Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Hotel Review - The St. Regis Punta Mita
I’d first heard of the place, a broad green peninsula on the central Pacific coast of Mexico, from a well known “Rockosaurus.”
At the top of the enormous Bahia de Bandares, thirty miles from Puerto Vallarta, on a privately-owned six-km square peninsula limned by white beaches, sit two of the world’s most exclusive international resorts, the Four Seasons and the St. Regis. In the middle of a world tour last year, the rocker in question had a short break between tour legs, and had rented a villa there, inviting a score of family members to join.
“Sounds terrific,” I said when he told me about it.
He nodded, paused, with some dissatisfaction hovering. (He's a man of discriminating taste, usually staying when in, say, London at the Berkeley or the Mandarin Oriental.) “Terrific? I suppose,” he said. “But... well... they wouldn’t let us land our helicopter on the grounds.”
“Oh,” I said. “How inconvenient.” (But how considerate for the other guests!)
I myself arrived there not by helicopter but by taxi, at the end of a one city tour... as a tourist in fact! I'd been sent to Mexico City by British Airways High Life magazine to report on the vibrant rebirth of that city and its Nueva Onda of young artists, as mentioned HERE. The magazine's editor suggested that before heading home I look at one of the resorts on the Pacific Coast. After braving the Zona Maco art fair, the restaurant visits, the studio look-ins, I thought such a visit might be, if not fully deserved, at least needed.
On the south side of Punta Mita sits the diminutive St. Regis Resort. It's an elegant, slightly formal place, as befits a resort that is part of a hotel group founded a century ago by New York grandee John Jacob Astor. Admittedly, I never became accustomed there to having a personal butler, as was assigned to each room, but I suspect that many other guests (including assorted rock stars) arrived already used to such. The interiors of both the guest suites and the public spaces bring a Provencal touch to Mexico. Their spa is an expansive complex of treatment rooms, open-air showers, hot pools and jacuzzis with sunshine beating down and the sound of waves nearby. Of their three restaurants (and all restaurants are open to guests of either resort) the highlight is Carolina, named after JJA’s wife, an award-winning fine dining restaurant, overseen by Sylvain Desbois. The wine list has depth and breadth, and I encountered a wine I’d always wanted to try, the legendary Vega Sicilia of Ribiero del Duero, Spain. It was worth the wait.
continued after the break...
Aside from the surfing and kayaking, both resorts offer snorkel and scuba diving, yachting, hiking and birding in the Sierra mountains, deep sea fishing, and (if you preferred to put things back into the water) the opportunity to help turtles hatch. Punta Mita sits on a migratory path for three species of whales, so if the time is right they may be seen from balcony or boat.
What Punta Mita is best known for though is its TWO tournament-level, oceanside golf courses, designed by golfing great Jack Nicklaus, the "Golden Bear." I’d only ever in my life played two or three rounds, and considered golf simply an excuse for an afternoon stroll; but I happened to meet the resident pro, Phillip Ferrari, who said, “Golf along the ocean? At least try one hole here. It will change your life.” I chose, hole #3b, the famed Tail of the Whale.
The tee for that legendary hole sits on a small bluff above a beach. The green is on a small natural island 180 yards off shore. From the tee, the island looked tiny, a patch of grass surrounded by a ring of boulders and sand traps, with blue ocean around, as you may see below. The fairway: all water, with a thin walkway accessible at low tide off to the right.
“Don’t think about it,” Phil said. “Just put a tee down, no ball on it.” Following his instruction, I did so, then swung missing the tee, creating an enormous divot in the finely-cut, expensive grass. “Don’t think about that either! You just created a job for someone here. Employment!”
Phil proceeded to give me a three minute lesson: forget everything I’d ever been told to do, just get comfortable, swing how you like, and swing through. After a few practice swings I began to breathe deeply, and finally, for the first time all week, I relaxed.
Soon I was hitting the top of the tee every time. “Now put a ball on it.” I put a ball upon the tee. I swung. And hit the ball, I did. For the first time ever I felt that perfect ping, a harmonic resonance, like tuning fork struck by hammer hitting just the right note, the perfect note.
Phil hooted. I squinted. The ball had sailed 180 yards across the ocean and landed on the island, right on the green itself.
“I told you I was going to change your life. How do you feel?”
I had to think for a moment, considered, then said, “Like a rock star.”
HOW TO GET THERE
Fly BA to Mexico City, then Mexicana to Puerta Vallarta (1.5 hours). Or Fly BA to Dallas or Los Angeles, and continue to Puerto Vallarta via American Airlines (2.5 hours). Punta Mita is 45 minutes by car from PV airport.
WHERE TO STAY
St. Regis Punta Mita is a bijou on the Bahia de Banderas, with butler service, and a world class restaurant. It offers access to two championship golf courses.
NEED TO KNOW
The Labyrinth of Solitude, in which Mexico’s greatest poet, the Nobel Laureate Octavio Paz, considers what it is to be Mexican. One of the classic essays in 20th century literature. (Penguin, 14.99)
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquival, a fun novel about a romance and its frustration, with local recipes thrown in.
Viva Mexico, Charles Flandrau’s 1908 comic and colorful memoir of living on his brother’s coffee plantation, with far-flung excursions to sleepy countryside. (Eland, 12.99)
John Huston’s film adaptation of Tennessee Williams’s hot-house drama The Night of the Iguana, set in Puerto Vallarta when it was but a humble fishing village. One of Richard Burton’s strongest performances, opposite the smokin’ Ava Gardner.
Don’t explore the wider region without research on your route and safety. Consult specifics via the UK FCO and US State Department travel section.