Loved as much for its sunny beaches as for its inventive food scene, Mexico has long been a top travel destination. Cities that are inland remain a bit more untouched than coastal Cabo or Cancún, and they possess secrets yet to be shared with every American tourist who's traveled south to suck down margaritas in a swimsuit.
Rich in history and art, Oaxaca is the perfect place to appreciate the country's culture. Stephanie Suberville, AMUR's design director, has a particular love for this part of her homeland. "I'm from Monterrey, which is right below Texas," she says. "The northern parts of Mexico are very Americanized, so I think it's nice to go to the south and see how people have preserved a lot of the traditions."
Suberville shares tips on visiting Oaxaca: how she packed, the city's great artist, its good eats and must-see attractions.
Why did you choose this destination?
My cousin was getting married there, so we decided to make a whole family trip around it. I had been there when I was a kid but haven't been back since, so it was a totally different experience.
Where did you stay while you were there?
We stayed at the Quinta Real Oaxaca. The building was built in 1576 and was originally the convent of Santa Catalina de Siena. There's so much history there, and it's nice to see that some areas of the building are the old parts and how they try to keep it so that it looks the same. The city of Oaxaca does a really good job of protecting its history and what has been.
How many bags did you bring, and what are some of the items you packed?
Since I have two kids, we try to pack light! One suitcase shared between me and my husband, another suitcase shared between my daughter and son. I packed comfortable clothes and shoes for sightseeing as well as party clothes for the wedding events.
What was your favorite daytime activity?
We visited a lot of the art galleries. It's a great place for art. My father is a huge fan of this Mexican artist called Francisco Toledo. And actually, unfortunately, the day I went to get my hair blow-dried for the wedding, my husband and my dad ran into Francisco Toledo in one of the galleries! They were so excited and took pictures with him, and I missed out.
Any must-see historical sites?
Take a day trip to the pyramids of Monte Albán; it's really close. The picture that's on the 20-peso bill is Monte Albán. The pyramids are really, really well preserved, and it's nice because it's not super crowded.
What's the best thing you ate?
The thing that's really nice about that part of Mexico is the food. The way they cook their food is actually quite healthy. They have all these different kinds of mole sauces, and it has a very different taste. Mole poblano, which is from Puebla, is the one that's popular here in the States. But Oaxaca has their own mole, and it's different—it's not as sweet and it's got a little bit more spice. They're very proud of it, and it's kind of like their hidden gem.
Did you get any souvenirs?
I bought some embroidered dresses for my daughter at the local market. It's a great place to get handmade things for very, very cheap.
What is your favorite memory from the trip?
My three-year-old daughter dancing down the streets during the callejoneada [a ceremonial parade] after the wedding ceremony. She was one of the flower girls and was so excited because they have all these decorations and it's a whole event. It's sort of a traditional thing you do—you parade around the streets and there are dancers and mariachis. In some parts of Mexico, they'll have tequila, but Oaxaca is known for their mezcal, so they'll serve you mezcal while you're dancing from the church to the party.
Do you find inspiration for your designs when traveling?
Definitely from traveling—and definitely from art. AMUR is very much vacation wear; we're not your everyday wear-to-work kind of clothes, so that definitely plays into it, because in New York you don't get as excited to wear color as when you're traveling and in warmer-climate places.