Michoacan, wildly beautiful and perhaps the most artistic and culture-rich state in all Mexico, is the land of the indigenous Tarascans, a native people known for their brilliantly colored handicrafts and folk art, music and dance, and for their melodic Purepecha language. On the shores of Lake Patzcuaro—at 7,250 feet, one of the world’s highest—they founded the picturesque town of Patzcuaro in 1324. Today the epicenter of Michoacan’s hecho a mano craft culture, this is the best place to start your tour of the area. On Friday, market day, Indian women, many in brilliantly colored traditional dress, stream in from the neighboring villages, each one known for a different craft. Patzcuaro itself is known for high-quality serapes and handwoven textiles (as well as homemade tamales), nearby Santa Clara del Cobre for hand-hammered copperware. There are also straw-work items and ceramics from Tzintzuntzan, furniture and native embroidery from Erongaricuaro, and exquisite lacquerware from Uruapan (which has a lively Sunday market). It is not by chance that Michoacan is one of Mexico’s principal artisan centers. In the early 1600s a Spanish bishop arrived in the state capital, Morelia, intending to organize the indigenous settlements into a craft collective of sorts and to teach each town a different trade; much of his basic vision remains intact. An easy overview can be had without even leaving Morelia: Its Casa de Artesanias in the Plaza de San Francisco is a state-run showcase for the best regional folk art and craftwork.
The most European of Mexico’s cities, the stately, colonial Morelia is also the perfect backdrop for the Villa Montana. Set high in the Santa Maria hills amid exuberant foliage and panoramic views of the rose-stone city below, the villa is a regional craft- and antique-filled Mexican hostelry with a polished French veneer (due, no doubt, to its aristocratic European owners). Separate villas, a maze of patios and cobbled walkways create the atmosphere of a small, self-contained village with the original estate building at its core. Here the villa’s sweeping views vie with the acclaimed kitchen for your attention, and every cityscape includes the graceful silhouette of Morelia’s twin-towered cathedral—the second-largest in the Americas and one of the most beautiful in Mexico.