Slipping into Mexico recently, I put my mind to compiling a list of unusual south-of-the-border resorts.
Hey, no es facil, amigos.
Indeed, it proved to be a dickens of a task. In the beginning I'd intended to include this favorite haunt of mine at Zihuatanejo (nothing fancy, mind you, but terribly appealing in a casual sense of the word). And then there were others--rare gems at Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta and Acapulco.
But in a country with an abundance of worthy candidates, the process of elimination got so complicated that eventually I narrowed it down to a couple of rare resorts--Las Hadas in Manzanillo and Hacienda Cocoyoc near Cuernavaca.
Without argument, both are unbeatable for their individualism and personalities.
Indeed, each possesses a peculiar charm. Particularly Las Hadas. It is here that the cognoscenti settle in regularly. Sometimes for a few days. Occasionally for several weeks.
Las Hadas--it rises along an uncluttered beach 185 miles south of Puerto Vallarta on Mexico's Pacific shore--is a remote hideaway featuring a maze of minarets, cupolas and mosque-like domes. Whitewashed and spotless, Las Hadas resembles a transplant from the shores of North Africa, complete with pool-side harem.
It was the setting for the movie "10." It was also the scene of a gala several years ago when film stars and socialites the world over flew down in their private jets. They all wore white. The idea was to match guests with the setting--the resort's striking white buildings, stair-stepped up the cliff from the beach.
Las Hadas attracts those who otherwise might jet away to the Costa Smeralda or the Costa del Sol. It possesses this special appeal. The builder confided in me once that even jet setters tire of the same old scene, which is why he created this enclave on Mexico's Pacific shore. This fellow, the late Antenor Patino, was seeking a haven for himself and his friends when he created Las Hadas, now more than a decade old.
It is a retreat that is every bit as Moorish as a minaret. A guest strolling through its streets would find it difficult to determine if he or she had been dropped on some Moroccan beach or a seaside resort in Algeria or Tunisia.
Cobbled streets wind past handsome villas, blindingly white. The main swimming pool (there are two) would accommodate a pasha's harem in proper style. Islands appear at either end and there is a bridge so that guests may cross from side to side.
Elsewhere there are tennis courts and a golf course that's surrounded by pineapple fields, sugar cane, banana groves and coconut palms. When one stubborn fellow refused to move away while the golf course was being landscaped, his home was simply surrounded by the golf course, all of which provided him with the biggest lawn in all of Mexico. Golf Digest described it as one of the most scenic courses in the world.
Las Hadas was designed by Spanish architect Luis Ezquerra who had dreamed his entire life of building a casbah of his very own, an Arabian wedding cake the likes of which a sheik would sing praises about.
Each stone in the mosaic-like street was laid by hand. Statues were fashioned on the spot. A hill was dynamited to make room for additional villas.
In the beginning the owner envisioned other progress. He had in mind a hunting lodge not unlike the one the late actor William Holden created in Africa, the Mt. Kenya Safari Club.
Still, the village of Manzanillo is a huge disappointment. It provides little night life--only a few cantinas and several dismal B-girl bars.
The beauty of Manzanillo is found elsewhere--along the beaches, miles from the humdrum of the port itself. Particularly at Las Hadas.
The trouble is, until recently Las Hadas had become a trifle scruffy. In the beginning it was rated among the finest resorts in Mexico. But neglect took its toll. The plumbing didn't always work. Tiles cracked. Cobbles broke loose.
Now an affiliate of Westin Hotels has taken over the management and, several million pesos later, Las Hadas is earning back its old reputation. New tiles. New plumbing. New wiring.
At Las Hadas it is not unlikely that one will bump into Raquel Welch or sone other celebrity. Or ordinary honeymooners in search of escape and romance.
In the beginning, Senor Patino spent six years and $33 million creating his dream. Taking a cue from Laurance Rockefeller with his reputation for molding resorts out of desolation, Patino imported thousands of palm trees and planted the hillsides with bougainvillea, hibiscus and other blooms to turn the setting into a harem-like garden.
Man-made waterfalls spill musically and balconies drip with hanging gardens.
Rooms--there are 203--are a mixture of marble, tile and Moorish arches. Guests are served breakfast on the terraces, some with superb views.