Deciding where to stay in Oaxaca can take days. Unless you discover a bit of paradise, La Casa de mis Recuerdos.
Magellan suggested we stay in Jalatlaco, a neighbourhood of cobbled streets and colourful buildings, the oldest barrio in the city (inhabited by local people since the time of the Zapotec)and only a ten-minute walk from the Historic Centre. In Jalatlaco, both of us had bookmarked Casa de mis Recuerdos, and when we received Maria’s confirmation, we knew we’d made the right decision.
Oaxaca, November 1st, 2022,
Dears Gloria and Kerry Sully,
I would like to thank you on behalf of my parents, Conchita and Moisés Valencia for choosing their Bed and Breakfast.
I have placed you in the room by the name COLIBRI for the DATES of JANUARY 20, departing JANUARY 27, 2023.
From the outside you see a wooden door, wide and solid. You have no idea that it opens into a startlingly beautiful inner courtyard, the central element around which the many and various rooms of the house are designed.
One of the joys of staying in a B&B like this is you’re likely to meet people who share the pleasures of independent travel, like Mary Musson, her brother Jim and sister-in-law Eileen. How lucky we were that Mary, who has been coming to Casa de mis Recuerdos for years, wrote her landscape architecture thesis in the 90s on this very garden. As Mary says,
It is the high wall surrounding the dwelling that intensifies the experience. You have no indication what lies behind.
When the door swings open your first experience is an overwhelming sense of tranquility, an instant respite from the sun, traffic and hubbub outside the walls. As Mary says,
Transformation begins in the cool, shade and relative quiet of the Zaguan, a covered passageway, usually with rooms on one side. (Now it’s the office.) Beyond is a pool of light—the main patio—and beyond that, another portion of the dwelling. Further on is another patio, the Segundo, which is intended more for private family use.
The warmth of Mexican culture and our host family bursts into view. The vibrant colours of carnival red, papaya orange, blue azure and marigold throughout, in the adobe walls, patterned textiles, Oaxacan handicrafts, objects d’art (like the wall of skulls) and vintage artifacts.
As Mary notes, variations on the courtyard house are common in Mexico and Central and South America but differ from what you see in the US.
In Oaxaca, the architecture outlines the property and segments the living quarters with courtyards from the front to the back of the property, unlike in the US where the home is surrounded by land. It creates a rhythm of inside and outside, a characteristic that allows inside and outside living to overlap.
In parallel around the world various civilizations developed the concept of a courtyard house, including the Zapotecs (700 BC) in Mexico and other Mesoamerican societies. However, the courtyard house filled with the energy of the universe from its sky roof is better known as a feature of Persian, Roman and Islamic cultures. How perfect that the Persian word for a walled garden is paradaid, which the Greeks borrowed and used in their language as paradisos.
Our hosts, Conchita Arroyo Cabrera and her husband Moisés Valencia, have been receiving guests into their paradise of leafy patios, sunlit terraces and flower-covered walls for more than 35 years. It’s been Conchita’s family home since the 1940s, and I read that blueprints and maps from the 19th century show that La Casa de Mis Recuerdos is one of the oldest dwellings in the city.
As in Islamic courtyard houses, the rooms are grouped on three levels. The seven guest rooms are on the first and second floors. In the centre of the property on the main floor is an indoor living room, kitchen and breakfast room (wait ‘til we tell you about breakfast!). The owners’ private living room and bedrooms are on the second floor of the east wing, and up another set of wrought-iron stairs is an extensive laundry area.
A canopy of mature citrus trees stretches skyward, shading the main courtyard and dropping orbs of lemons and oranges, soon tote found in Conchita’s kitchen.
Voluptuous petals of bougainvillea, magenta suffused with purple, float to the terra-cotta tiles in the slightest wind; gorgeous, but inconvenient for Rosie and the other women who have the everlasting task of sweeping the courtyards of fallen leaves and flowers.
Secluded open-air sitting areas abound on all levels: loveseats and a coffee table across from our room; a “living room” near the bar fridge; a terrace on the second floor near the Azul room that our friends Karol and Gail were in; another upper terrace on the east side scented with the voice of jasmine in early morning; a wrought-iron table and chairs near the small fountain… In the early morning you hear the murmuration of hummingbirds and butterflies and are serenaded by the singsong of birds. You may also hear the joyous voice of Sandra, Rosie’s two-year old, talking to Señora Conchita or singing along to her device; La Casa de mis Recuerdos is her daycare!
As daylight fades, the garden assumes a more seductive personality. Lights come on automatically as you proceed through the courtyard. Around eight o’clock Conchita and Moisés come down to prepare dinner, which they eat in front of the television in the kitchen.
