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“Cancún has become my home”

Swiss entrepreneur and restaurant owner Cédric Schweri immigrated to Mexico in 2006. Two years later, he opened his own restaurant in Cancún. As well as professional fulfilment, the Yucatán Peninsula is where he discovered one of his greatest passions: polo. Today, Schweri is one of Switzerland’s most famous polo players.

“In 2006, after completing hotel management school and following four years of back-breaking work in a Zurich nightclub, I decided it was time for a break. My original plan was to go to Chile, to learn Spanish. But it was winter there and I did not want to be in South America in the cold season. So I opted to go to Mexico instead. I first stayed on the Pacific coast, which is where I met someone who offered me a job. Without further ado, I flew back to Switzerland, gave up my flat, made all the necessary arrangements and then flew to Mexico City to start my job as a food & beverages manager for a hotel chain.

In 2007, I was headhunted and transferred to Cancún, to work as a food & beverages director. I gave up that job a year later and, with a partner, opened my own restaurant ‘Mare by Cenacolo‘. Initially, I struggled a bit with the Mexican work ethic – by the second appointment of the day, my entire agenda was regularly delayed. So I began to send the much-too-late latecomers away. That worked! But things have changed considerably in that respect since then.

Photos provided

The “snake’s nest” – an ideal holiday resort

When we first opened the ‘Mare by Cenacolo’, Cancún had pretty much every type of restaurant on offer – including a fairly successful fondue place. The missing piece was a venue with live music, where guests can enjoy a glass of wine and a small snack. So we decided to set up a tapas bar. Later on, I opened a branch in Zurich. But we have since changed our concept; both places are successful Italian restaurants now – although I have sold the one in Switzerland. Cancún has become my home. I love the beautiful sea, the sandy beach that stretches for almost twenty miles and the fabulous hotel complexes. The people here are incredibly friendly, service-minded, helpful and child-orientated. Since becoming a father, I really have come to appreciate that. No one is bothered if you are out and about with your little ones at 11 pm at night – and if one of them cries, the staff will give the child a lolly.

By the way, Cancún means ‘snake’s nest’ in Mayan. The Maya were the only people in the region not conquered by the Spaniards. To this day, the formal consent of the Maya chief is required before a new governor may take office. Cancún was conceptualised by the government forty years ago as a tourist spot. Back then, the fishing village had a population of 5000. Today, it is home to a good one million inhabitants who make their living from tourism. Eleven months a year of nice, warm weather, a sea in hues not found elsewhere and a high standard of living make Cancún an ideal holiday destination.

A wonder of the world and swimming with whale sharks

Chichén Itzá is a good four hour’s drive from Cancún and one of the “New7Wonders of the World”. It is arguably the best preserved Mayan pyramid and, above all, known for its elaborate architecture. It is also famed for the fact that, in the late afternoon of the spring and autumn equinoxes, one side of the great pyramid sinks into the shadow leaving only the steps exposed to the sun. This creates a mirror image that resembles a snake. The image is extremely impressive. Tulum, the only known Maya harbour, is also well worth visiting. As the Tulum ruins are situated right by the sea, visitors can literally bathe at their feet – and take some terrific selfies. One of my favourite excursions is to Isla Mujeres, the ‘Island of Women’, which can be reached by ferry from Puerto Juárez. As (one) legend has it, when the Spaniards landed on the island, they discovered a large number of female-shaped figurines – which explains the name. Isla Mujeres is car-free and best explored on foot or in a golf cart. The ‘Zama’ beach club serves fabulous fish dishes. Visitors who choose to stay the night will find accommodation in the tasteful ‘Villa Rolandi’ hotel that was, incidentally, built by a Swiss. The whale shark season is from May to September. If you book a special boat trip during that period you can even swim with them – personally one of my best experiences to date.

Mole, tacos and no salt with my tequila please!

The undisputed favourite place of my two sons is the ‘Croco Cun Zoo’ located a good 25-minute drive from Cancún. Referring to itself as an ‘interactive adventure zoo’, the animals there can be fed and touched on guided tours – first and foremost the crocodiles for which the zoo has a rescue centre. Cancún is situated on a headland between the Caribbean Sea and a lagoon that is inhabited by crocodiles - a fact that is sufficiently signposted. But some tourists nonetheless dare to venture into the lagoon – and occasionally get bitten. The reptiles sometimes get injured by boats. If they are lucky, they end up in the ‘Croco Cun Zoo’ rescue centre. Another favourite of my children is the ‘Xel-Há’ waterpark where, among other things, they get to swim with dolphins. ‘Xplor Park’ is also a great place: featuring activities such as abseiling and quad biking, the park is more suited to adults and older children. I recommend families with children to stay in the ‘Presidente InterContinental’. The hotel beach is located behind a reef and protected from the high waves, which other beaches are exposed to from time to time.

