West from Toluca, the road towards Morelia and the state of Michoacán is truly spectacular. Much of this wooded, mountainous area – as far as Zitácuaro – is given over to villas inhabited at weekends by wealthy refugees from the capital, and nowhere more so than at the small lakeside town of VALLE DE BRAVO. Set in a deep, pine-clad valley, the town sits on the eastern shore of an artificial lake, Lago Avandaro. With terracotta-tiled roofs, iron balconies affixed to many of the older buildings and a mass of whitewashed houses all huddled together, it is an immediately appealing place, something that has drawn a coterie of artistic refugees from the big city. They mostly keep to themselves, leaving the water’s edge for weekenders who descend for upmarket relaxation: boat trips, sailing, swimming, waterskiing, riding, paragliding, hiking and golf.
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The zócalo, ringed with restaurants and centred on a twin-towered church, sits on a rise a fifteen-minute walk from the waterfront, where most of the action is centred, and sees spectacular sunsets. Here there’s a wharf (embarcadero) from which you can take boat rides to the parts of the lake inaccessible by road: either rent one, or join a lancha colectiva.
Butterfly sanctuaries in the State of Mexico
Valle de Bravo is a good base for visiting the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary areas in the State of Mexico, which receive fewer visitors than those over the state line in Michoacán, and are more unspoilt, if less scenic. The easiest sanctuary area to visit from Valle de Bravo is at Los Saucos, whose gate is right on a main road and served by hourly buses between Valle de Bravo and Mexico City – make sure you get on a “por Saucos” bus. There are also organized tours every day in season, which can be booked through the tourist office or the tourist information kiosks in Valle de Bravo. Cerro Pelón, which is considered by many to be the prettiest of all the butterfly sanctuary areas, is slightly more remote, but can be reached on hourly Tepascelptepec-bound buses from Valle de Bravo.