Mexico: Cabo: Where to Stay: Most Indulgent: One & Only Palmilla
One & Only Palmilla
If the One & Only Palmilla were an actress, she would be Charlize Theron, who can convincingly play a dressed-down ingenue but is a glamorous, Galliano-clad creature at heart. Part family-friendly enclave, part indulgent adult playground, the resort maintains a delicate balance between laid-back and über-chic, mostly thanks to the welcoming and caring staff, who prevent it from venturing too far into over-the-top (though there’s some of that, too). It helps that the hub of the property is a traditional Mexican hacienda, complete with a whitewashed chapel and bell tower, that was built in 1956, when this part of Baja was a sleepy backwater. In the 1970s, Palmilla began operations as a modest beachside hotel that drew passionate fishermen, but it wasn’t until 2003, when Sol Kerzner (South African tycoon and chairman of the company that owns the One & Only brand) injected $90 million into renovations and expansions that the hotel joined the ranks of Las Ventanas and other luxury retreats. (In fact, Kerzner wooed several key players away from the fabled resort down the road, among them legendary managing director Edward Steiner and pastry chef Steven Lindsay.)
The setting is gorgeous: adobe Mission-style buildings, on twenty-five lushly planted acres, house 172 large, lavish guest suites, all of which overlook the sparkling Sea of Cortez. A recent renovation updated and in some cases enlarged the rooms and introduced thirteen fabulous casitas—oversized suites, including a one-bedroom, that have private plunge pools and breezy open floor plans. Though Palmilla has a bewildering variety of room categories, all accommodations have light, contemporary furniture and colorful Mexican accents, like wrought-iron chandeliers, ceramic-tiled sinks, handwoven blankets and reproduction armoires and wooden chests. There’s Wi-Fi throughout, iPod connection cables and flat-screen plasma TVs. The centerpiece of the room renovations will be the new, four-bedroom Villa Cortez, a freestanding 10,500-square-foot complex at the property’s eastern edge.
The other exciting debut at Palmilla is that of star chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who opened Market restaurant and who oversees a sushi-seviche bar (Suviche, natch), the menu for the poolside Breeze restaurant and the in-room dining options. Sporting sleek interiors and a loungey vibe, the restaurant and adjacent bar area add a touch of urban chic to Palmilla, though the expansive sea vistas from the open archways that line Market are unmistakably Baja. It’s safe to predict that the restaurant will be the table to book this season, even for guests staying at other resorts. Meanwhile, Agua, on the other side of the property, by the kid-friendly pool area, still turns out dependably delectable Mexican-Mediterranean fare (some dishes also show influences from Morocco, home of longtime chef Larbi Darouch).
Thanks to the size and layout of Palmilla, which has lots of serene tucked-away spots and two fabulous pool areas, the resort caters to families as well as couples or friends traveling together, though couples looking for a romantic getaway may prefer the sexy vibe at Las Ventanas. A KidsOnly club and babysitting service are available. Other on-property highlights are a nice stretch of beach where it’s safe to swim (a rare occurrence in Cabo), a state-of-the-art gym and an ESPA with thirteen treatment rooms and beautifully relaxing grounds. Guests also have easy access to the new Palmilla Tennis Club and the Jack Nicklaus–designed Palmilla Golf Club, nearby, though expert golfers make the drive to play Cabo Real. Suites from $675.
DISTANCE FROM AIRPORT: Twenty minutes
WHO SHOULD STAY: Travelers who like a dose of over-the-top extravagance: you can arrange to be picked up from the airport in a Hummer, each room comes with butler service, and limited-edition Christian Louboutin espadrilles, complete with red soles, are on sale in the boutique.
WHO SHOULD NOT STAY: Couples who want a child-free vacation and those who prefer smaller, boutique properties. Also, if you have to ask…Palmilla is expensive, especially when it comes to food and romantic extras, such as renting one of the private “floating” daybeds in small coves along the beach.
ROOMS TO GET: It depends where on the property you want to be based. Families like Casa Tres Palmas, close to the kid-friendly pool area, Agua restaurant and the beach (it’s one of the property’s older buildings, so the rooms have a cozier, less open floor plan as well as beautiful ceramic-tiled floors and shower-only bathrooms). Couples should go for one of the new casitas, especially one in the Casa Playa block. For the ultimate in space and privacy, book No. 2118, a corner suite with a large terrace and an outdoor shower. Villa Cortez comes at celebrity rates ($12,000 a night), but the setup—four bedrooms, one of which has two queen beds—also works for several couples or even families traveling together.
INDAGARE TIP: Don’t miss the weekly barbecue in front of the lit-up chapel; along the path leading there, you’ll also encounter stands of artisans selling their silver, pottery and fabrics. Exercise fiends, meanwhile, can take advantage of the recently introduced virtual trainer at the state-of-the-art gym: your fitness routine is saved on a memory card you can insert into any machine. It sounds gimmicky but is actually helpful and yours to keep when you leave.
Read a member discussion on Las Ventanas and Palmilla— Simone Girner 12/15/2008