The elegant colonial city of PUEBLA, the republic’s fifth-largest city (after Mexico City, Guadalajara, Monterrey and Tijuana), is an easy forty-minute trip from Tlaxcala, or a couple of hours by bus from Mexico City – with glorious views of the snowy heights of Popocatépetl and Ixtaccíhuatl on the way. Known for its fine cuisine, Puebla has a remarkable concentration of sights – a fabulous cathedral, a “hidden” convent, museums and colonial mansions – while the mountainous surrounding country is in places startlingly beautiful. The city centre and Cerro de Guadalupe, where all these sights are to be found, form quite a compact area, easy to get around, and you can see the best of the city and nearby Cholula in a couple of leisurely days, or even – at a brisk trot – in one packed day.
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Cinco de Mayo
Military defeat seems to play a larger part in Puebla’s history than it does in most of Mexico – the city fell to the Americans in 1847 and to the French in 1863 – but that isn’t what’s remembered. Rather, what’s remembered and commemorated here is the greatest victory in the country’s history, at the Battle of Puebla in 1862, when a force of some two thousand Mexicans defeated a French army three times its size. The French were trying to make the Austrian prince Maxamilian emperor of Mexico, but when they tried to occupy Puebla, Mexican troops based in the two forts on the Cerro de Guadalupe (the Fuerte de Loreto and the Fuerte de Guadalupe) beat them off, forcing them to withdraw back towards their base at Veracruz and putting a serious dent into French plans. To this day, Puebla commemorates May 5 (Cinco de Mayo) with a massive fiesta, and there’s a public holiday throughout the country.