Cancún is divided in two zones: the hotel zone and the city zone. Both offer plenty of opportunities to shop, dine and go out. The city centre is no more dangerous than any other metropolis. One should be aware that prices in the hotel zone are a good twenty per cent higher than in the city. The traditional ‘El Mercado 28’ market in downtown has, of late, become a tourist magnet. One of my favourite restaurants –apart from my own of course– is ‘Kiosco Verde’ in Puerto Juárez that serves fresh fish, seafood and traditional Mexican cuisine. The Mexican food you get in Switzerland is usually not very authentic and more likely Tex-Mex. Mole, a sauce made of chocolate and spices, is very typical and can comprise up to fifty ingredients. It is often eaten with chicken. Tacos (filled and rolled corn tortillas) are also very popular, as is ceviche, a dish composed of raw fish and lemon juice. The Mexicans know as many as 200 types of chili peppers and 300 different tequilas, a beverage consumed as a ‘stomach opener’ before a meal – without salt or lemon please! Anyone who asks to have a slice of lemon in their Corona (Mexican beer) is immediately unmasked as a tourist. This is because, once upon a time, the lemon was used to clean the bottleneck. So anyone who subsequently put the slice in their beer was adding dirt to their beverage! Those eager to try a typical drink should order a ‘Tequila Bandera’ consisting of a glass of tequila, a glass of lemon juice and a glass of spicy tomato juice. Sips are alternately taken from all three glasses. Viticulture is also developing very quickly in Mexico, although wine is still comparatively expensive.

Infected with the polo bug

Of course Cancún is great for scuba diving, and home to an endless slew of surf schools. My recommendation: ‘Scuba Cancún’ run by a Canadian. The diving tours are not very demanding and also suitable for beginners. The MUSA underwater museum with its submerged sculptures is a highlight. As for golfing, there are several good golf courses, one of which is within the hotel zone. I would advise against bike riding and motorcycling, as the most important traffic rule in this part of the world is: whoever brakes loses! And then there’s always the occasional fool who decides to water ski in the lagoon despite the presence of crocodiles. I must confess that I have done so too. But since becoming a father, I think twice, if not three times, before doing anything of that nature.

All the more so since discovering my passion for polo, a game firmly entrenched in Mexico (even the army has a team). I fortuitously happened upon it, tried it and immediately caught the polo bug. In order to have an opportunity to play when I am in Switzerland, too, I founded a polo club in the canton of Aargau. These days, I participate in tournaments all over the world, but Cancún will always be my greatest love. And not just in terms of polo.”

Three insider tips for Cancún

Food: Coriander is a staple ingredient of almost every dish. If this herb is not up your street, you’d best make a point of mentioning that on every food-related occasion.

Numbers: You will fare better paying with Mexican pesos than dishing out US dollars.

Swimming: There are barracudas in the sea. Whereas they will generally swim away from people, they have been known to mistake shimmering gold jewelry for small fish and could then decide to bite.

Three restaurant tips

“Mare by Cenacolo”: Cédric Schweri’s restaurant. The location right by the lagoon, the food ranging from seafood to fresh pasta, live music and a DJ make a visit to this restaurant a delightful experience. (Km 13,5, Blvd. Kukulcan, Zona Hotelera, 77500 Cancún, Q.R., Mexico, www.restaurantemare.com)

“ME by Melia”: A beautiful rooftop bar, stylish pool parties and DJs from Ibiza. Ideal for young people who enjoy celebrating in style. (Boulevard Kukulkan, Km 12, Zona Hotelera, 77500 Cancún, Q.R., Mexico, www.melia.com/ME_Cancun)

“Harry’s Steakhouse & Raw Bar”: Great location by the lagoon and the best steak in the area. Fish is also on the menu. The restaurant is particularly nice at sunset. (Blvd. Kukulkan, Km 14,2, No. 1, Zona Hotelera, 77500 Cancún, Q.R., Mexico, www.harrys.com.mx)

Text: Sandra Casalini