Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Hacienda Hopping on Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula

The regal HaciendaTemozon and its now silent smokestack (photos by M. Richmond)

Sometimes it's fun to drop out of life for awhile and unplug from technology - if only for a few days - and transport ourselves to a kinder, gentler world where life isn't so complicated.

Mexico - a country very dear to my heart - is such a place and fortunately for visitors to the Yucatán Peninsula - Starwood Hotels' Luxury Collection Haciendas offer several perfect places in which to peek into the past while being tucked into the lap of luxury.

Scattered throughout the area, estancias - now known as haciendas - are a testament to how Spanish conquistadores lived while they eked out a living (usually growing sisal) in their adopted homeland.
Today, a handful of these haciendas have been refurbished and transformed into small hotels catering to guests who appreciate Old World charm combined with modern-day amenities.  I had the opportunity, recently to explore two of those boutique - and unique - properties.
Guestrooms tucked along the way

Hacienda San José

My first stop was the petite 18th century Hacienda San José, where a lush enclave with brilliant bougainvilleas, graceful palm trees and magical walkways lined with lush foliage paved the way for this special visit.

My only regret was that it's the perfect spot for a romantic getaway - and I was alone. Each of the 11 guestrooms and suites and four Maya-style casitas has been authentically restored to 21st-century comfort with quaint colonial touches.

Guestrooms - some with outdoor bathtubs - are clustered around a patio, while the Maya casitas - tucked under typical grass roofs or palapas - are located in a more secluded area.
Secluded outdoor bath promises relaxation

My guestroom - with original floors, doors and windows - enveloped me in all of the creature comforts, while a small spa offering an assortment of treatments was a welcome "perk." 

Dining - another time capsule experience - took place in a former factory building overlooking the main garden, where international and regional fare is created using organic ingredients grown in the hacienda's gardens.

This stately 17th century throwback to Old Mexico embraces 28 guestrooms and suites surrounded by stunning gardens.

Charming guestrooms are tucked into original buildings refurbished and decked out with modern-day trappings of luxury. Many are named for their original purpose: Pharmacy, School, Pay-house, Butler's Room etc. The Presidential Suite - once the bedroom of the hacienda's owner - beckons with a private pool.  

Here, too, I was tucked into a room echoing vestiges from the past, yet furnished with opulent modern-day amenities.

Traces of a gentler age are scattered throughout: an abandoned railroad track, ancient coaches, mining carts, gracefully crumbling walls and a long-silent silent smoke stack overlooking the beautiful landscape.

The evening meal took place in the enchanting restaurant overlooking the main gardens, punctuated by a large swimming pool and boasted a menu highlighting regional and international fare.

 A highlight of my visit was my encounter with "Habanero" the gentle resident donkey who took me on a short ride in an ancient mining cart to the mystical underground cenote where I swam and soaked up nature's caresses. After that, I opted for a soothing massage inside a softly illuminated cave housing another cenote. 

Hands-on cooking classes, spiritual limpias (cleansings) by the resident Maya shaman and excursions to nearby tourist sites were added adventures offered along the way.

No matter which hacienda you choose, you'll uncover magic - along with myriad memories to last a lifetime.

Traces of the past are everywhere

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The "Agony and the Ecstasy" of Planning a Destination Wedding

The love birds

The Background - 

My daughter Kimberly recently got engaged to her longtime boyfriend - and best friend - Chris on the sacred island of Cozumel in Mexico. 

I know what you're thinking: "Wow, great news! "You must be so excited and looking forward to planning the wedding of her dreams!"

Ordinarily you'd be right however, this promises to be no "ordinary" wedding planning experience - especially for the mother and father of the proposed bride.

And while it's definitely a very happy occasion, there should be no reason for me to draw a deep sigh from the core of my soul and shudder about the logistics of planning a wedding which will inevitably include guests from around the world - in a far-flung destination nowhere near where the bride, groom - or their parents - live.

My glory days with  Pan Am
After growing up around the globe, thanks to my dad's career with a multi-national company and later roaming the world as a Pan Am "stewardess" as we were known in those days (don't ask "which" days), I married yet another multi-national businessman, which landed me in South America, followed by nearly 20 years in Mexico City - where I was married and where my two daughters were born.

Kimberly lived there till the age of 17 when her dad and I divorced and I took her - along with her then-15-year-old sister Monique - kicking and screaming to live in the "good ole USA" and exposed them to a totally different culture and set of rules. I could write the proverbial book on that nightmare experience, but suffice it to say, we all survived and actually remained close!

Mexico City's signature Angel

Fortunately, my girls were able to return often to Mexico, where they maintained their bi-cultural experience, and luckily my ex husband Jack and I have managed to remain friends - probably even better than before.

Because of my career as a travel writer, both my daughters and grandson have had access to a host of travel opportunities and practically grew up on cruise ships including: Disney, Princess, Viking, NCL, Holland America - and others - so it's no wonder that travel is in our collective bloodstreams.

New Year's Eve on board Holland America ms Westerdam

Looking back on Kimberly's Hotel, Restaurant, Travel Administration degree from UMass Amherst and study abroad in Oxford, England - followed by an amazing career at Hyatt Hotels and Resorts, Meliá Hotel and Resorts and Saks Fifth Ave's flagship Manhattan store in sales and marketing - is it any wonder that a global citizen with an insatiable wanderlust was born?

The fact that she went on to launch her own very successful Runaway Bride Destination Weddings and became an expert wedding planner and the proverbial frosting on the wedding cake -  should make planning her own wedding  a "snap" - right?

Time will tell on that score and I invite you to accompany me on what promises to be an incredible - and possibly terror-fraught journey!