Story and photos by Susanna Starr
An attractive and gracious concierge checked us into our luxury suite overlooking the intense turquoise colors of the Caribbean Ocean. We had arrived at Grand Velas Riviera Maya. As the hotel’s official representative, it’s the job of the concierge to make people who are staying here in this five-diamond, all-inclusive resort on the Maya Riviera in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, feel welcome upon arrival and to point out all the various features of their stunning oceanfront suite.
Some of the features were the king size bed, the wrap-around large screen TV floating in the middle of the room, the open mini-bar, the comfortable couch and tables, the spacious bathroom with Jacuzzi tub for two, the lavish double sinks, the opulent towels and bathrobes, the welcoming fruit tray and other luxurious details. The outside area reflected the spaciousness and opulence of the interior with tables and chairs, double chaise lounge, a small pool and brilliant colored bougainvillea spilling over the private balcony–all overlooking a verdant lawn below. Beyond the immaculately kept lawn were a pristine beach and the magnificent colors of the Caribbean Ocean. This Exclusive Grand Class section of the resort provided 90 sumptuous 1300 plus square feet suites, all fronting the ocean and designed for complete privacy.
As part of our stay, we were also treated to a tour of the property. After unpacking, we had an indulgent lunch in their beachside restaurant, the Bistro, located between the first and second sections where we opted to sit outside enjoying the food and watching the ocean. A perfect way to relax! After our leisurely lunch, we began our hosted tour by visiting the second section known as the Ambassador Section with ocean views and 195 beautiful suites of 1200 plus square feet. This particular section catered to families that the Exclusive Grand Class section did not, designed to be family friendly. The suites and their amenities were very similar in both these sections, including the espresso machines, and with all accommodations having an oceanfront view.
In addition to the three sections that housed the different types of accommodations, were five restaurants, each with a different theme, lobbies with their individual artistic motifs and extensive landscaping outside of each. In addition to the daytime beachfront Bistro restaurant where we had lunch there was also, in the Ambassador section, an upstairs gourmet Mexican restaurant known as the Frida. In the Grand Class section, exclusively for night time dining for adults only, was an elegant French restaurant called the Piaf featuring internationally acclaimed Executive Chef Michel Mustiers. Having dinner there was an experience never to be forgotten.
Although not fronting the beach, it was the third and last section, the Zen Grand, that was more of a departure from the two beach front sections. Each of the 206 suites here was 1100 square feet, and had many beautiful amenities, including the ubiquitous espresso machine. We took a jitney to get to this secluded area, located in the jungle, but enhanced by cenotes (natural wells), tropical flowers, plants and trees. Each of the rooms, rather than facing the ocean, opened onto a small river, replete with water lilies and other botánica exotica lending an atmosphere of serenity. Because this was the section that housed the convention center which provided facilities for group meetings, everything was designed for quiet and privacy, but jitney service to the beach was always available.
This section also had two restaurants, one with an Italian cuisine, the Lucca and one with an Asian theme, the Sen Lin. It would be possible to drop the kids off to have fun and games (with supervision) after they had pasta at the Lucca Restaurant and have the parents enjoy a special dinner at the nearby Asian restaurant, the Sen Lin .
The spa was also housed here. As to be expected, it was world-class with a special room designed for individual treatments, including the one specifically set up to accommodate the pampering of brides. Here, too, was the small aquarium providing the little fish that nibbled away at your toes for a change from the standard pedicure. Leading to this complex, from the place the jitney brought us, was a thatched roofed wooden walkway through the jungle–beautiful and romantic. And along the walkway were the spectacular features of the natural cenotes, enhanced with tropical plantings. It was also along this walk that we witnessed one of the most spectacular sunsets I’ve ever seen.
It was while walking here that I learned that this whole spectacular manifestation of luxury was located on the very same land that I had lived on 39 years ago! It was where I had had camped with my young family for several months after selling our suburban home and driving down to the wilds of the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico to live out our vision of ¨leaving it all behind.¨ The two-kilometer road that had been hacked out by machete through the jungle had now been paved, but was the very same one our big red truck had lumbered down, top heavy with the overhead camper that was our home on wheels. At the time, it was the bare beginning of what was later to become the resort “Capitan Lafitte,” named after the famous French pirate, Jean Lafitte who had pillaged the coast in this area in earlier times.
The beach that we looked down on from our luxury suite was the very same beach we lived on so many years ago, that my children played on, and where we sat around our nightly campfires while eating. We were sure we had discovered Paradise. Actually, we had discovered Paradise and now, almost 40 years later, it was available to others–just with a slightly different lifestyle.
If I was amazed at it all, what would Lafitte have thought? Travel can often reveal unexpected experiences, and this was one of them!
IF YOU GO
Grand Velas, Riviera Maya