Zihuatanejo – The Mexican Hideaway You Probably Haven’t Heard of Yet - The Gloss Magazine

Zihuatanejo – The Mexican Hideaway You Probably Haven’t Heard of Yet

“Zihua” is the nickname for Zihuatanejo, a low-rise market town an hour from Mexico City that no-one really knows about … yet. TIM MAGEE stops off there after a trip to the city …

I’m not sure at which point during your MBA, leadership or media training you’ve been told to pretend The Shawshank Redemption is your Favourite Movie. Every other week, a CEO in an industry leader profile – mostly boys – name that movie as their most beloved. Coincidence? Captains of industry, if this is your favourite movie then autofill the Mona Lisa as your favourite painting. It too has the same issues – it’s vastly underwhelming, you’ll never see it again and it’s not even the artist’s best. The movie is grand. Not Stephen King’s best movie adaptation The Shining. Not even the director’s best Stephen King prison story adaptation The Green Mile. Not Tim Robbins’ best pic The Player and Morgan Freeman was the lead in Se7en, FFS.

There is one lesson from the movie and it isn’t the lousy idea of giving prisoners rock hammers. Nor is it Andy Dufresne’s surprise exit strategy. It’s his destination. Whispering to Red, Andy says “Tell you where I’d go – Zihuatanejo.” Red, Morgan Freeman’s character, answers with “Zee-whaa?” Red wasn’t wrong. Zihua, besides being the town’s nickname, is the response elicited from most when you say the name in full.

You’d expect today’s town to have an Andy’s Bar, Red’s Hotel or Shawshank Museum. No chance. Although there’s a gammy government-built resort a few miles up the road in Ixtapa, Zihua is everything you’d want from an imaginary Mexico beach trip. A low-rise, real market town of over 100,000 souls, there’s a very small façade of tourist restaurants along the beachfront but three minutes’ walk with your back to the ocean and you’re dining and drinking extraordinary local food and drinks with locals.

The Thompson Hotel, Zihuatanejo

Live music is everywhere, in the gentlest of fashions. The best place to take it in is during a massage. For $15 someone will beat the melt out of you in a breeze-cooled beach tent. Unlike at home, the spa track of tropical birdsong is performed by a live winged orchestra. Apparently ten per cent of the planet’s bird species are in Mexico. They like to chat. Added to their delightful racket is another layer of action – nothing dramatic, just the daily and nightly drum and bass of rolling waves. Finally the vocals come in from humans as Zihuatanejo is known for its talent. The home of an international guitar festival, the beaches and town feature every manner of strings by musicians whose average age seems to be well over 60. Jose, the harp-playing angel with a voice and stature similar to the gorgeous Jimmy Scott and the nails of a velociraptor, burst into tears when I showed him that his life’s work was on the money – my country’s national symbol. Jose had made it to 81 without knowing what or where Ireland was. My kind of destination.

I’d been travelling a lot and was done with people who looked and sounded like me so a last-minute switcheroo and I chanced AURA DEL MAR, one of the same class of solid hotels built in the 1980s in Thailand, Kenya or the Caribbean from local stone, wood and adobe that only need to be powerhosed to look new. The only thing they’d changed since opening was the linen, and in late March most guests were Mexican.

I’d come from Mexico City, less than an hour away. Mexico City or CDMX, has half the population of Spain living there, so couldn’t be covered in a full column, issue or series. A planet of small towns, CDMX is Tokyo but with year-round sunshine and better cocktails, tree-lined streets, jacaranda replacing neon, and mostly low rise. You could drink and dine like a god for €50 a day. So really, nothing like Tokyo.

Hotel Aura del Mar, Zihuatanejo

It only occurred to me writing this that Mexico was the first country I visited that had a foreign language. At 17, I was in Tijuana waiting for my fake driver’s licence that would get me into clubs back in LA and eating my first fish taco in Ensenada. They didn’t have fish tacos in Shannon. Sounds very cosmopolitan, but the only other place I’d been to before that was Guernsey. I’ve been to Mexico plenty of times since, most recently in 2017 to Tulum, now Spanish for year-round Spring Break with guns, and later Holbox – one of the many “new” Tulums. Looking back at my passport picture from that first trip I have the world’s saddest moustache, grown to help with the driver’s licence.

Ignacia Guest House. Photograph by Gabriel

Mexico City deserves its own column, and I’ll do that soon. You could spend a month there just exploring tacos, or coffee. Until then with IGNACIA GUEST HOUSE as a base, wander around Roma Norte or Juarez and join random queues for food, especially ones where taxi drivers or cops are queuing. In between there is some box-ticking required like CONTRAMAR, Gabriela Camara’s seafood institution that has done more for food tourism in the city than anyone. ROSETTA, the jaw-dropping Roma beauty where food is ok but you won’t care. Or Rosetta’s perfect sister bakery PANADERÍA ROSETTA that could take on anything in San Francisco or Sydney. Go to school in EXPENDIO DE MAIZ SIN NOMBRE and eat your delicious homework, or MASALA Y MAÍZ, Norma Listman and Saqib Keval’s authentically wild fusion that is as delicious as any restaurant I’ve been in a decade.

I have a longstanding secret agreement with a close friend that if I ever disappear, he can look for me in Mexico. I’d send him the screenshot of my latest driver’s licence with its sad (now likely grey) caterpillar moustache, but although this secret plan has some obvious holes (including telling everyone my secret plan over the years), it was always a notional mix of bits of Mexico from the scrapbook in my head with no particular addresses. Now, city or beach, my escape plan is complete.

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