Leyla Messian is a Los Angeles-based correspondent for Lucire.
Sophistication, salsa and serenity make Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit Resort the perfect Pacific México girls’ weekend escape, writes Leyla Messian
some photographs by Elyse Glickman
Imagine a two-lane highway weaving past pristine jungles, colourful bungalows and roadside stands selling ice-cold coconut water served in the shell. Continue on down the road and encounter a string of quant villages, azure ocean vistas and beachfront palapas sheltering a quiet row of craftsmen weaving delicate beaded jewellery.
A number of beautifully designed resorts make Riviera Nayarit the perfect México destination for those of us who have outgrown the eternal spring break of México’s college-bound hubs. Among the luxury resorts nestled in the golden sands, the Grand Velas Resort (a member of the Leading Hotels of the World hotel family) blossoms the brightest. Opened in 2002, the multi-award-winning resort is not just a collection of plush suites, fancy restaurants and a divine spa, but also a gateway to the cultural and ecological riches along the coastline of Jalisco and Nayarit.
On arrival, you enter a giant thatch and wood palapa, plop down into plushly cushioned wicker chairs—a luxurious basket—and enjoy a brief but rejuvenating head and shoulder massage by a spa practitioner as your luggage is whisked to your suite. After you are debriefed on the facilities, you are outfitted with a magic woven bracelet that grants you access to a cornucopia of tropical indulgences, including the suite itself.
Every room opens out to a balcony overlooking the Pacific. Nestled among palms and bouganvelias, several pools fan out and disappear into the horizon. After you change into your swimsuit, you will want to do no more than sip on a mango, cucumber-jalapeno or tamarind margarita and watch iguanas and seabirds play in the lush foliage. At sundown, a guitar player strums light pop and Mexican folk melodies. However, be careful not to fall asleep because it will soon be time for happy hour.
While the poolside bar serves up familiar frosty, fruity margaritas, serious cocktail aficionados will find top-shelf tequilas and artisanal cocktails at the Lobby Bar after dark. Here, Grand Velas offers tequila tasting and mixology classes, designed by tequilier and restaurant manager Gustavo Bravo. He will spin colourful anecdotes about the production and history of tequila, and its smoky cousin mezcal. This becomes your opportunity to try sangrita, a bright orange-red chaser to a shot of good tequila or mezcal. If you enjoy this mixture of orange, lime and tomato juices with Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce, he will take you back in time with a more “traditional” sweeter recipe developed in the 1950s. This sangrita blends orange, grenadine and lime juice along with chili powder or sauce. Whichever sangrita you choose, it cleanses the palate and makes you ready to enjoy the flavours of your dinner.
Grand Velas Nayarit’s fine dining venues include Italian-themed Lucca (excellent salmon) and French–Mediterranean restaurant Piaf. Frida’s, however, is the stand-out. In flowing brown script, Frida Kahlo’s personal recipes for tamales and other dishes cover the adobe walls. While the culinary techniques and presentation are modern, the ingredients are local and traditional. Seafood lovers may choose from starters such as mussels in yellow mole or shrimp with roasted chiles and charcoal tortilla oil, and then enjoy shredded yellow fin tuna with pineapple, or a catch of the day with green salsa, potatoes and sautéed fava beans. Vegetarians can start with cilantro-covered fried cheese in black bean sauce. Nopal cactus figures prominently in the cuisine of this area. It is often grilled or minced and served with a variety of flavourful sauces and other condiments. Excellent tequila-based cocktails include guava and horchata creations (don’t be afraid to trust the bartender, and try something new!).
You can continue to sample and experiment with traditional ingredients at Azul’s breakfast buffet. Mild huitlacoche (corn truffles) or squash blossom quesadillas are made to order and served piping hot with a variety of salsas. Wash these down with fresh squeezed tropical fruit juices. Jugo verde, a mix of pineapple, nopal and green leafy vegetable juices, will get you ready for a day of boogie-boarding, surfing, kayaking, biking and day-tripping.
You may arrange a tour through the concierge or rent a car to explore the neighbouring coastal communities. The roads are well paved and maintained. The tiny village of San Francisco (affectionately known as ‘San Pancho’) is a popular expat destination. Its Hotel Cielo Rojo’s Bistro Organico has a healthy menu guaranteed to please vegan, vegetarian, carnivores and picky eaters concerned about their gluten intake. The grilled nopales (cactus) enchiladas are worth the wait, as are the baked goods. The owner chefs prepare the omelettes and protein bowls from local farmers and purveyors.
Long-term visitors looking to contribute to the community during their stay can volunteer at Entre Amigos. This community centre offers local families a bilingual children’s library, literacy and ESL classes, and an effective recycling programme. The gift shop sells jewellery, toys and housewares made from these recycled materials. Another way you can help is to purchase beautiful woven jewellery and hair clips made by the Huichol tribe. Many of these craftspeople are young moms and high school students who have taught each other a craft rooted in traditional tribal bead and beeswax sculpture.
Sayulita is a bit of Canada and California transported to México. Feel free to speak English with fellow travellers and expat shop keepers selling jewellery and boutique clothing made in India and Thailand. Be prepared to pay New Zealand prices for lovely silver trinkets and beaded creations made by local artisans. You will be supporting the local economy. If you don’t want to eat spicy pork carnitas and shrimp tacos at a modest streetside stall, Don Pedro’s serves all of your favourite American specialties including nachos, pizza, burgers and fries, along with cerveza and decent margaritas. The view of the shoreline is unforgettable, especially if you are lucky enough to see Brooke Shields surfing with her entourage.
By now, you are tired and in need of revitalization. One option is to crash on the tented bed-like lounge chairs on the private beach in front of the property, and watch pelicans dive in and out of the waves. Another option is to head to Grand Velas’ spa, outfitted with a dry sauna, steam room and several hot and cool tubs. You can soak your aching feet in a whirlpool or submerge yourself at the foot of an indoor waterfall. This spa earns its designation as one of the Leading Spas of the World. I enjoyed the signature Serenity Massage, targeting accumulated stress, diminishing muscle stiffness and improving blood circulation. Lucire US west coast ed. Elyse Glickman went for the aromatherapy massage, blending different essential oils and massage techniques to improve the function of the immune system, vascular and lymphatic circulation.
Months after this divine experience, I still find myself craving a squash blossom quesadilla and a cucumber-jalapeño margarita. Well, maybe next year I will find myself back on the road, headed to Grand Velas Rivera Nayarit Resort. •
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