La Casa Azul, Coyoacan: Touring Frida Kahlo's home town

The hard-drinking, cross-dressing artist died 60 years ago

Frida Kahlo was an artist who seemed to take delight in defying expectations. A cross-dressing, hard drinking, bisexual Mexican Communist, she was – at least during her lifetime – as famous for her wild celebrity parties as she was for her unique style of painting. Kahlo, who died 60 years ago this week, was not easily classifiable. And it seems she liked it that way.

"She didn't want to be categorised," says Hilda Trujillo, director of the Frida Kahlo Museum (otherwise known as La Casa Azul) in Mexico City. "She always claimed in interviews that she wasn't a Surrealist. But we found 30 Surrealist books and reviews in her bedroom cabinet. She was studying it. But she clearly didn't want to be defined by it."

Kahlo lived her entire life – from her birth in 1907 to her death in 1954 – in La Casa Azul, a cobalt-blue house in the leafy, residential neighbourhood of Coyoacan, an outlying borough to the south of the city.

Frida Kahlo in 1939 Frida Kahlo in 1939 In 1958, her husband, muralist Diego Rivera, decided to open the house to the public and the building and gardens became a museum dedicated to her life and work. "She designed the interiors from top to bottom," says Hilda. "The murals, the photos, the ornaments – it's all Frida. Her influence is everywhere."

Until November this year, the Frida Kahlo Museum will be showing Appearances can be deceiving: the dresses of Frida Kahlo, an exhibition of her outlandish outfits and fashion accessories. Sponsored by Mexican Vogue, the exhibition features never-before-seen personal items, as well as Frida-inspired dresses by Jean Paul Gaultier, Givenchy and Rei Kawakubo.

UNPACK

Slated to open this month, Pug Seal (00 52 55 6363 7176; pugseal.com) is an upscale mid-century-style guesthouse on Frida's home turf of Coyoacan. With eight spacious rooms overlooking a garden, it's just a few minutes from the Frida Kahlo Museum and Frida Kahlo Park. Sister property, Casa Piedra, has accommodated some high-profile guests: Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Princess Cristina of Spain and George W Bush. Doubles start at US$160 (£100), room only.

THINK LOCAL

Frida and Diego would often bring friends to Xochimilco, a network of tree-lined canals about 20 minutes' taxi ride from Coyoacan. Follow in their footsteps and hire one of the brightly coloured trajineras (gondolas) for a lazy float in the Mexican sunshine. Afterwards, head to nearby Museo Dolores Olmedo (00 52 55 5555 1221; museodoloresolmedo.org.mx) home to the largest Frida Kahlo collection in the world.

A boot in the Frida Kahlo exhibition A boot in the Frida Kahlo exhibition (Edmund Vallance) EAT

Celebrating its 80th anniversary this year, the Palacio de Bellas Artes is a magnificent Beaux Arts museum in downtown Mexico City. Frida's funeral took place here in 1954. Step into the wine-coloured marble foyer, climb a short staircase to your left and you'll arrive at Café del Palacio (00 52 55 5512 2593; palacio.bellasartes.gob.mx), a light-flooded formal dining room with high, vaulted ceilings. Feast on Mexican classics such as mancha manteles (literally "tablecloth stainers") – a pork dish with banana, pear and pineapple (£9). Then climb the marble staircase to view the permanent collection; or catch the eye-popping Ballet Folklorico de Mexico (00 52 55 5529 9320; balletamalia.com), performing around half a dozen times a month at the Art Deco theatre.

DRINK

"I tried to drown my sorrows," Frida once wrote in her diary. "But the bastards learned how to swim." The artist was known to drink up to a bottle of tequila a day, so she would no doubt have appreciated the 120 varieties on offer at El Bar (00 52 55 5230 1818; fourseasons.com/mexico) a ritzy joint opposite Chapultepec Park. The bar has the double advantage of being close to the Museum of Modern Art (00 52 55 5553 6233; mam.org.mx) where one of her most famous works, The Two Fridas, is on display.

SPEND

According to Frida's stepdaughter, Jana Persky, the painter rarely went out to eat – but she was mad about markets. The city's newest (and poshest) market, El Mercado Roma (00 52 55 5564 1396; mercadoroma.com) opened for business in May. Browse stores selling hand-made chocolates, flower stalls, cava and coffee bars. Then head up three flights of stairs to the open-air beer garden for a glass of Mr Dino – a beer, rum and Martini cocktail (£6).

DON'T MISS

"Frida was a terrible cook, but a fantastic hostess," Hilda Trujillo told me when I visited Kahlo's home and studio, La Casa Azul (00 52 55 5554 5999; museofridakahlo.org.mx). Inside the studio, her paintbrushes and easel are on display – as well as the mirror attached to the top of her sickbed that allowed her to paint self-portraits. For more insights, visit the "dresses of Frida Kahlo" exhibition (until November): look out for gold, Dame Edna-style sunglasses and a custom-painted prosthetic leg.

Travel essentials

Getting there

Mexico City is served nonstop from Heathrow by British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com) and Aeromexico (020-7801 6234; aeromexico.uk.com). Fares, however tend to be expensive compared with one-stop flights – which also offer a range of UK departure points. In September, return non-stops are around £900. Taking a combination of United via Washington DC and/or Air Canada via Toronto costs about £780 from Heathrow, £750 from Manchester.

More information

A Tourist Card is required; if you are flying into Mexico, you should be given one on board your flight.

Mexico Tourist Office, London: 020-7488 9392; visitmexico.com

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Content Assistant / Copywriter

    £15310 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has arisen for a...

    Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

    £24000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Situated in the heart of Bradfo...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Reception Manager

    £18750 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Hotel in Chadderton is a popular ch...

    Guru Careers: Marketing and Communications Manager

    £Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing and Co...

    Day In a Page

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence