I’ve always said, people don’t typically travel to places for a hotel or lodging. Normally it is a culture, or an experience in a destination that causes someone to hit ‘purchase’. However, there are exceptions to everything. When I woke up and started watching Instagram stories one morning in June 2021, I saw a friend who was showing off where to stay in Merida and was walking viewers through his Airbnb rental, and I knew immediately – I had to go stay in this unique villa.
Apparently, I guess I am the type of person who travels somewhere for lodging. However, it also helped that I had made the reservation over the Mexican celebration for Day of the Dead. But it was the images of the Airbnb Villa that planted the idea in my mind and made me book a trip to Merida Mexico.
This unusual Merida place to stay caused me to hit ‘purchase’ and plan an entire week-long trip to Mexico for October.
Where to Stay in Merida – Casa De Las Torres Airbnb Rental
Welcome to Casa de las Torres, an extraordinary and unique renovated colonial home in the heart of historic Merida Mexico. The house, originally built in the 1880s by a shop owner, has been restored to recreate the elegance of that time. However, what sets it apart from a normal renovation is the theme of the entire house which has been designed as a nod to the Catholic Church.
Commitment to a Theme
My friend Bridget looked at the entry way with the church pew, kneeling benches, altars, and giant mosaics of Mary and Jesus and said, “he was certainly committed to the theme”.
The front room
We all laughed because it was so true. The entire 3 bedroom rental home was designed with church decor and furniture; it was beyond impressive – and borderline manic.
Indoor Outdoor Living
The religious vibe was somber, dark, and stark, just like walking into a cathedral. Yet it was also a beautiful villa that was open, green, and lush. It managed to be both which is what fascinated me about the design. Everywhere you looked was heavy dark furniture, crosses, and religious murals.
Luckily I was able to meet the man that had brought this place back to life – Greg, the owner, lived next door. And as I expected from a person who designed this villa – he was a very intriguing person.
Greg created his own botanical garden inside his home in the courtyards, patios, and swimming area. The vines and plants give the stark decor life.
However, my favorite indoor/outdoor space by far was the master shower which was located in the bottom of a tall, open tower. Surrounded by plants, the rain type shower head hung 15 feet above the floor. Water falling from that height made me feel like a kid again playing out in our driveway during summer rainstorms. The water comes down with a different force – it was the best shower I’ve ever seen and used – the kind you never want to get out of.
House Hunters International
Ten years ago Greg was watching House Hunters International as they covered Merida. He immediately fell in love with the colonial architecture and booked a flight to go see it for himself.
“I fell in love with the city and I just kept coming back. And I would go on house tours that the library has. I started looking at homes with a realtor, and eventually found this house and it was really, it was the right house for me,” explained Greg.
The spiral staircase overlooks the pool
I’ve never bought a home personally, but I believe that much like love, you know it when you’ve found the right one. Greg was clearly in love with this house. And he should be, he has put himself and all of his passion into this house.
Transformed from Rubble to a Grand Villa
This was not a grand home as it is today, it was a simple wide lot with crumbling walls and a tin roof. Greg had the roof removed and added to the walls thereby raising the ceiling to give it a grand, open feeling. He knocked down the back wall creating a large space that is now the kitchen and living area. The high ceilings, archways, many windows, and iron-work transformed it into a ‘great room’ that is where we spent most of our time. The back wall of this room is all glass/iron doorways that lead out to the pool.
He also added an entire courtyard with fountain to the old house, re-did old bedrooms, and entry ways, and added a large palapau and pool to the back garden area. The entire renovation took him 3 years.
As I looked around the cross-laden home, I guessed that Greg was either an extremely devout catholic or he was being sarcastic in a way. Since I didn’t know him, I wasn’t really sure which one it was.
After talking to Greg, I found out he was raised Catholic, however he wasn’t what you consider traditionally religious. “I love the look and feel of Catholic architecture and religious art; it’s heavy in a way.”
Heavy is a great way to describe it. The dining room tables and chairs were literally heavy and hard to even move! Everything was constructed with that dark chocolate wood you see in churches, leather, and gold accents. It gave the whole place a stark feeling.
“I once fooled an Episcopal bishop. He was on a tour and he came in he thought it was a church!”, Greg exclaimed, “So I guess my architect did a really good job.”
Merida Attracts Artists
One of the amazing things about Merida is no matter what kind of art or craft you want; you can have it done here. You don’t have to go to Mexico City to find somebody, you don’t have to bring somebody from the States. You can find tile makers, carpenters, artists, ironworkers, potters, architects, masons, and glassmakers in and around Merida – which makes it the perfect place to do a big remodel/revamp like this.
Merida attracts creative types from around Mexico and across many borders, drawn by its Mayan and colonial heritage.
Greg said that you can have everything made here (in Merida) and it’s affordable. Everything in his home is custom; the furniture, sinks, art, floors, lighting fixtures, crosses…everything.
