We recommend: Las Alcobas
Like any gilded ghetto, Polanco can err on the side of glitz and flash, yet Las Alcobas serves up extravagance and hotel fantasia as if they were the only possible choice. The creamy, glowing lobby mixes mellow stone, exquisite wainscot and richly upholstered yet never fussy furnishings. Two of the city’s finest restaurants — Anatole and Dulce Patria — are just off the lobby, while an adorable 1930s shopping plaza, lively lunch spots and every global luxury goods purveyor imaginable are walkable. Upstairs, guests cocoon in crazy-thread-count bedding and apartment-sized bathrooms are lavishly stocked with artisanal Mexican soaps.
Rooms: Doubles from £257, B&B. lasalcobas.com
Best for the big time: Intercontinental Presidente Mexico City
Towering over Chapultepec Park, the Presidente InterContinental is a nucleus of political power, corporate carryings-on and not a little showbiz. Lobby-level attractions include Au Pie de Cochon — a 24-hour branch of the Parisian brasserie, favoured for late nights by misbehaving telenovela stars — and Chapulín, for refined Mexican cuisine. Subdued, comfy guest rooms — stylish if not exactly edgy — offer epic views. If your tastes lean to presidential suites, you’ll be vying with Latin America’s biggest pop stars for access to its 44th-floor rooftop garden, pool and priceless artworks.
Rooms: Doubles from £231, room only. presidenteicmexico.com
Best for modernist design: Camino Real Polanco
Built for the 1968 Olympics and a masterwork by Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta, the Camino Real Polanco is a crash-course in post-war Mexican modernism, with allusions to the pre-Hispanic, the surrealist and the eye-popping hues of the nation’s indigenous cultures. Equally impressive is the massive, hot-pink entrance screen; the fountain that imitates a stormy sea; and the egg-yolk yellow, pyramidal towers. If guest rooms seem relatively ho-hum, the service evinces the very best kind of chop-chop.
Rooms: Doubles from £118, room only. caminoreal.com
Best for calm & cool: Histórico Central
Could this reasonably priced newcomer be the epitome of today’s Centro? Arrayed around two courtyards behind a 19th-century facade, interiors boast cool amenities, big, fluffy beds and quirky, vintage Mexican touches. Several rooms (including two awfully sweet penthouse suites) open onto private balconies or terraces with views of palaces, townhouses and spires — yet shut behind insulated windows when it’s time for a breather from the Centro’s sometimes maddening din.
Rooms: Doubles from £57, B&B. centralhoteles.com
Best for new urbanists: Chaya
Calling itself a ‘B&B Boutique’, Chaya is a great deal more. Its 11 light-filled rooms surround a patio atop an art deco gem (now a smart shopping and design centre), imparting an almost-beach-like, casual cool. Yet you’re in the heart of the city, just opposite Alameda Park, in the shadow of baroque belfries, minutes from downtown bests. Guest quarters plus a library and dining area are furnished with Mexican, artisanal elements. Meanwhile, Chaya emphasises personalised service and does a great job helping with custom itineraries, restaurant reservations, etc.
Rooms: Doubles from £85, B&B. chayabnb.com
We recommend: Downtown Mexico
An outpost of local design-hotel group Habita, Downtown Mexico is one reason the Centro is so fun and fashionable these days — a social centre for out-of-towners, neighbourhood hipsters and, more recently, the west-side well-to-do, on ‘safari’ to a downtown that’s come alive after decades of late-20th-century neglect. Behind massive, studded doors and the fortress-like, 17th-century facade of a palace that was once home to descendants of the Aztec emperor Moctezuma II, the property houses two courtyard restaurants (including the esteemed Azul Histórico) and a second level of chic retail (galleries, chocolatiers, a lively mescal bar, etc.). Third-floor guest quarters feature a minimalist (some might say monastic) soigné, softened with high-end creature comforts. Splurge on one of two deluxe suites for expansive quarters plus balconies overlooking the never-a-dull-moment streetscape. Sexiest of all is the rooftop bar and pool; a loquacious, highly-coiffed and well-heeled crew crams in after nightfall.
