Rising atop the lofty spires of Bernal like a sleeping stone giant, the world's third largest monolith Peña de Bernal (1,100 feet) commands your attention no matter which approach you take into town. A behemoth structure carved from the landscape by volcanic magma some 100 million years ago, Peña de Bernal is the reason the authentic Mexican village was named a “Pueblos Magicos” by SECTUR in 2005. A focal point for local legends that have surpassed both time and the Stone Age, the impressive massif is believed to have spiritual properties – villagers of Bernal convinced the stone is the reason for the united good health and prosperity of their people. Each weekend, Peña de Bernal is illuminated in an exuberant explosion of light theater; the fountains spurting forth a cascade of lasers and water, coupled with a dramatic orchestral soundtrack befitting of the drama.
An authentic Mexican village located within the Ezequiel Montes region of North-Central Querétaro, it is the organic beauty of San Sebastián Bernal village that åhas seen visitor numbers double in the past five years. Surrounded by disparate landscapes ranging from vast deserts to thickly forested mountain slopes, the state of Querétaro may be one of the smallest of Mexico, yet features an exhaustive diversity of locations to explore. It is perhaps most known for its vineyards (known as Freixenet) founded by the Mexican descendants of Casa Sala - a Spanish family renowned for their wine-making from the 19th Century to present day. A multitude of archaic haciendas in the Bernal “old country” have been transformed into wine distilleries – many offering tours of the vineyards and tutoring/ wine tasting days for tourists.
Bernal is thought to have been founded by Spanish Lieutenant Alonso Cabrera, along with ten of his soldiers called up to protect the Nahuatl villagers from pillagers and invasions. Spanish settlers promptly made their mark on the town during the early quarter of the 17th Century, erecting huge Catholic churches such as Capilla de Las Animas – today one of the most boldly painted buildings of Bernal, coated in bright yellow and terracotta. Dedicated to the “souls in Purgatory”, the Capilla is alleged to have been the hideout for a rich merchant in 1787 – supposedly on the run with more than his own takings. His spirit is still said to walk the Southern Path - coincidentally where he spent most of his time hiding in the bushes from robbers! Decked out in similar colors to Capilla de Las Animas, the Plaza Principal Church forms the backdrop for the town's main square. Stalls line its perimeter walls selling intricate tapestries and expertly woven goods from the finest spun sheep's wool.
A place of imperial grandeur and unparalleled tranquility, Bernal has often been mistaken by visitors to be a retirement village. Bernal is home to the largest number of Centenarians in Mexico, yet the village atmosphere is far from slow and crabby. The annual Spring Festival Parade is effectively a celebration of long life, marked by street parties, mariachi dancers and brass bands centered within the Plaza Principal. Spring Parade, coupled with Noches de Rabanos (The Radish Festival) is perhaps the ultimate demonstration of youthful vigor and excitement, from a generation that would undoubtedly be considered “past it” by today's stereotypes. Maybe there is some truth regarding the magic of Bernal's mountain after all!
Attractions & Things To Do in Bernal
Capilla de Las Animas – possibly one of the most unique of Bernal's attractions, the Capilla de Las Animas is a chapel dedicated to the “Lost Souls in Purgatory.” Seated at the foot of Peña de Bernal, it is said the lost souls may be seen wandering the vicinity of the chapel every evening – their faces lit by a single held candle. The nave is one of the smallest in Mexico, yet features beautiful examples of cast plasterwork and colonial décor. Open: Monday – Saturday, 10 am – 4 pm.