Despite the routinely depressing news from Mexico, I recently decided to head down to two of my favorite destinations, Cabo San Lucas and San Miguel de Allende, to visit new hotels from the distinguished companies Capella and Rosewood.
Many Harper members need little introduction to Cabo San Lucas. In the 2010 Reader Survey, Las Ventanas was ranked No. 2 and Esperanza No. 4 among International Hideaways, and although One & Only Palmilla did not feature in the Top 20, it, too, has a large and devoted Harper following. It felt quite strange to find myself at Los Cabos airport and not to be heading to one of this illustrious triumvirate.
The new Capella Pedregal is located in the town of Cabo San Lucas at the tip of the peninsula, whereas its three famous competitors are all in the so-called “Corridor” that extends for 20 miles northeast to San José del Cabo. Much has changed since 1973 and the completion of carretera federal No. 1 that first ushered tourists down from the north. Cabo San Lucas is a raucous party town and busy cruise ship port nowadays, and not an obvious place to construct an opulent five-star resort.
Today, I cannot think of any other hotel in the world that has a comparably dramatic approach. Tall iron gates swing noiselessly aside and you enter a tunnel illuminated by chandeliers, with the Pacific glinting in the distance. I felt as though I had been unexpectedly cast in a James Bond movie and that Blofeld would be waiting to greet me.
It was back in the 1970s that architect Manuel Diaz Rivera bought 360 acres of land at the precise point where the Pacific meets the Sea of Cortez. There was then no means of access to the beach, which is separated from the town by an impassable rock-strewn ridge. Diaz Rivera built a marina and a number of lavish clifftop residences, but it was not until 1999 that his grandson, Juan, decided to drill a 1,000-foot tunnel clean through the hillside to the sea.
Much of Capella Pedregal has been constructed on a broad ledge at the bottom of a cliff face, which forms a vast natural balcony overlooking the Pacific. It is an undeniably spectacular setting, and the fact that the tunnel provides the only means of access creates an immediate sense of privilege and seclusion. The boisterous bars of Cabo San Lucas might as well not exist. Only the resort’s tennis courts are on the town side of the tunnel, and most guests seem to stay within their private enclave, venturing out chiefly to go jogging or to try one of the local restaurants.
Most of the 66 accommodations are contained within four- and five-story buildings. Our third-floor Deluxe Ocean View Room came with a terrace, an unheated plunge pool and a hypnotic view of the sea. We sat for a while, soothed by the sound of the breaking surf, scanning the water with the provided binoculars hoping to catch a glimpse of the last of the season’s gray whales. Alas, we were out of luck. The prime whale-watching season is January through March, when Capella must offer an unrivaled vantage point.
The room had been decorated in a traditional Mexican style with a beamed ceiling and handcarved woodwork. Frankly, we found it a little dark and the style more appropriate for an inland hacienda than a brand-new beachfront resort. But our surroundings were undeniably comfortable and provided all the modern amenities you might expect, plus a gas log fire for evenings when the breeze turns chilly. The bath was appointed with a claw-foot soaking tub, as well as a large shower area with both ceiling and wall-mounted fixtures. On another occasion, we might opt to spend considerably more on a splendid 1,390-square-foot One Bedroom Beach Casita. These directly overlook the sand and come with private infinity plunge pools and fire pits.
The principal restaurant at Capella Pedregal is Don Manuel’s, where the menu features modern Mexican cuisine. We mostly opted for fish, including outstanding macadamia-crusted sea bass served with a side of aged sheep cheese broth, and caramelized black cod with braised tomatoes. For appetizers, it was hard to resist the memorable ceviches. The resort offers the alternative of a clifftop seafood grill, El Farallón, and an attractive beach club for casual dining. (The gazpacho served with crabmeat in a sundae glass was so delicious that I would happily have it for lunch every day for a month.)