Rooms: Doubles from £146, room only. downtownmexico.com
Zona Rosa/Juárez/Colonia Cuauhtémoc
Best for party people: Room Mate Valentina
Styled like Almodóvar’s take on Barbarella, and a magnet for the area’s LGBT nightlife, the Valentina mainlines visual interest with future-shock guest rooms featuring sci-fi-minimalist white canopy beds plastered with hot-pink geometric motifs, and a suite whose wallpaper is metre-high tequila labels. Basics like large wardrobes and bathrooms assure a comfy stay and the central location leaves all the must-do barrios just a short subway or taxi hop away.
Rooms: Doubles from £70, B&B. valentina.room-matehotels.com
We recommend: The St Regis Mexico City
Impeccably posh, The St Regis features extravagant floral design and chic, richly hued furnishings that harken back to a glittering, more-is-more aesthetic. In addition to destination dining rooms serving up prime cuts, super-cool Mexican or haute French (this last a private affair for no more than 12, in a gorgeous hidden chamber), guests never tire of the King Cole Bar, a lounge in the grand tradition, featuring lab-precise mixology and regular live jazz and bossa nova. Even standard guest rooms are a riot of indulgences, with gorgeous, amenities-laden bathrooms, beds that beg you to oversleep and minibars groaning with goodies. Deeper pockets access a portfolio of suites, many occupying more than 100sq metres.
Rooms: Doubles from £325, room only. starwoodhotels.com
Best for those on the edge: Hotel Carlota
This avant-garde mash-up — trash motel nostalgia, conceptual art and post-industrial rococo — is the current darling of Mexico City’s design scene. At its heart is a courtyard pool plus adjacent bar and restaurant areas, with three levels of concrete-heavy but surprisingly comfortable guest rooms tucked behind bold, basalt-hued masonry screens. Throughout, custom-designed furnishings and original artworks (no two rooms are identical) run up against kicky antiques, bold contrasts and at least one campy allusion to the hotel’s namesake 19th-century empress. The pet-friendly policy extends to any and all beasts that travel with your posse.
Rooms: Doubles from £76, room only. hotelcarlota.com.mx
Colonia Roma/Colonia Condesa
Best for fun couples: Condesa DF
The sexy, sunny fete endures at Condesa DF. Opposite leafy Parque España, its vibrant interior courtyard is a mix of tropical mid-century allusions and contemporary style. Guest rooms suggest modernist jewel boxes; top-floor suites offer great views. The beautiful people flock to the rooftop bar after dark; expect noise with all that fabulous.
Rooms: Doubles from £215, room only. condesadf.com
Best for cosy: Hotel La Casona
A fin de siècle mansion on the Condesa-Roma borderline, La Casona conjures the spirit of the neighbourhoods’ heyday. Large guest rooms in sumptuous hues are chock-a-block with antiques and other flea-market-fabulous gewgaws. Warm service and yummy breakfast pump up the cosy, plus surrounding streets and gardens are some of the city’s prettiest; home to a Tuesday food fair.
Rooms: Doubles from £161, B&B. hotellacasona.com.mx
We recommend: La Valise Hotel
Occupying a townhouse off Roma’s main drag, La Valise lets guests play out fantasies ranging from rock star to expat novelist and sybarite globetrotter. Three suites only (no lobby, no restaurant) make up the hotel; each has old-school architectural bones and is flooded with sunlight. The surrounding antiques, modern pieces and thrift-store rescues, are genius, as is the rotating selection of edgy artworks. La Valise’s 24/7 concierges (more like your coolest friend) profess a near-masochistic desire to please and will eagerly take on your most absurd request. Insiders at the best restaurants and clubs, they also connect to bespoke art, architecture and history excursions (with expert guides), fetch groceries, and arrange in-room banquets from the city’s top kitchens. If you’re going all out, book the penthouse suite. Besides a gallery-like bathroom and kitchen, its bed is mounted on rails that slide the entire affair onto a huge terrace, behind receding glass walls for a luxury slumber beneath the stars.
Rooms: Doubles from £196, room only. lavalise.com.mx
Published in the June 2016 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)