. “The green is greener, the yellow is yellower, and, for reasons that resist scientific explanation, the days seem to last longer.”
Oaxaca bends the rules like that. It’s among Mexico’s poorest states, yet is perhaps its richest in tradition and diversity, with 16 officially recognized indigenous groups whose roots stretch back to pre-Columbian days. The weather is pleasant and mild, but the city is increasingly cool: In recent years, a mix of artists, expats, and standouts like Olvera has elevated the southern city’s profile on the bohemian-chic radar. Though there are almost no international chain hotels, boutique accommodations in restored centuries-old mansions abound, as do contemporary art galleries, and the coffee and drinking chocolate are exceptional.