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?
News
Nick Clegg on the campaign trail in Glasgow on Wednesday; he says education is his top priority
peopleNick Clegg remains optimistic despite dismal Lib Dem poll ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Déjà vu: David Tennant returns to familiar territory with Anna Gunn (‘Breaking Bad’)
tvReview: Something is missing in Gracepoint, and it's not just the familiar names
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Sport
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
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: Car Sales Executive - OTE £36,000

    £12500 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This established Wakefield Deal...

    Guru Careers: .NET Developers / Software Developers

    Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: our .NET Developers / Software Dev...

    Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

    £25,000 - £30,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you looking for a fantastic opportunity...

    Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester

    £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

    War with Isis

    Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
    Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

    A spring in your step?

    Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

    Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
    Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

    Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

    For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
    Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

    Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

    As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
    The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

    UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

    Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

    Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
    Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

    Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

    If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
    10 best compact cameras

    A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

    If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
    Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

    Paul Scholes column

    Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
    Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
    Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?