-By Sella Ramos-Jarmon

It's hard to believe that Toluca is located a short 45 minutes away from the sprawling Metropolis of Mexico City.  In spite of it's cosmopolitan flavor, this mountain community is full of rich Euro-influenced architecture, massive cathedrals and ornate churches, abundant natural wonders, and home to the Cosmovitral, one of the world's highest, largest and most spectacular works of art.

Completed in 1910 as part of Mexico's centennial celebration, the former City of Toluca Market boasts over 5,000 square meters of botanical gardens featuring over 400 plant species housed in a building largely made of stained glass - a remarkable spectacle combining sight, sound and environment.

The stained glass, finished in 1990 by Leopoldo Flores Valdes, includes 28 different colors of glass and is considered one of the largest artworks in the world. In the glass, Flores Valdes sought to depict his interpretation of time, movement and the contradictory phenomena taking place in matter, from a cosmogonical perception.

You call it what you like, but the truth is, by any name it is a wonder to behold!

And not only is it pleasing to the eyes, but to the soul! Scattered throughout the gardens are a series of fountains that bubble and gurgle incessantly, creating a sense of peace and tranquillity. And the sunlight filtering through all that stained glass baths the interior with an eerie but subtle glow all to its own.

Located nearly 8,000 feet above sea level, Toluca has a temperate climate with very cold winters, an environment not very conducive to botanical gardens. But the greenhouse-like conditions inside the botanical garden allow even the most tropical of plants to survive.

But the Cosmovitral is not Toluca's only attraction.  Due to the high level of culture found in Toluca , the city features a great number of museums of different topics. It is the second city in the country with the most museums and historical sites. And if you're traveling to the area in the fall season you can take in one of Mexico's most flamboyant festivals, the "Alfeñique Fair", where death is represented on diverse types of candies adopting different shapes, colors and textures in the hands of the local craftsmen.

If you're the outdoor type, there are plenty of adventure opportunities in the surroundings countryside with plenty of green areas with lush vegetation and endemic fauna, besides a pleasant and quite ambiance, where you can set up your tent and enjoy a clear sky in the purest serenity.

There are several parks of importance, such as Sierra Morelos Park, situated 4 kilometers northwest of the city. The park offers over 700 acres of pine tree and eucalyptus woods to roam and enjoy. Here you will find rustic kiosks and tables next to a picturesque lagoon and BBQ grills for cookouts.
Or you can take in the Bosencheve National Park 65 kilometers away from Toluca, which is one of the most important water basins of the "Valley of Mexico."

If hiking is at the top of your outdoor agenda, there's no better place than the "Nevado de Toluca", which is the fourth highest peak in the country. Over its crater there are two lagoons that you will be able to see, the only volcano in the world to which you can reach its highest point by car.

With abundant attractions and plenty of natural beauty, Toluca offers the perfect place to get out of the city and enjoy the laid back yet cosmopolitan side of Mexico. Enjoy!