Saturday, May 18, 2013
Hotel Review - Four Seasons Punta Mita
The juice was green. And because this was Mexico I suspected, correctly, that this might be cactus.
The light, coming off the wide expanse of Pacific, was dazzling. “Glare,” I thought. I adjusted my sunglasses.
Was that a breeze wafting up from the jungly vegetation below and through the expansive lobby? I wrote in my notebook: “Draughty?”
The reception lounge was calm, quiet, with just one couple checking out, far off, at the front desk. I knit my brow, and wondered: “Undue space?”
I saw a splash on the horizon. A dolphin possibly. Exotic birds darted here and there through the palm trees, heading for the Sierra Madre mountains, the haunt of sea eagles, behind. On a rooftop down the hill a lizard sunned himself. I remembered that John Huston’s film The Night of the Iguana was filmed nearby. I sniffed. “All this wild life... ever have any problems?”
The check-in manager sat across smiling, nonplussed by my act. The fact was we were in one of the most beautiful spots on earth, once called by native Americans “the place where heaven and earth meet,” and everything was perfect.
As mentioned in an earlier post (link below), I’d first heard of Punta Mita, 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 legs, and had rented a villa there, inviting a score of family members to join. “Sounds terrific,” I said.
He paused, some dissatisfaction hovering. “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!)
continued after the break...
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 as well as its Nueva Onda of young artists.
I quickly learned that Four Seasons Punta Mita was not merely luxurious, a rustic and relaxed Mexican chic, but staffed by some of the most considerate people I’d ever encountered. The resort, scattered over the slope of a hill, hosts a range of accommodations, from condos to luxury villas, and one family-oriented complex was encircled by a slow-flowing, man-made “river.” We were shown to a casita with glass doors opening on to a terrace framed by frangipani trees. Beyond was pristine beach.
Far along the sand two young men in shorts and polo shirts waved, beach butlers, discreetly setting up an umbrella and lounge chair. Kayaks, paddle boards, and surf board were stacked nearby. (There are five good surf breaks on the peninsula.) In the other direction a small island lay off shore with a small flag waving on it, a golf hole. This was the famous Tail of the Whale, the only natural island green in the world, part of two golf courses there designed by golfing great Jack Nicklaus, and his favorite par 3 hole in the world.
That evening we visited the Four Seasons’ casual beach-side restaurant specializing in Mexican cuisine to sample its chili infused margarita (cool, citrusy, lip-smackingly spicy), before heading up the hill to another of their dining spots that specialized in Asian fusion and did extraordinary miso-soy things with huachinango, a white fish akin to red snapper that we were to encounter happily and repeatedly there. Luckily we arrived at a table overlooking the resort just as a former staff member, now working as an assistant winemaker in Baja, had returned like an alumnus made good to share his knowledge, and his wine, with his former work-mates. They included us in the bounty, and the wines were very good indeed.
The next day I rose at the crack of dawn to see what the tide had brought to the doorstep.
Outside I saw a worker tending to some bushes, snipping here and there. He had no idea anyone was watching him, but as he worked he smiled to himself. Truly, my attempt, for journalistic purposes, to test the patience of this staff was never going to work with these people.
I resolved to turn my energies elsewhere--the gym, I discovered, was state of the art. Their spa offered massages traditional for Swedes (with vigor) or for Mayans (lashings of cactus goop). My companion, who’d been eager to devote her time to the local turtle hatchery found that such activity was out of season and so sought consolation in the resort’s boutique, one that would put a woman in good standing with the fashionistas in Tulum. When I went looking for her, I found golf and beach kit for men, including a dizzying array of customized Havianas flip-flops (cognoscenti there stick to the brown and navy).
Aside from the surfing and kayaking, both resorts offer snorkel and scuba diving, yachting, hiking and birding in the Sierra mountains, or off shore on the Marietta islands, deep sea fishing, and as mentioned (if you preferred to put things back into the water) that 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.
Of course, one can also just sit on the beach.
As mentioned in my St. Regis post, what Punta Mita is best known for though is its TWO tournament-level, oceanside golf courses. 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 trap, with blue ocean around. 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.” I swung missing the tee, and created a large divot. “Don’t think about that either! You just created a job for someone here. Employment!” He 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 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.
And I hit the ball, and 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.
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
Four Seasons Punta Mita has elegant villas and beach front casitas in a rustic, jungly setting, with activities for families, the friendliest of staffs. Details HERE.
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.
STAYING FOR MORE THAN 72 HOURS?
Spend an afternoon at laid back, hippy chic Sayulita, take a surf lesson and have fish tacos on the beach.
Venture to the Marietta Islands, home to a species of bird (the blue-footed booby) found only there and on the Galapagos.
NOTE TO READERS:
I'd earlier written about Punta Mita's St. Regis resort on the other side of the peninsula, about which HERE. Apologies for any redundancy.