Passion Driven Design and Architecture
You might assume that a person like Greg was in real estate, or a contractor, or something to do with building or architecture; but he wasn’t any of these things. He had two careers, first he was a research scientist studying the structure and assembly of the human papilloma virus, which is a leading cause of cervical cancer. Then while he was doing that, he became a volunteer leader in the Sierra Club. Greg decided to change careers because he was enjoying that more. He provided support and training to all the volunteer leaders in the Sierra Club.
The blue and white kitchen tile inspiration
Most of the rooms he designed around one initial element that he loved. He pointed to the tiles in the kitchen and said, “I was at a tile store, and underneath the displays in this box, there were these dirty broken up tiles. They looked really cool. So I took them out and I dusted them off and they put them together. I said that’s going right there on the stove. That’s it. That was the first design element in this room. And that’s why the room is blue and white.”
I loved the idea, to find something that you’re so passionate about to then plan everything around it. It’s sort of how I planned my travel career I suppose.
An Architect with Vision
Greg didn’t create the house to flip or to rent out. He was creating his dream home. When he first brought his architect to the run down property, he gave him two general instructions.
“When you walk in, I want you to believe you’re in a 200-year-old convent.” And he said, “when I walk in, I never want to leave.”Greg
Greg and his architect went out on the weekends and just drive around and scour the region for ideas. They went to Pueblos (small towns), haciendas, and churches to look for design ideas.
As he walked us around the house he pointed out things that were replicas from other buildings or small towns around the area – like the bell tower replica from Izamal.
A Carpenter with Heavenly Skills
I was most impressed with all of the woodwork in the villa; mirrors, beds, tables, altars, and all of the heavy chairs. But my favorite was the confessional in the master bathroom that cleverly disguised the toilet.
A one-of-a-kind confessional bathroomConfess your sins on the ‘throne’
I thought for sure that he had gotten the piece from an old catholic church – it looked so authentic. However, his carpenter made it based on a picture Greg showed him. This was frequently how Greg would work with the carpenter – via pictures.
“He’ll make something had a big piece of plywood and bring it in and asked me you know what changes I want made? I look at it and decide it may be too big, too small, or the design isn’t quite right. So that’s how he starts,” Greg explained.
Here were a few of my favorite things made by his talented carpenter:
I loved this giant wooden rosary on the wall created by the carpenter
All of the furniture was hand made in Merida
The bed in the master bedroom
This big mirror was hand carved
Every space had been painted in some way. One local artist did all of the paintings, the ceiling designs, wall murals, and even painted pottery. Greg found religious art that he loved and would have the artist recreate them.
There was also an abundance of iron work throughout the house. Chandeliers, candle holders, and doors were all custom made. Many had crosses or nods to religion such as the chandeliers. But the most impressive piece of iron work was the tall spiral iron staircase that went from the pool area to the massive patio above the house.
The spiral staircase overlooks the pool
You can’t find these lighting fixtures on Wayfair…it was all commissioned specifically for this house!
Greg even had a whole set of dishes made specially for the house from a nearby Pueblo. Each piece has his house crest (that he also designed) on it.
“If you were to do that in the United States you can maybe afford one dish. Here, I can do a whole set.. You can do things like that. Mexico is just amazing.”
Why This is the Best Place to Stay in Merida
If you are trying to determine where to stay in Merida, consider renting Casa De Las Torres – it’s the perfect home base to experience Merida and the surrounding cenotes, towns, and beaches.
It has three bedrooms, pool, palapa, patio, TV room and large rooftop terrace. You’ll be enthralled by all of the design details. All bedrooms and indoor living areas have air conditioning and ceiling fans which is necessary for Merida in the summer when it VERY hot.
The home is within a 10 to 15 minute walk to the main square and historic district, and we found it all to be safe day or night. We walked everywhere! Plus there are some little local markets nearby and you can simply spend hours walking around the neighborhoods and exploring.
Carlos the house manager will also help you organize a private chef and other resources for your travel group! It’s just another reason why this is the place to come if you are looking for where to stay in Merida that is unique and local.
But the main reason why I think this is the best place to stay in Merida is because it’s unique. You’ll never find another place like this!
It’s Never Too Late To Find Your Passion
This entire experience reminded me of how much I love meeting interesting people when I travel, and Greg certainly fit the bill. Greg’s passion was this house and Merida – that was clear.
“I realize now that I found my right place on the planet. This is it. This is my place. And I found something that I’m passionate about that I never knew because I never had the opportunity before.”Greg
I think that’s what many of us are striving for – aren’t we? Greg and his beautiful home turned vacation rental is a great example of why it’s never to late to make changes in life. Passion is a powerful pull…sometimes you just have to follow it.
I’m so happy we stayed at Casa de las Torres in Merida and essentially made it part of our entire travel experience…not just a place to sleep.
Where to Stay in Merida – How to Rent and See Casa de las Torres
You can find more information on the Casas de las Torres website.
Greg holds a number of charitable events and fundraisers at the house – if you want to see if one is going on while you are there – follow his Facebook page that is updated frequently with events.Airbnb Rental can be done here.
Greg occasionally runs tours in the home through Airbnb Experiences too.