To create a paradaid suffused with harmony and tranquility, timeless yet varying with the hours of the day and seasons of the year, one must be a master of the art. Mary says,
As a landscape designer and gardener, I find this virtually perfect. The lower walls of the main patio are traced with dark, decades-old trunks of bougainvillea standing out against the painted wall. It continues upward to reach the top of the two-storey walls where it entwines with orange trumpet vines and green leaves. The combinations of colour, foliage, fragrance and sound (canaries in bright cages, a small fountain) create a soothing salve for city-worn senses. A professor of mine taught us to design for experiences—this beautiful garden that is also a B&B has delivered experiences that have continued to delight year after year.
In his latest book of travel essays, Pico Iyer writes that “Paradise, in short, is regained by finding the wonder within the moment.” That would be breakfast time at La Casa de mis Recuerdos when Conchita tempts her guests with more than an apple.
A plate of fresh fruit, assorted pastries, freshly squeezed orange juice, Mexican coffee and a main dish that was never repeated during our week’s stay, time-honoured recipes and “little-known secrets” passed down by her mother, Ofelia.
Fittingly, La Casa de mis Recuerdos translates to “The House of My Memories.” We’ve never stayed anywhere like this. Seven days in an earthly paradise to which we can hardly wait to return.
La Casa de mis Recuerdos The Valencia family has two other properties, Casa de las Bugambilias B&B and a house to rent.
Nora Valencia, the other daughter of Conchita and Moisés, is renowned for her Oaxacan cooking school Alma de mi Tierra and street food tours and has even been featured in National Geographic.
Enjoyed reading this so much. I can vouch for how wonderful Nora’s street food tour is. She is a great guide, cook, businesswoman and artist. I wish I knew which issue of National Geographic she was in. I’m always so grateful to return and find that Conchita and Moises haven’t altered the perfection of La Casa de Mis Recuerdos. It’s only been a few weeks and I’m ready to go back again. It was such a pleasure meeting you all there–I’d love to see there again next year!
HUGE thanks to you Mary for supplying us with details and diagrams of your thesis. We thoroughly enjoyed your company and the conversations with you, Jim and Eileen about everyone’s favourite travel spots. A word file called “Next time in Oaxaca” is already in my travel folder…May Conchita and Moises remain in great health.
Yes Mexico has been one of our favourites for years. Hard to beat the genuine heart of the Mexican people…viva La Mexico, and Chili Relano..one of Brian’s favourite meals….thanks.
Smart to have been going for so long. Chili Relleno: I keep searching for the perfect one; the quest continues so send your recommendations for restaurants and recipes.
Passion , heart and art live together .Beautiful place .How nice to see it ,on this gloomy day .Thank you Gloria
Yes, you can feel the passion that Conchita and Moisés have for this place, this life and each other. I can’t imagine the Casa without their presence.
Thank you so much! You have described our love for Conchita and Moises in their beautiful home which was our home for seven glorious days. Your photos are stunning. You have truly captured the colours, light, and feeling of calmness and peacefulness that we experienced in this special place.
One of my favourite places in the world!
Wow! Readers take note as Karol has been on Africa safaris, Amazon jungle tours and visits to Nepal and India. She’s snorkelled in Fiji, and hiked in New Zealand. Add Machu Picchu, Portugal and a whole lot of other places to that list—and this Casa in Oaxaca is one of her favourites, too!
I absolutely love the abundance of color! Your captivating photos and descriptions are drawing me there – soon! This is truly a special place.
Wait until we show you more about the neighbourhood in future blogs—you’ll be packing your suitcase when you see El Llano Park, Popeye (they sell pelatos (popsicles with flavours like mezcal mango), La Cava Chahue (a wine store on the next street over), Daniela Ram’s art studio a few blocks away (I’m craving her hummingbird woodcut), wonderful street art nearby, and the best yoga teacher I’ve ever encountered at Estudio 777…
This is so descriptive of what we experienced. Thank you Kerry and Gloria for your pictures, your words and your deep research. It is a really special place. Thank. you for this.
To think that at one time in our research, I’d considered a place three km from Centro and we’d have missed “Conchita’s—what a mistake that would have been!”
So beautiful… your words, photos and description captured me. I want to go there 🙏❤️
And it’s so easy! We used points and flew Aeromexico (they fly three times a day direct from YVR) to CDMX and three days later on to Oaxaca. AC has a direct daily flight, too, but it arrives late at night and leaves very early in the morning. WestJet flies direct to Huatulco and then it’s only a brief flight to Oaxaca via Aerotucán.