As a publisher of a bridal magazine focusing on destination weddings I am always eager to visit new locations. Already travelling from Tlaquepaque to Isla de Mujeres I was excited about this part of Mexico that I knew little about. Tucked
between the Pacific Ocean and the Western Sierra Madre Mountains lies Riviera Nayarit. Boasting a coastline that stretches for almost 200 miles. It is easily accessible from the Puerto Vallarta International Airport and just west of the Tepic International Airport. Lush flora and beautiful weather, meshed with authentic Mexican culture makes it claim to be a destination that is easy to love.
I meet Richard my host and after 10 minutes driving from the airport we are already in Riviera Nayarit. We spend another 40 minutes witnessing the scenic mountains and glimpses of the ocean until we pull up to a large gate signaling we have arrived at my first destination, Imanta Resort. With each winding turn my suspense builds until we hit a second gate and the drive continues through beautiful tall trees. When we come to a stop I am greeted by Chris at a large pavilion on a hill giving a teasing vista of the ocean below. While indulging in my welcome cocktail of hibiscus juice we are informed that our bags will be taken to the villa but we should head straight to the beach as they are about to release a batch of baby turtles into the ocean. I have seen it before and it is a magical sight and I along with a friendly couple on their honeymoon bombard the giddy hatchlings on their march to the water like paparazzi witnessing the arrival of a star on the red carpet. While following one into the surf I turn and get my first look at Imanta. It fits perfectly on the hill as if it was molded there through time and nature to be a part of its surroundings.
A short walk up the beach and I am in Aye, my villa right at the base of the hillside. The décor is clean and modern but incorporates rich brown hues to match its surroundings. This marriage with nature is mirrored in its furnishings like the towel rack of a dried tree branch and a bench of a beautifully polished tree trunk. The villas themselves are made from rock excavated from the hillside. High ceilings add a feel of luxurious space. The room is large but inviting and warm.
Taking 12 years to build and opening in 2010 the 12 ‘keys’ around the property are perfectly spaced and have different room structures. There are the Ocean and Jungle Casas, Hotel Suites in the main building, and then the three-bedroom villa compounds like Casona Jaguar and Casona Los Templos. These larger compounds are perfect for families and high profile guests travelling with staff. Chris mentions a list of recent guests including ‘A list’ rock stars, socialites, Hollywood royalty and actually European royalty. I pry a bit to see which celebrity slept in my bed. He smiles and says with a wink and a laugh “mi amigo I can’t say”. This gives me free reign to make my pick…I am a big Coldplay fan after all…wink.
The chef of Imanta is Olivier DeBoise who is a classically trained French chef with Mexican roots. These two worlds clearly define the character of his dishes. In telling me a story of growing up with his Mexican nanny; the role she played in his life and his decision to be a chef he is moved to tears. I can sense from his passion I am in for a culinary expedition. Boasting of using only the freshest ingredients that are locally grown his flavours merge just the right amount of boldness and subtlety. His scallops with fennel made me just sit back in my chair and say: ‘wow’. His passion is authentic and delicious.
You can do absolutely nothing or a little bit of everything on your stay here. It is located just 30 minutes away from the hotspots of San Pancho and the bohemian village of Sayulita. Also near is Banderas Bay where you can witness the yearly spectacle of the humpback whales on their migration and the Marieta Islands, which is a natural park and home to many birds and other wildlife. On a beautiful morning I decide to stay on property and go for a hike with Chris. Opting out of the hardcore four-hour hike to the summit of Monkey Mountain I take the “expedition light” version which still takes me into the dense vegetation and partially up the mountain. I am gifted with some spectacular views of the coastline. He points my attention to a large leopard manta ray gliding by below followed by two playful barracuda chasing a school of jumping fish. A few moments later I am told to slow down as we reach a corner. “I saw an eagle here yesterday on a hike”, he whispers. On cue a rustle reveals a jasper eagle taking flight to the safety of a higher branch just 20m away. It watches us as we cautiously continue past the predator. Nature is abundant here.
