Yucatan: Villa Verde Merida (and egg and avocado breakfast recipe)
Last week we headed west of the Mayan Riviera to Merida to explore the Gulf of Mexico side of the Yucatan Peninsula. The Yucatan Peninsula separates the Caribbean sea from the Gulf of Mexico and includes three states: Quintana Roo, Yucatan and Campeche. The Yucatan is home to the Mayan people and is distinct from the rest of Mexico by its culture and cuisine.
The new double lane highway from Cancun to Merida now has a connector from Playa del Carmen that cuts about an hour off the drive making it possible to get there in about 3.5 hours. This brand new highway is divided from the on-coming traffic lanes by a median of thick forest and feels very safe. The drive is not particularly scenic as the land is completely flat and all you see is the thick low growth jungle on each side of the road the entire way.
In Merida we were staying at Villa Verde, a restored 250 years old colonial home recommended by David Sterling of Los Dos cooking school, where we were booked for an all day cooking class and a market tour. As we drove to Villa Verde through the old narrow streets and passed through the extremely crowded market area I was starting to wonder if I made the right choice, but, have faith in my experience as a traveler.
There is no name or number on the house and the directions we were given were to watch for a reddish brown wooden door with two potted trees framing it, one on each side. We passed through the crowded market zone, drove a little longer and finally arrived at the immediately recognizable reddish brown wooden doors framed by the potted trees and rang the bell. The owners, Michael and Robert opened the door and we stepped into another world.
Spread before us was a rectangular property, perfectly proportioned, wide and very long. To the left there was a long inner courtyard beautifully landscaped and to the right a wide columned breezeway into which opened 4 beautiful guest rooms (the fifth one is in the back). A large and airy dining room and a kitchen were situated on the far side of the courtyard and beyond that a covered patio set with a few tables and a cantina style bar. Down from there a pool and waterfalls with an additional patio set with lounge chairs and beyond that an iron gate led to yet another beautiful garden with a waterfall fountain.
The architecture had the scale and proportion of a grand home yet it was very inviting and intimate. The furnishing was done in a beautiful yet understated way, letting the architecture speak for itself. Outside and inside merged seamlessly in balance and harmony. It was “simple” in the way the Italians say it: simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. I loved everything about the place and instantly felt at home. This is how I wish I lived.
We stayed in the largest of the four rooms lined under the columned breezeway opening into the courtyard. The spacious room had two original wooden double doors with a glassed in top that let light in. A bathroom was installed in an alcove of the room and a sink area and a mirror were installed in the room along one of the walls. It was large and comfortably furnished with a king size bed, leather sofa and a long chaise lounger. A tall armoire was perfect for our clothes.
The rooms are furnished in cream shades with premium linen and a comfortable sitting area. The bathrooms are modern and spacious and feature organic bath products. Outside each room there is a small table and two chairs extending your living space, and two larger sitting areas were arranged in the front and back of the courtyard under cover, inviting mingling with other guests.
This was a family home back in the day and changed hands a few times before landing in the loving hands of the current owners who bought the house in a state needing restoration except for the original structure that was still intact.
The floors are the original beautiful mosaic tile floors made to look like area rugs and I loved that they preserved all the original design. The twenty foot high ceiling, original viga (structure-supporting wooden beams on the ceiling), mahogany doors and stone columns are all characteristic of the old colonial style architecture of days gone by. Authenticity blends with modern comfort to make the stay in the villa memorable.
Villa Verde is conveniently located within a walking distance to everywhere we wanted to go. The main square Plaza Grande is close by with its imposing cathedral, as is Parque Santa Lucia square with several restaurants, the bustling Mercado, museums and many of the restaurants on my list.
Robert and Michael were very helpful with suggestions, advice, maps and directions and seemed to always be on hand when we needed anything, yet never intrusive and always respectful of our privacy.
Mornings were almost my favourite time at Villa Verde. Freshly brewed excellent Mexican coffee roasted locally was set up on the cantina bar counter in the morning and we could help ourselves to a cup or more while sitting at the table or anywhere else around the villa.
Breakfast was prepared around 9:00 am and served at the tables on the patio, plated. On the first morning they made beautiful tortilla Espanol served with red salsa alongside fresh papaya. The next morning, an egg baked in the cavity of an avocado and served on top of potato, onion and chorizo hash alongside salsa and fresh fruit salad in a glass. The orange juice was not freshly pressed but refreshing. We really enjoyed our mornings there, lingering over coffee, reading and then enjoying breakfast before heading out to explore. I believe that Michael is the resident chef.
We were the only guests at the villa on the first night but it soon filled with other interesting guests travelling throughout the Yucatan. The villa is spacious enough and the layout offers many sitting areas, so you can keep to yourself if you wish or interact with other guests. At 6:00 pm complimentary drinks and botanas (snacks) are served at the bar and you have an opportunity to mingle if you wish.
It really was a lovely stay. Although I often like to explore new places, I intend to stay there again on my next visit to Merida. If I am not mistaken, my husband almost offered to buy the place from them:).
Here is my version of Michael’s egg and avocado breakfast.
Eggs in Avocado with Potato Hash
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 small onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
3 medium potatoes
½ red pepper, chopped
1/2 small jalapeño
1/2 cup homemade red salsa
For the potato hash:
Heat up the oil in a skillet, add the onion and cook until translucent.
Add the garlic and cook until fragrant.
Add the potatoes and cook for a few minutes until the soften.
Add the red pepper and jalapeno and continue cooking.
Add the salsa and mix gently to combine.
Continue cooking until the potatoes are cooked through, adding a little water or stock as necessary to keep the skillet from drying.
For the eggs in avocado:
Cut the avocado in half, remove the seed and peel.
Scoop out some of the center of each half to create a larger cavity.
Rub a little lemon or lime juice over to prevent too much browning.
Break the eggs one at a time into a small dish.
Scoop the yolk into each avocado half and pour in just enough of the egg white so it doesn’t spill over the edges.
Bake the avocado halves in a 400 F oven until the egg white is cooked through but the yolk is soft.
Spoon some of the potato mixture into a breakfast dish.
Top with the avocado-egg.
Drizzle a little extra salsa around.
Sprinkle with chopped cilantro.
Garnish with Mexican crema and Yucatan pickled onions