What would you take to a desert island if you knew you would be there for a while? Chances are Villa del Palmar probably has those necessities of choice, and a lot more, reports Elyse Glickman
photographed by the author
Elyse Glickman is US west coast editor of Lucire.
While some Mexican destinations have the mixed curse and blessing of drawing throngs of university kids, families and retirees certain times of year, there are still less obvious, tucked-away places so special and peaceful that some of its regulars and locals have tried to keep them a secret. Loreto is one of those places. The tiny former fishing village in the centre of Baja California proves to be a fantastic, unpretentious counterpart for the bustling Cabo San Lucas–San Juan Del Cabo area further south.
Although the town of Loreto underwent a makeover a couple of years ago, it still has the character of an authentic slice of “real” México, from the vibrant murals in its town hall to its historic mission, which is the first in the Californias which begat the civilization that would grow over several hundred years as the US and México. Even with its scattering of souvenir shops, silver jewellery stores, boutique hotels and an amazing shop with hand-crafted paletas (ice-cream bars) and fresh-fruit popsicles made by hand, the tourists, locals and expats out and about are astonishingly unhurried and low key compared to México destinations.
Loreto’s town centre can be seen as a triangle. The starting point is its waterfront, the second its tidy plaza, complete with gazebo, and the third its main street anchored by the historic mission and mural-adorned town hall. Though the residents we met coming from busier spots like Cabo San Lucas, Ciudad de México and Acapulco gave up creature comforts (i.e. first-run movie theatres, Costco, Home Depot) to live in Loreto, their choice is based on a less-is-more philosophy where living well is less about opulence or excess and more about open spaces and an affinity for nature.
Although this may change with home developments and economic growth in process, Villa del Palmar, an hour out of town, represents what the local love about Loreto’s simpler way of life. The resort is, by design, the perfect amalgam of Loreto’s authenticity, unusual desert terrain and a vacation experience that’s luxurious but never overdone. The 100 rooms, decorated in appealing neutrals, are designed for extended stays, and include a kitchen, dining and living rooms, enormous marble bathrooms (with a huge Jacuzzi) and a generous bedroom area, with an outdoor terrace and panorama of the mountains and water.
Like Loreto residents, the resort staff is impressively resourceful and innovative in terms of making their hotel’s lifestyle and outlook appealing to a sophisticated traveller. The resort experience falls exactly midway between “rough luxury” and glam to the rafters, with a lot of its activities focused on the unique outdoor setting, from user-friendly hiking trails on the property, to kayaking, sport fishing, boating and sailing excursions, mountain biking and a soon-to-open, on-property golf course. It is also eco-friendly without throwing that concept in the visitor’s face: it’s not a theme, but just the way they do things. The one exception is a free-standing “glamping” tent for honeymooners with plush safari-style decor and prime views of the clear night sky.
The property is also a starting-point for sport fishing as well as speedboat scuba excursions where, if you get lucky, you will encounter hundreds of free-range dolphins who will put on a show that puts certain water theme parks and aquariums to shame. It is also hard to notice that the waters are generally so clean and translucent that they rival some of the best waterways in the South Pacific, even with the area’s desert geology.
However, everything makes sense when you consider the eco-friendly initiatives taken by the property. Even though it is surrounded by desert mountains, Villa del Palmar is located within a protected National Marine Park, which limits the size and power of boats that traverse the lakes and inlets, allowing the numerous species of marine life to multiply. Roofs are lined with solar panels that collect and store power from the more than 300 sunny days each year, and there is a seawater purification system in place that collects from the Sea of Cortez for use throughout the hotel. Their “grey water” recycling programme, meanwhile, helps with irrigation on the property (including their vegetable and herb gardens) and other maintenance tasks.
The “back of the house”, though not accessible to guests, has a community college environment allowing workers to improve their English and learn new skills that will help them advance within the company. According to Villa del Palmar General Manager Sixto Navarro, the intent from the beginning was not only tocreate jobs for the local economy, but also allow them to be participants. He explains many of the construction workers who built the property four years ago were hired into resort jobs, and are continuing to build their skills sets to climb the ladder. While the lunchroom looks like a college cafeteria, the executive chef is actively invested in their eating the same quality of food as the guests.
Several of them can be found at the three restaurants, Danzante, the Market and Casa Mia, which all excel in different forms of creative Mexican fare, particularly where the seafood is concerned. Casa Mia has Caesar salad (replacing bacon with chorizo), good fish tacos, nachos and pizza, as well as superb ceviche crafted with whatever is in season, such as cabrilla fish with corn, tomato, avocado and mango, and shrimp salad with mango, tomatoes and herbs grown in their own garden (which also provides herbs for the cocktails created by David Ortiz). Other “best bites” included the omelettes (mole omelette with machaca dried skirt steak; made-to-order vegetarian omelettes with huitlacoche; green pepper and cheese-stuffed omelettes) and poblano cream soup with asparagus cheese and nopal (cactus).
The resort’s wonderful Sebila Spa, overseen by Toronto-bred Claudine Reimer, not only features scrubs, massages and treatments integrating top spa products with local elements, but a wonderful “water” area that has several saunas, hot Jacuzzis, Swiss shower and an epsom salt tub for sore muscles, and a cool-soak tub with slices of alœ vera to alleviate sunburn and bug bites. Reimer also presides as the property’s resident reverend for non-denominational Christian weddings (Jewish weddings can be planned in advance). As you would expect from a country with year-round sunshine like México, the fruit and vegetable smoothies are first-rate.
Loreto is an easy two-hour flight from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) via Alaska Airlines directly to Loreto, while Canadian carrier WestJet offers direct flights between Calgary and Loreto. There are also several flight and bus options available within México to Loreto. The scenic ride to the property from the airport is about one hour. •
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from issue 28 of Lucire
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