Maybe it's the enormous 400-year-old Fresno, or ash tree, that welcomes with shaggy, open arms at the entry. Or the first room-a home chapel scented with centuries of incense and candle wax and protected by once-vivid santos now mellowed to a pearly patina. Or maybe it's the name, Santa Maria del Nopal: "Holy Mary of the Prickly Pear." Whatever the reason-there are too many to list-the peace that settles over this historic hacienda seems palpable. Newcomers to the hacienda instinctively drop their voices, and their eyes melt into soft focus. The only disturbance is from nesting swallows in the colonnade, their stirrings a reminder that even nature takes sanctuary here.
Setting the monastic standard for decorum for the hacienda are the homeowners, Alfonso and Alicia Hernández, a dignified couple whose movements are deliberate and whose speech is spare and full of content. "The house was built in the 17th century and remodeled in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries," states Alfonso in mellifluous Spanish that his son Ignacio translates to English.
"Our ancestors constructed with the style and layout of the Hispano-Andaluz (Spanish from Andalusia) that they knew. With the passage of time, the Criollos (descendants of Spaniards) adapted the concepts to meet the new needs and climate for what is now a Mexican architectural style."
The evolved style features a low-slung, center- courtyard floor plan, which takes advantage of the high plains breeze found in Mexico. Except for an upstairs gallery and suites, all rooms wrap around the courtyard to form a rectangle, and all are contiguous. Each room has a pair of narrow doors that open into the rooms on either side, so that every space on the main floor is accessible-albeit not efficiently-without having to venture into the open-air courtyard. But in good weather-which is most of the time-the courtyard serves as the hacienda's main artery. Many of the doors leading between rooms, in fact, are swollen shut from moisture and inertia, not having seen service in years.