City break: México City, México

A neighbourhood gem in the largest city in North America? Yes. Polanco is the destination for the latest in fashion, fine dining and the arts, a symbol of exclusivity.

Bellas Artes Museum, México City. Photo by Xavier Contreras

While Canadians seeking soft-sand beaches in the height of winter flock en masse to Mexico’s coastlines, very few make the inland pilgrimage to the sprawling capital city – which retains a high degree of mystique. But intrepid visitors might arrive with uncertain expectations only to find a paradise of delicious street food and elegant fine dining, marvellous Bellas Artes buildings, distinct and charming neighbourhoods and refined parks that rival even those in Paris.

Mexico City is rapidly becoming one of the world’s hottest destinations. The New York Times named it the #1 place to go in 2016. And there is no other neighbourhood that so exemplifies Mexico City’s growing sophistication like ritzy Polanco, a stunning collection of grand boulevards and meandering cobblestone lanes lined with tall trees. Elegant cafés have seating that spill out into the streets and gated mansions are partially obscured by overgrown pink and purple bougainvillea. Fashionable Mexicans linger on patios over post-work glasses of wine and they valet their cars even to stop for coffee.

Aerial view of Chapultepec Castle, Mexico City.

Polanco is just steps from beautiful and massive Chapultepec Park, where visitors will find the Anthropology Museum and Chapultepec Castle. The much smaller Lincoln Park is full of businessmen on cell phones and parents with children sitting by a large pond within earshot of a cacophony of lovely, slightly off-key singing from the brightly coloured birds of a nearby aviary. The streets are named after writers, scientists and philosophers, from Bernard Shaw to Socrates – a legacy of the neighbourhood’s Jewish, Lebanese and Spanish immigrants and a sign of Polanco’s outward-looking focus.

At one corner of Polanco sits the Four Seasons Mexico City, a 240- room hotel reopened in 2016 after a major renovation, complete with new “gastrobar,” British barbershop and massive “wellness space” complete with traditional Mexican treatments and a rooftop pool. The best part might be the hotel’s courtyard – a large and lush space with an impressive fountain, spectacular flora and intimate sitting areas.

Spiral staircase, Four Seasons, Mexico City

In the hotel’s Fifty Mils bar, an intimate lounge space with a long marble bar and red leather stools, bartenders give cocktails a local twist by using grasshopper salt on the rims. Guests can also take those cocktails outside to the small, hidden fire pit to sit under the lavender neon sign that reads “our little secret.” says Agnes Ignacio, assistant chief concierge at the Four Seasons. “Tourists consider it as a must-visit every time they come to Mexico City.” When Ignacio sends guests out into the neighbourhood, she starts with culture. “Polanco is currently home to two of the most important museums in the country,” she says. “Jumex is the top exponent of national and international contemporary art, and Soumaya houses the vast private collection of one of the world’s richest men, Carlos Slim. Both museums are icons of contemporary architecture.”

The magnificent Soumaya Museum of Art, built by Carlos Slim. Photo by Timothy Neesam

Not far from there are the Teatro Telcel, where top plays and musicals are performed, and a huge aquarium, Acuario Inbursa. But all of that culture can be exhausting. Fortunately, Polanco is also known to satisfy other appetites – namely, eating and shopping.

The iconic Palacio de Hierro Polanco, one of the largest luxury department stores in Latin America, is often compared to London’s famed Harrod’s. Polanco is full of upscale brands such as Chanel and Hermès, while smaller, more local boutiques (often carved out of converted colonial mansions) line the lanes between Presidente Masaryk and Emilio Castelar.

Locals love Onora for home decor, Rodrigo Rivero Lake for antiques and Lorena Saravia’s sartorial collections for both men and women. Foodies flock to Dulce Patria for contemporary and highly polished Mexican food. Dishes have included zucchini blossom and pine nut quesadillas and duck confit in mole negro.

Pujol’s deletable tasting menu. Photo Adam Goldberg

At Pujol, celebrity chef-owner Enrique Olvera offers elevated street snacks and innovative fine dining in his small dining room. For more international fare, Butcher and Sons is known to have the best hamburgers in city while Bistro Bec is renowned for French-Spanish fusion.

And for aperitifs and nightcaps alike, turn to Limantour for very fancy cocktails and Jules Basement for a speakeasy-cum-taco-joint kind of vibe – all in all, not a bad way to end a visit.