Atotonilco el alto

X 391 / pop 27,276 / elevation 1596m

The soil reddens and the blue agave blooms as the road winds about 150km into the high lands east of Guadalajara. The striking red earth signifies a higher concentration of iron and other nutrients that make agave sweeter and the tequila smoother than those distilled and bottled in Tequila. Don Julio, the man who invented aged tequila, is the biggest name, but 7 Leguas and 50 other producers are scattered through the hills that encircle this quaint colonial town that remains unspoiled by tourism. The good side: you'll see a real working tequila town - and Calle Independencia is strung with tequila shops that sell the best bottles in Mexico for a great price. The bad news: tours are hard to come by. Don Julio (Díaz 24; h 9am-5 pm) does have a shop across the street from its distillery where you can get great deals. Pair its añejo with is dark chocolate truffles. Divine.

Siete Leguas (X 917-09-96; www.tequilasieteleguas.com .mx; Independencia 360; h 9am-5pm), another producer of fine tequilas, has a full-functioning visitors centre and rumor has it that it will soon be giving tours.

One more reason to trek out here is to dine at Real Campestre (X 917-2838; Carretera Atotonilco-Ayotlan Km 3; mains M$90; h noon-8pm). Taste its aguachile, a dish in which raw shrimp are cooked in a spicy broth of fresh lemon juice and chili and follow it up with an exquisitely tender and flavorful arrachera to absorb that fire. It also has a great tequila bar and soothing mountain views. Too weary to make it home? Check into Real Cervantes (X 917-4814; Espinoza 26; d/ste M$400/550). This new hotel has Spanish tile, granite staircases and bright, spotless rooms with king sized beds. Excellent value.

Buses depart regularly for Atotonilco El Alto from Guadalajara's Nueva Central Camionera (M$75, two hours).

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