Casa Ollin Bed & Breakfast is a large house with 11 guest rooms located on a quiet street two blocks northeast of the famous Santo Domingo church in Oaxaca, Mexico. It’s one of the best B&Bs that I’ve ever stayed at.
The B&B had a romantic beginning. Jon McKinley, an American lawyer, booked a tour of Oaxaca with Judith Reyes, a professional Mexican guide, and they fell in love. That’s what he told me! And they wanted to do something special together so bought this house from an American woman and after 8 months of renovations opened it as a B&B in 2005.
What has made it so perfect? Well, after each guest left they contacted them and asked what they could do better and then they implemented many of the suggestions. Such as the coat rack near the front door loaded with hats and umbrellas that guests can borrow; the fridge where guests can store their stuff (and labels to mark the stuff too); shelves in the common room with wine and Mezcal (an alcohol made from the agava plant) that you can take on a trust system; hot tea and cold purified water available 24/7 at no cost; a computer station for guests; and free and fast wi-fi.
Judith and Jon don’t actually live here; their home is a 15-minute walk away so you never feel that you’re invading their personal space. Nor are you deserted because staff is there at all times and I think either Judith or Jon are there to greet each new guest and provide an orientation of the property and the town.
The common areas are for the guests: the patio around the swimming pool, the rooftop terrace, the living room, the reading room with many books on Mexico and a binder loaded with local information.
When you come down for breakfast a card bearing your first name is placed in front of you so it is easy to get to know everyone by name. Breakfast itself includes such Oaxaca favorites as chilaquiles, quesadillas and tamales and they are also happy to serve up a plain omelet if that’s what your system demands.
Nothing has been done cheaply here. My room was immaculate and everything from the natural wood furniture to the Talavera tile was well chosen. There was also a safe in my room and the balcony was private and overlooked the pool.
It takes a group effort to achieve this level of excellence and the staff certainly deserves a lot of credit, being supportive and watchful but never intrusive. Other services are on offer such as cooking classes and tours.
When I was there most guests were from United States and Canada. There was a nice mix: married couples, girlfriends who make an annual trip to Mexico, a foursome on a road trip across the state, a man attending the international organ festival, a young woman in the city to study Spanish. Many practiced Spanish with the staff.
When I booked my one-week stay at Casa Ollin, I did not have over-the-top expectations. The photos on the website were not assuring (the website has since been revamped) and only the most expensive room was available, which was beyond my usual budget. But I definitely wanted to stay in the historic city, within walking distance of the zocalo and longed for a place with atmosphere and the reviews promised that.
And the location is just great. It’s in a quiet, friendly neighbourhood, near a lovely park, a block away from a grocery store and close to several restaurants. Guests are given a key to the front door as well as to their bedroom so it is easy to come and go. Every day I would make my way down the pedestrian street to the zocalo.
Ollin (pronounced O-leen) is the name of the inner circle of the Aztec calendar and Judith and Jon called this home Casa Ollin to integrate it with the ancient knowledge of the ancestors. I don’t know about the ancestors but I can certainly say that they have succeeded in providing a personable and well-run home for travellers.
By Sylvia Fanjoy
Photo credits Sylvia Fanjoy
© Riding the buses 2014