The Capella offers four pools — two for families and two for adults — and a long, private stretch of golden sand. The beach shelves sharply, however, creating rip currents that make it far too hazardous for swimming. Activities encompass golf on the six local courses, including Jack Nicklaus’ renowned Cabo del Sol Ocean Course, which is invariably rated among the top 100 in the world. The resort also has privileged access to the Cabo San Lucas marina and its fleet. But during our stay, most of our fellow guests did not seem to stray too far from the pool, abandoning their loungers chiefly for appointments at the magnificent 10,000-square-foot Auriga Spa.
Overall, the Capella Pedregal is a harmonious, self-contained world. Although we have minor reservations about the interior design, it is already an outstanding property and worthy to be mentioned in the same breath as its three illustrious competitors.
THE CAPELLA 94 Ocean View Deluxe King, $620; One Bedroom Beach Casita, $1,750. Camino del Mar – 1. Tel. (52) 624-163-4300.
Over the years, we have made numerous visits to the picturesque cities of Mexico’s colonial heartland, among which Zacatecas, Morelia, Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende have been designated World Heritage sites by UNESCO. Our favorite remains San Miguel, partly because of its steep cobblestoned streets, pretty pastel houses and grand 17th-century Spanish architecture, but also because of its exuberant and festive atmosphere. Located in the highlands, three-and-a-half hours’ drive northwest of Mexico City — or 75 minutes from the nearest airport at León — it delights visitors with lively cafés, colorful craft shops, eclectic galleries and excellent restaurants.
San Miguel also offers notable hotels, and the 37-room Casa de Sierra Nevada in particular has long been a favorite of Harper members. January of this year saw the debut of the 67-room Rosewood San Miguel de Allende, so we decided to see whether it is likely to provide its rival with any serious competition. The hotel is located about six or seven minutes’ walk south of the bustling main plaza, El Jardin, in a quiet residential area.
An entirely new structure, it was designed to blend seamlessly with the surrounding colonial architecture. Frankly, I had entertained one or two doubts about the wisdom of creating a replica 17th-century mansion, but my misgivings quickly evaporated. In the grand lobby lounge and atmospheric central courtyard, you immediately feel that you have stepped back 400 years.
Our third-floor room, #302, came with plain oatmeal walls and polished floors and was furnished simply with dark wood furniture and leather armchairs. Its most attractive feature was an enormous wraparound terrace that afforded a compelling panoramic view of the city and its famous neo-Gothic church, the Parroquia. A side table light missing a plug was evidence of the property’s recent completion, and while a walk-in closet provided abundant hanging space, there was an annoying and unaccountable absence of drawers. A lavish modern bath with silver-framed mirrors and gray marble surfaces provided a walk-in shower and a soaking tub, though the latter was badly in need of one or two strategically located safety handles. Overall, our room seemed comfortable, but in need of fine-tuning.
One of the preeminent virtues of the Rosewood is its tremendous sense of space. Extensive gardens surround a magnificent pool — ideal for swimming laps — that is overlooked by a row of spacious cabanas screened by billowing white drapes. There is also a children’s pool and a casual restaurant, Agua, nearby. The hotel’s other principal amenity is Sense, a spa with five treatment rooms and an extensive menu of therapies.
Many visitors to San Miguel will want to dine out much of the time, but for those who wish to eat at home, the Rosewood offers 1826 Restaurant & Bar, serving both contemporary and traditional Mexican cuisine. On the two occasions that we ate there, the food was excellent and the service obliging.
The hotel’s real pièce de résistance, however, is the enormous Luna Rooftop Tapas Bar. Largely open to the sky, this has a sensational 270-degree panoramic view, with virtually the whole of San Miguel spread out before you in a wonderful collage of shapes and colors. On a calm evening, gazing at the incredible view while sipping a margarita on the rocks is an unforgettable experience. As the shadows deepen and the church bells ring out across town, Mexico’s troubles seem far away indeed.
ROSEWOOD SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE 93 Colonial King, $450; Junior Suite King, $675. Nemesio Diez 11, Colonia Centro. Tel. (52) 415-152-9700.
Illustrations ©Melissa Colson
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