In the words of the greatest Australian poet of all time, if you ever find yourself in ¨a ball of confusion, when nothing is new-and there´s nothing doin´, step back in time.¨ And if you´re lucky enough to find yourself in Colombia, your best option for following renowned poet-philosopher Minogue´s advice is to high-step it to the colonial portal of Villa de Leyva
Now, I was going to try to squeeze this blog-post into some kind of ¨Ultimate Guide,¨ or ¨Top 5,¨or something, but, to tell you the truth, I´m feeling a bit lazy today (I´m Aussie, after all. Mate.) , so I thought today that I´d just leave you with a series of impressions about the places I love in this cobblestoned retreat, and what it means to me.
Have a great presence here. Four-wheel drives are favoured by the moneyed Bogotanos that have managed to escape the big smoke and settle in Villa de Leyva´s peace. They park their sleek Ssang-Yongs and Merc beasts in whitewashed mansions behind stone walls studded with fossils; and try to hide their secret smiles from tourists gingerly negotiating their sedans up the crazy-paved streets of the city. It´s harder to hide the laughs occasioned by the visitors from Bogota or Medellin brave enough to bring their stiletto heels to a weekend away. This is Colombia, after all.
Some of the big smoke escapees are artists, and they´ve steadily gone about claiming Villa de Leyva as their own. Little private galleries are springing up like the local, ¨special¨ mushrooms further afield. We were eager to meet up with my mate, Dan, who´d read at one of our Bogota poetry nights months ago, but who was now spending an enviable two months living and working in VDL. We stumbled across him taking some cartons of beer up to the café he was tending. It turns out that this café, Van Gogh´s Patio, is also a beautiful little gallery in its own right.
A gallery, a garden, a café. A retreat. We spent many an hour just soaking up the fact that we didn´t have to do much anything else. We soaked up a few canelazos – steaming cups of rum-or-aguardiente-charged, cinnamony well-being – to boot.
Perhaps the greatest feat of art of Villa de Leyva, however, is the city itself. Every house, without exception, is proudly and immaculately whitewashed, and every trimming is just as proudly embellished in the same shade of royal green.
The culinary art is well represented in this very tourist-orientated town. The enormous, and by now predictably, meticulously-restored mansion, Casa Quintero, houses a number of foodie shrines, from cafés to steak houses, to organic anti-pasto. Dan warned us against the tourist haunts circling the main plaza (biggest one in Colombia, I was gleefully informed on more than one occasion) like so many sharks, informing us they were a little on the costly side. Instead, we landed on a restaurant by random on Carrera 10 (Pizza Street) called Santa Lucia, and, Santa Lucia!!! we were pleasantly surprised. The pizzas were gourmet, as were the gelatos (sigh), and our hands and feet were cheerfully waited upon by Santa Lucia´s eager matron and her brace of equally cheerful daughters.
It seems that everyone in Villa de Leyva can´t resist informing bizzarely-dressed gringos that their plaza is the second biggest in South America, and/or the biggest in the country. I started to get worried that it would get progressively more difficult to keep on forming the appropriately impressed expression each time, but that didn´t seem to matter much after a few rums at the little bar Dan considers the best on the plaza, Boca, run by a typically friendly and fun-loving relocated Cali native. Kicking back on a renovated milk crate, looking out at the locals beginning to claim their plaza for their night-time frolics, it wasn´t hard to be impressed about how easy it is to relax once you take in the time-locked atmosphere of the Villa, and how little modern city concerns seem to matter here. Cheers, Villa de Leyva. Thanks for reminding me that. See you soon.
For actual information on Villa de Leyva, check out the following:
Our guest, Ed´s extended guide.
There´s also a post where I lie about some of the tourist attractions in Villa de Leyva´s surrounds.
* Featured photo by Sandra Tobon.