MONTERREY, Mexico (Reuters Life!) - Ringed by soaring mountains, Monterrey in northern Mexico offers breathtaking scenery, museums and a vibrant nightlife which are being discovered as it sheds outworn industrial trappings.
Dominated by the Cerro de la Silla mountain, Monterrey is a city of nearly 4 million people, barely 100 miles from Texas. Tourists heading south for colonial flavor have long bypassed the city with its towering smokestacks.
But the city hopes to change that and recently turned a steel mill into a park with half a dozen new museums and a river walk.
6 p.m. - Monterrey’s cuisine is identified with cabrito, or roasted baby goat. Cabrito is so emblematic of the city that prizes in the local film festival offer a silver statuette of a kid goat, its equivalent to an Oscar.
The dish is slow-cooked over mesquite coals. Try El Gran Pastor (8333 3108, 8333 3391), El Rey del Cabrito (8345 3232) and La Escondida (8348-9816).
8 p.m. - For a city view, head to the central Obispado, a hill capped by a former bishop’s palace with an intricate baroque facade. The city sprawls below, framed by mountains soaring over a mile from the valley floor. Nearby, a giant Mexican flag flaps, a nationalist reminder of the Mexican-American war. In 1846, U.S. troops seized Obispado as a strategic outpost.
10 p.m. - The club and bar scene is downtown at Barrio Antiguo, or Old Quarter, full of adobe and brick houses of the 1890s. A youth magnet, its narrow streets crawl with weekend revelers until dawn. Try the Old West-style 1800 bar in the Gran Hotel Ancira (www.hotel-ancira.com) and the Cafe Iguana bar for the latest alternative rock bands (www.cafeiguana.com.mx).
Monterrey is a burgeoning music industry center, featuring genres from Latin American fusion to indie rock. Check out the Monterrey version of Colombia’s “cumbia” music. It fuses traditional cumbia with rock, polka and rap. The movie “Babel” used Monterrey cumbia on its soundtrack. The local film “Cumbia Callera” won a top prize in May at Moscow’s international film festival.
9 a.m. - Order a local breakfast specialty, eggs with machacado, which is very aromatic smoked shredded beef.
10 a.m. - Put on walking shoes to visit Chipinque, a plateau 2,500 feet up in a forested mountain with staggering views. Taxis and free buses are available. Walk one mile on a car-free level road from Chipinque to the “Boca del Aire,” or “Mouth of Air” for a view of a separate valley.
11 a.m. - Munch on local specialty candy known as glorias or “glories.” Made from slow-boiled milk which includes nuts, mixed at times with vanilla and cinnamon.
1 p.m. - Lunch at Chipinque's "El Mirador" restaurant with its traditional Mexican buffet and take in the spectacular views of the city below. (here)
2 p.m - The way back takes you to the wealthy San Pedro district, ranked as Mexico's richest municipality. Head to Tikal, a top-notch folk art store, visited by U.S. First Lady Laura Bush and former President Bill Clinton. It includes art from Huichol Indians and "alebrijes," imaginary colored carved animals.(www.tikal.com.mx/en/)
3 p.m. - Take a taxi back downtown and walk or ride a boat down the river walk Paseo Santa Lucia, lined with dancing fountains. The walk goes 2.5 miles from downtown to the 300-acre Fundidora Park, once home to Latin America’s first steel mill.
Housed in a blast furnace is the $37 million Museo del Acero or “Steel Museum.” Watch the light and sound show in the furnace’s hearth. Gas-lit flames jump and facsimiles of molten steel roll across the floor. Exhibits and shows are in English and Spanish. The museum has an upscale restaurant.
5 p.m. - The park’s exhibition hall features two gargantuan exhibits through January 25.
The first is a 434-piece show on Teotihuacan, a major city in pre-Aztec Mexico. Audiovisual spectacles include sacrificial offerings, depicted as they occurred, then fading into bones found recently in a pyramid. The other show is about Mexico’s late master cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa. Giant screens and cylindrical screening rooms showcase excerpts of work with directors including Luis Bunuel and John Huston.
7 p.m - Watch the sun go down in the beer garden of Mexico’s oldest modern brewery, the 19th century Cerveceria Cuauhtemoc, and sample famous brews like Sol and Dos Equis. The brewery, which played a central role in Monterrey’s industrialization, also has a baseball hall of fame museum with a history of Mexican baseball.
9 a.m. - Monterrey is a mecca for rock climbers. Go to Huasteca Canyon on the western edge of the city. Limestone massifs jut over 1,000 feet. Hike along the numerous wooded trails. Take a hat, as Monterrey’s sun burns even in winter.
12 p.m. - Time for a stroll downtown on the “Macroplaza,” billed as one of the world’s largest downtown squares.
1 p.m. - Under the plaza’s huge trees, pause for a steaming cup of elote, Mexican corn with cream and chili, and some agua de Jamaica, (hibiscus iced tea) at a taco stand before dipping into the city’s Sunday crafts and antiques market on the edge of the plaza in the Barrio Antiguo.
2 p.m. Visit the plaza's trio of museums -- the Contemporary Art Museum, Marco, one of Latin America's largest,(www.marco.org.mx/index_eng.htm) the Mexican History Museum, which offers a historical sweep, and the regional Museum of the Northeast.
Additional reporting by Robin Emmott; editing by Patricia Reaney