I boarded the small tram in the middle of Chapultepec Park in downtown Mexico City for Castillo de Chapultepec, the former home of Mexican Emperor Maximilian and his Empress Carlota during the late 1700s. Today it is an important historical site for the Mexican people and the only Royal Castle in North America.
We’re in bustling downtown Mexico City where the horns never stop beeping and the drivers have “strategies instead of routes,” says our guide, Jose Alfredo. But as soon as we entered the park and castle grounds, surrounded by 1,695 acres of trees and wildlife, we’re already feeling the shift in energy. The small green tram runs up the hill and delivers us onto the stone surface of the panoramic castle terrace.
At first glance, the gorgeous old French Colonial building appears like something out of a movie. Which, surprisingly, we learn it was during a scene in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo & Juliet starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes. Everyone in our group was mesmerized by the spectacular 360-degree view of the city. You can’t hear any of the horns when when you’re 7,600 feet above sea level. It’s silent and peaceful and perfect for a group to exhale.
Inside the grand entrance, the massive staircase, the beautiful stained glass and the authentic chariots all appear as if time hasn’t passed and we’re awaiting Emperor Maximilian’s arrival. The group strolls through the first level while Alfredo shows us the mural paintings above the 23-caret gold accents along the staircase. The “Retablo de la Independencia” mural by Juan O’Gorman is overwhelming to view with all of the intricate detail. Every piece of art in the building illustrates a part of Mexico’s history and tells a story.
The first level terrace is suitable for outdoor events for up to about 500 pax. During my visit, the staff was setting up for a ballet performance. They added a stage with A/V and organized the chairs in a semicircle around the performance area. Behind the crowd stands the breezy backdrop of Mexico’s City’s Reforma Avenue, which Empress Carlota designed during her time in residence.
Up on the second level, the marble bathtubs, two Baby Grand pianos, large oak dining table and red velvet wallpaper have been lovingly preserved. The checkerboard terraces are large enough to host 200 people for cocktails. In the center courtyard there is a tower where, according to Alfredo, Galileo once mapped the universe. The stone tower is so high that we’re blinded by the sun as our eyes blink towards the swaying Mexican flag at the top.
On the third level, there’s a large covered area seating 180 for outside dining and dancing. The upper levels have been enclosed partially with glass walls to protect the historic landmark, and there are some great walkways for casual networking among the pretty gardens.
Photo credit: Castillo