In recent years, Pachuca, the capital of Hidalgo state, has burst out of the ring of hills that once hemmed it in, its expansion fuelled by the need to move industry away from Mexico City. By Mexican standards, though, it remains a fairly small city, its centre easily walkable and full of colonial mansions built on the profits of the rich silver-mining country all about. If you have the time, it is worth venturing to nearby towns where the mining heritage is more apparent and the clean mountain air is refreshing.
Fourteen kilometres north of Pachuca, draped across pine-clad hills, sits REAL DEL MONTE (aka Mineral del Monte), a once very wealthy silver-mining town, and, at over 2700m, a nice retreat from Mexico City. There’s not a lot to do here, but it is a quietly appealing place where you can wander around the well-tended streets, and carefully explore mining relics in the surrounding hills. The town’s architecture is largely Spanish colonial, but is given an odd twist by the almost exclusive use of red corrugated-iron roofing, and the existence of Cornish-style cottages with their double-pitched rooflines. Some 350 Cornish miners moved here after 1824 when a British company operated mines that were first opened by the Spanish in the mid-sixteenth century. The British pulled out in 1848, to be replaced by a Mexican successor firm, but many of the miners and their Cornish influence remained, resulting in surprisingly authentic Cornish pasties and the introduction of fútbol (soccer), which was played for the first time on Mexican soil here in Real. Indeed, this British community in Mexico went on to found Pachuca football club and the Mexican football league. Many of the miners, who were Methodist rather than Catholic, now rest in the British cemetery (Panteón Inglés) on the edge of town (usually locked, but the caretaker should, with luck, be somewhere nearby to open it up).
To get to Real del Monte from Pachuca, walk 200m north of the zócalo along Zaragoza to Calle de Julian Villagran (the northwest corner of Plaza de la Constitución) and pick up one of the very frequent colectivos, which drop you close to the centre of Real. Less convenient buses also run hourly from the bus station. Most likely you’ll visit on a day trip from Pachuca, but there is tempting accommodation in the form of AP Hotel Real del Monte, just off the main square on the corner of Iturbide and García (t 771/797-1203; M$600–899), beautifully decorated and furnished, with wooden floors, antique-style furniture and heaters to ward off the chilly nights. The Restaurant D’Karla opposite also rents out rooms (t 771/797-0709; M$400–599). Several other small restaurants are located along Hidalgo, off the central plaza. La Central has decent food (most guisados M$50–70). Real de Plateros, opposite, does the town’s best pastes (Cornish-style potato, or Mexican-style bean) and empanadas.