The service is organic and somewhat omnipresent. Over the past few days helpful faces have always greeted me when I walked up the hill to the restaurant and observatory. Whenever I needed anything in the villa without asking I would get a call or a gentle knock on the door to say, “at your service”. It was almost like my personal concierge was poised in a tree constantly watching over me. Hopefully not all the time though as I quickly grew a great liking to my outdoor shower just feet away from the breaking waves on the shore. My showers were usually followed by a dip in my personal infinity pool or a coffee on the private deck. I am genuinely sad to leave this place but I must switch gears to see another side of eco-luxury in the area. A quick stop in the boutique and I find some unique jewellery and other gifts before I am off to my next stop on this journey.
A short drive away and I arrive at the St. Regis Punta Mita. Part of one of the most recognizable luxury brands with its roots in the swinging social scene and aristocracy of New York City at the turn of the twentieth century. From its first hotel in 1904 it now boasts 31 properties across the world and is part of the Starwood Hotels chain.
My room is opulently spacious. While doing a tour with my personal butler I am caught staring at the outdoor shower wondering if I could logistically construct one on my patio. There is a full gym, tennis court and 5 km running trail next to two Signature Jack Nicklaus golf courses making it perfect for exploring and enjoying the outdoors. The hotel opened in January 2009 and has 89 guestrooms, 31 luxurious suites and one presidential suite with three bedrooms and some deliver an ocean view.
I am invited to the champagne ritual that takes place at 6pm sharp every Friday. Like St. Regis hotels across the world it has many weekly events steeped in the traditions of the original hotel. After the ceremonial sabering of champagne I mingle to get a sense of the guests. Everyone is opulently dressed and there is a mix of accents chatting and laughing over festive canapés.
Dinner at the five-diamond Carolina restaurant, one of only four in Mexico, is my choice for dinner. The Chilean sea bass is without doubt the best I have ever had and I pair it with a delightful chenin blanc/chardonnay blend from Casa Madero, the oldest winery in Mexico. No dinner is complete without a flaming coffee made tableside with precision and flamboyance. This experience is shear perfection on every level.
The days flow into one here all filled with exploration, relaxation and perfect meals. On my last night I opt to have a casual dinner at a pop up Mexican restaurant on the beach. With the backdrop of a sunset hand painted in the richest colours by Van Gogh himself, the sheer beauty of the place and the experience hits me. That is the power of Riviera Nayarit.
At around 10pm as I am walking back to my room I hear the beat of rich salsa bouncing through the trees. Still in my mode of adventure from the day’s zip line and ATV excursions I decide to investigate. A quick trip along a path, through a short hedge, across a tennis court, and then through an open gate I come across a fabulous party under the stars! A familiar face turns to greet me, it is Carl the General Manager dressed in a festive red shirt and white pants like Papa Noel. “Welcome to our staff holiday party”, he says inviting me in with a smile and then zips away to get me a drink.
I meet Linda my concierge as I walk to the bathroom and she smiles and ask, “Are you having a good time Mr. Cox?” I return the smile and in my version of Spanish try to reassure her that I surely am but tonight I hope she gets to enjoy herself more. I stay at the fiesta until way after my bedtime and like a new toy I am passed around the dance floor to various partners swaying to salsa, merengue, bachatta and a Mexican version of the electric slide. The true testament of any brand is in the passion and dedication of its staff. The St. Regis Punta Mita could be the poster child for that mantra.
The following afternoon as I sit in the departure lounge still uber mellow from an amazing massage at the Remede Spa and I find myself smiling. I had found the answer to the question I had when I arrived. Riviera Nayarit truly over-delivers on its promise of eco-luxury. There is the seclusion and escape of Imanta and still the chic sophistication of the St. Regis. Everyone working in hospitality that I met there shared a sense that this is not just a job…it is an authentic joy in generously sharing with the world the home that they are so proud of. Hasta la proxima vez Mexico.