West from Toluca, the road towards Morelia and the state of Michoacán is truly spectacular. Much of this wooded, mountainous area – as far as Zitácuaro – is given over to villas inhabited at weekends by wealthy refugees from the capital, and nowhere more so than the small colonial town of VALLE DE BRAVO, reached by turning off to the left about halfway. Set in a deep, pine-clad valley surrounded by low mountains, the town sits on the eastern shore of an artificial lake, Lago Avandaro. With terracotta-tiled roofs, iron balconies affixed to many of the older buildings and a mass of whitewashed houses all huddled together, it is an immediately appealing place, something that has drawn a coterie of artistic refugees from the big city. They mostly keep to themselves, leaving the water's edge for weekenders who descend for upmarket relaxation: boat trips, sailing, swimming, water-skiing, riding, paragliding, hiking and golf. If you indulge, it can be an expensive place, but the town itself isn't that pricey and it does make for a very relaxing break provided you come during the week, when fewer people are about and some of the hotels drop their prices.
The zócalo, ringed with restaurants and centred on a twin-towered church, sits on a rise a fifteen-minute walk from the waterfront, where there's a small tourist office (daily 9am–5pm; Tel:726/262-1678), and a wharf (embarcadero) from which you can take boat rides: either rent one from M$300–400 an hour, or join a lancha colectiva for M$25 an hour.
From Mexico City's Terminal Poniente (Observatorio), there are second-class buses to Valle del Bravo every twenty minutes (3hr), plus three daily first-class buses (2hr 15min). Buses from Toluca make a long circuit around town before depositing you at the bus station on 16 de Septiembre (no guardería). Head downhill and take a right at the end (Juárez) to get to the centre. The best of the more reasonably priced places to stay is the APosada Familiar 16 de Septiembre, 16 de Septiembre 417 (Tel:726/262-1222, Eposada16deseptiembre@yahoo.com.mx; Price: M$200-250), which is 100m downhill from the bus station, and has prettily decorated rooms (with TV and bathroom) and a real family atmosphere; slightly upmarket, the Posada Casa Vieja, Juárez 101 (Tel:726/262-0318, Eposadacasavieja@yahoo.com.mx; Price: M$250-350), has a variety of rooms, some bigger than others (so it may be worth checking a few), plus ample hot water, and a sunny veranda. Alternatives include Posada Los Girasoles, Plaza Independencia 1 (Tel:726/262-2967; Price: M$250-350), right on the main square, clean and cool with firm beds and rooms that are spacious but a bit dark.
Valle de Bravo has a reasonable range of restaurants, though not many at the top end of the scale. Some of the cheapest eating is in and around the market, at the end of Juárez on Hidalgo. Another place for good cheap eats is El Unicornio Azul, 16 de Septiembre 402, a comedor that serves flavourful comida corrida for M$25. The best upmarket choice is El Portal, on the zócalo at Plaza Independencia 101, where you can get salads, pizzas or antojitos, followed by steak or chicken, or trout or octopus, at M$63–85 for a main dish. If you like trout (farmed, not from the lake), the tiny Lonchería Trucha la Estrella down by the embarcadero has trout cooked however you like it (M$60), or their own trout ceviche or smoked trout paté.