Yucatan Hacienda Chenche
Forty minutes east of Merida past Motul, lies a vision, a fantasy, an architectural aberration that seems at first completely out of place in the Yucatan countryside. There, at the end of a long, quiet, out-of-the-way little road that leads up to it, the castle that is Hacienda Chenche de Las Torres rises above the monte (undeveloped countryside) as if Walt Disney himself put it there.
Dreams Really Do Come True
Built originally by a Spanish landowner who came to the New World nurturing his dream of owning a castle, the hacienda, after years of service producing henequen, had been left to deteriorate in the 1950's. By the time it was purchased by its new owner in 2001, ceilings were missing or irreparable, tiled floors were broken and stone walls had fallen. Our first photos were taken in 2003, when restoration had already been underway for almost two years. Now, in 2010, after almost eight years of restoration, we came back to videotape the beautiful result of all that time, effort and yes, money.
While, like any building in the Yucatan, work is never completely finished, the hacienda's main house is now completely restored and being lived in part time by its New York-based owner. Surveying the amount of work that had been done, and knowing the time it had taken to do it, we asked the owner if she would do it again, knowing what she knows now. "Don't ask!", was the answer... if you've read our stories of building our house, you know we can relate. And yet, what has resulted from all that effort and expense is a liveable, charming and inviting hacienda... grand, but not too grand. In the style of the time that it was built, but furnished with modern amenities. Considering the challenge of marrying humble beginnings with newfound good fortune, we're pretty sure Cinderella would be perfectly comfortable there.
There's Really Nothing To It
As you can see from the photos, when we first saw this hacienda, the walls were being painted and the floors were in, but so much was still left to do. Workmen, construction dust and stacks of supplies were everywhere. Today, in 2010, everything is in place and the hacienda serves both as a home and as an occasional setting for weddings and quinceneras.
The beautiful stone steps that lead to the entryway are original, as are the floors on the terrace and in the first room, the sala. The old mosaico tiles have a timeworn patina that perfectly compliments the antique furniture that now fills the front three rooms (the sala, the music room and the dining room). All the furniture was shipped from New York, and much of it was renovated here in the Yucatan; upholstered here in Merida, with fabrics brought from the United States. We were especially struck by the chandeliers in the three front rooms, each one different, two of which were designed by the owner and completely constructed by the workmen at Candiles in downtown Merida (on the corner of Calle 66 and Calle 69). Our favorite, shown here, consists of two blown glass blue balls and two glass vases fitted together to form a colorful accent to the music room that has been decorated in different shades of blue.
The formal dining room can seat fourteen at the massive wooden table, with additional wooden and leather chairs along the sides of the room. The owner told us that she bought five antique ceiling beams and had them cut to make the furniture. One beam was split into four pieces that were laid side-by-side to form the dining room table top, which was then rested atop four massive wooden legs that had been found in the abandoned chapel on the property. The rest of the beams were used to make the 18 chairs and two sideboards, faced with stained glass from Europe. The effect is furniture that fills the massive room with its tall, stenciled walls, beamed ceilings and checkerboard tile floor, looking as if it has been there for centuries.
The two bedrooms and bathrooms are comfortably furnished and elegantly cozy, both opening up onto the back terrace (the kitchen and sala also have access to the terrace). The extra-wide terrace has plenty of space for large hacienda-sized planters, plenty of outdoor seating and lounging and a great view of the spacious lawn and garden in the back of the house.
Gardens Fit For A Queen
In fact, probably one of the most memorable features of Hacienda Chenche de Las Torres, besides its obvious castle-like design, are the grounds that surround it. In the front of the hacienda, huge green lawns are punctuated with large, old Royal Palms, massive Flamboyan trees (not currently in bloom) and kidney-shaped pools of water surrounded by plantings. To one side is the swimming pool, built from the old noria (watering tank), the hacienda fruit orchard (full of the scent of citrus blossoms when we were there...), another side garden with a stone gazebo, the still unrestored Casa Maquina with its chiminea and a few acres of as yet untouched land. To the rear of the main house is another huge green lawn, presided over by lion's head fountains repurposed from old watering troughs, a central raised platform fairly dripping with blooming bougainvillea, and in the distance, an ancient ceiba tree which is apparently so sacred and old that it made a visiting Maya priest fall to his knees and weep. On the fourth side of the building is a private and walled garden that is reached only from the master bathroom and presided over by another ancient tree, this time a lluvia de oro (rain of gold). Everywhere, flowers, bushes and trees grow with contained abandon, tended by the three full time gardeners that work there and live in the adjoining town.
Going To The Chapel
In a corner of the garden, opposite the crumbling but charming Casa Maquina, is the completely renovated chapel. Once a chapel that served the entire town, it has now been reclaimed as private property for the hacienda. It is pictured here as we found it in 2003, weatherbeaten, broken and missing the very top of the facade. In the following video, you'll see how beautiful it looks now, a perfect punctuation mark to the restoration of the rest of the property, and a perfect place to, say, marry a prince, should you happen to know one.