Review/Gallery: A romance with Mexico

Alamandas Presidential seaview

Alamandas Presidential seaview - Credit: Archant

When Eileen Wise fulfilled a childhood dream to visit Mexico, she wasn’t disappointed with what she found

My parents met and fell in love in Mexico and ever since childhood I’ve yearned to go to the country where they found romance.

So when the opportunity finally came, in the depths of a gloomy English January, I grabbed it with both hands.

Our first port of call, Puerta Vallerta, is where the azure blue sea of the Pacific Banderas Bay meets the majestic Sierra Madre Mountains. It’s a two-hour flight from Mexico City and proved the perfect place to start our holiday. We stayed in the old town, up steep, narrow cobblestone streets in the charming ancient Hacienda San Angel.

The Hacienda has a romantic history. While filming The Night of the Iguana in 1963 Richard Burton stayed there with Elizabeth Taylor (they’d met on the set of Cleopatra). He fell in love with the place and years later bought the house, which is now part of Hacienda San Angel, for his then wife, Suzy, as a Valentine’s present.

The present owner bought houses either side and today it’s a tranquil haven in the middle of a vibrant town. With its old-fashioned, charming feel it’s like stepping back into history. There’s beautiful European and Mexican antique furniture dotted all over the place and it even has its own small chapel, used for weddings.

With only 20 bedrooms and suites you receive very personal attention. I was beginning to understand why my parents fell in love in Mexico when we dined in the hotel’s charming terraced restaurant overlooking the bay. A violinist serenaded us, and when I asked him to play my parents’ special song – Unchained Melody - it was too much and poor Roger (my partner) had to deal with a tearful Eileen.

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Our eclectically-furnished bedroom featured a painting of the Madonna, dating back to 1880, and with its large outside terrace overlooking pretty, tiled rooftops towards the sea it was the perfect place to enjoy breakfast of delicious homemade pastries and mango jam.

Puerta Vallerta has a lovely, long beach promenade, where locals build the most amazing sand sculptures.

After a couple of nights resting and enjoying a few Margaritas at pretty beach-side restaurants, we hired a local taxi to drive us three hours north. On the way we enjoyed stunning sea views of the wild blue Pacific Ocean whilst passing luscious green fields of banana, lemon and orange trees.

We stopped in a one-street town and ate some delicious street food, all cooked on a little gas stove. A modest pit stop before arriving at the more luxurious Las Alamandas Resort, which along with the next two places we stayed, was at one time owned by the late billionaire businessman, Sir James Goldsmith. Today one of his daughters, Isabel Goldsmith-Patino, has made Las Alamandas into one of the most sought-after destinations in Latin America.

There are only 22 detached villas on the property so it never appears busy. Each is decorated differently; all have sea views, and are designed to Isabel’s exacting tastes.

Food at Las Alamandas was fun, inventive and appetising, an excellent mix of traditional Mexican with a good choice of international dishes. Lunch and breakfast were served just feet from the lapping waves and we enjoyed the organic fruit, grown on the Hacienda De San Antonio estate up in the mountains.

At night we dined under a terrace only a stone’s throw from the beach. It was here that we were introduced to the Tejon. The animal is known as ‘The Clown of the Jungle’ and is something of a national icon in Mexico. Early one morning I was startled to find one sitting quietly on our terrace.

There are miles of uninhabited beaches to stroll along at Las Alamandas, and we enjoyed five-mile walks with only the diving pelicans, buzzards and the odd eagle for company.

Being horse mad, I went for an invigorating ride around the estate and along deserted beaches. The horses roam wild on the estate, so if you want to ride you tell the staff a few hours in advance so they could find and catch them.

Las Alamandas is remote and that, for many, is its attraction - but there is plenty to occupy your time. If you’re feeling particularly energetic there’s also a gym designed by actor Robert De Niro, one of Isabel’s friends and a frequent guest.

From Las Alamandas we drove along the coast to The Cuixmala Estate, which Alix Goldsmith Maraccini, another of Sir James’s daughters, took over after he died. It’s a magical place. Set in 25,000 acres, this is a nature lover’s dream. To reach it you drive a few miles along a track flanked by grasslands, a coconut plantation, Mango swamps, a river and lagoons.

It’s said there are over 500 crocodiles on the property and we certainly saw a few. The sea is full of turtles and during the breeding season the staff gather up the eggs from the beach to save them from predators. Once hatched they are released into the sea. In addition to all the native wildlife we also saw zebra and antelope wondering around the estate. They were brought over by Sir James from Africa.

We were made to feel very welcome by Maria, who runs the place. She took us on a four-wheeled drive tour of the estate. La Loma, the house that Sir James built for himself, has only four bedrooms – but they are gigantic, with ceilings nearly 20ft high. From our casita (small house) we could gaze across the valley to find La Loma dominating the skyline.

The food at Cuixmala was the best we had in Mexico. Real home cooking, prepared in the kitchen right next door to the dining terrace.

Cuixmala means the soul’s resting place, which is so appropriate given its proximity to nature. It’s a walker’s paradise, fantastic for riding and at night you can even go on scorpion hunts.

Being so special and private it’s easy to understand why the likes of Tom Cruise, Madonna, George Lucas, Mick Jagger and Quentin Tarantino have enjoyed staying there. We certainly did.

For our last three days we moved up into the mountains to the magnificent Hacienda San Antonio, in the highland state of Colima. It’s not often you’re asked if you’d like a garden or volcano view. From our bedroom window we were able to gaze at the smoking Volcan de Fuego - truly awe-inspiring. The luxurious two-storey coral pink Hacienda was built in the 19th Century for a German coffee planter and has been beautifully restored and added to by the Goldsmith family. On our first night we were the only guests and dined in front of a huge baronial fireplace.

The gardens are impressive with arched water fountains trickling into a stream, eventually ending up at a huge swimming pool. Lazing around the pool and swimming while staring up at the smoking volcano was quite an experience.

There were striking little horses kept on the estate and I had a hugely enjoyable ride through a bamboo-shaded forest, around stunning lakes and crossing pretty meadows.

Roger is not a rider but the hotel staff brought him by vehicle to meet me and my horse in the middle of a meadow, where they’d set up the most delicious picnic for us enjoy while taking in the spectacular lake views. On our last day we were shown around the estate’s own cheese factory and had a tasting session before moving on to the coffee plantation to learn how coffee is produced.

Head gardener, Salvador Matias, proudly showed us round the large organic gardens. He took immense pride in his wonderful tomatoes, eight different kinds of lettuce, rows and rows of strawberry beds plus many more exotic fruits and vegetables. I also learnt a lot about cultivating chilies.

This was a trip of a lifetime and I can now understand why Mexico played a part in my parents’ courtship. We stayed in the lap of luxury and we adored Mexico and its people. We would love to return.

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