Most travellers simply pass through the northeast after crossing the US border, hot-footing it straight to the Bajío or even Veracruz, but they miss out on some iconic Mexican food, music and a smattering of absorbing sights – besides, you’re talking at least twelve hours on the bus.
The northeast border towns themselves attract a steady stream of day-trippers from the US, though like elsewhere this trade was severely disrupted in 2009, and anyway, with a couple of exceptions there’s little to keep you from heading south as quickly as possible. It would certainly be a pity to miss Monterrey, Mexico’s industrial dynamo and home to some of the nation’s best museums and its most famous brewery. Neighbouring Saltillo is a pleasant place to break a long journey, while the adventurous can assess the growing quality of Parras wines.Read More
- Monterrey and around
Valle de Parras
Valle de Parras
Around 160km west of Saltillo, the Valle de Parras is the oldest wine-growing region in Mexico. Dismissed as poor quality for years, the region’s Cabernet Sauvignons in particular, which account for around seventy percent of production, are finally garnering a following in international markets. The area is anchored by the pleasant colonial market town of Parras de la Fuente, served by regular second-class bus from Saltillo (M$85; 2hr 30min). Once here you can walk everywhere in town, though you’ll need to take a taxi to Las Bodegas de Casa Madero and Hacienda Casa Grande (t84/2422-0055, wwww.madero.com.mx), 8km north of town; this is the largest and oldest producer, with roots going back to the Americas’ first winery, established here in 1597 by the Spaniards. You can take free thirty-minute tours of the facilities and museum, buy and taste the wine, and admire the colonial hacienda on site. Just 2km west of town at Ramos Arizpe 131, the Antigua Bodega de Perote (t84/2422-1698, wwww.antiguahaciendadeperote.com) produces fine wines as well as brandy and sotol, the local spirit. It’s also an inviting hotel (M$425). Established by Italians in 1891 back in downtown Parras, Las Bodegas El Vesubio is a smaller operation at Madero 36 – the shop is open daily. The best place to stay in town is the colonial Hostal el Farol at Arizpe 301 (t 84/2422-1113, wwww.hostalelfarol.com; M$900–1199).
The king of nachos
The king of nachos
Contrary to popular belief, that addictive combination of crispy tortilla chips and melted cheese – a staple snack all over the US and beyond – is not traditional Mexican food. Nachos were actually dreamt up in 1943 in Piedras Negras by Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya, allegedly whilst trying to feed a group of US army wives after hours. He was forced to cook up whatever he had left in the kitchen: essentially toasted tortillas, cheese and jalapeño peppers. The idea caught on, especially in Texas, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that “nachos” became popular throughout the US (it’s never had quite the same appeal in Mexico). When Anaya died in 1975 a bronze plaque in his memory was erected in Piedras Negras, and the town hosts an International Nacho Festival around October 21 each year. The two-day event features live music, art and a goofy attempt to make the world’s biggest nacho.
The original nacho restaurant no longer exists, but Anaya went on to work at the Moderno Restaurant, Morelos 407-A (t878/782-0098), which still uses the original “recipe”. Here you can order the classic nachos (cheese and jalapeño only), or the special nachos prepared with fresh jumbo shrimp.