By Jim Byers
When I got to my ocean view suite at the One and Only Palmilla Resort in May there was a sample of fruit in a square, creamy colored ceramic bowl; a green apple, some red grapes, a perfect yellow grapefruit. None of them struck my fancy so I left them there.
The next day I came back to my room mid-day and the maid had placed a banana next to the other fruit. Now we’re talking, I thought. There’s my first morning bite to go along with my much-needed shot from the in-room espresso machine.
I had my coffee and my banana the next morning while I fiddled with my laptop, then went for a full breakfast. That afternoon, I came back to find a fresh banana again nestled in with the other fruit. I also found a scattering of fresh flowers on the bed and a small, ceramic cactus with a card explaining the features of a plant known as Opuntia Robusta, also known as the prickly pear.
The next day, I once again had a fresh banana in my fruit bowl.
There are a lot of big reasons to visit a place like One and Only Palmilla; a large, beautiful beach, a wide variety of truly luscious restaurants, a wavy, colorful day bed on your patio stacked with brilliant blue, green and orange cushions, and a 95-foot yacht you can charter as you sail the Sea of Cortez, sipping on Veuve Clicquot and splashing at regular intervals in the deep-blue waters.
There also are a million small details that separate a place like this from the competition; things like a golf cart to take you to the beach, an in-room jar of special-made tequila you can dip into anytime you like, lovely blue agave bath products, a bar of dark chocolate studded with pumpkin seeds, walnuts and dried apricots on your table when you arrive late at night after a cocktail at the fire pit overlooking the ocean. Not to mention bananas.
The property, for those unaware, was badly damaged by Hurricane Odile in September of last year. Working with top designers, the folks at The One and Only resort team managed to get things back in about a half-a-year; remarkable given the challenges and the “horrible” shape the property was in.
A first-time visitor arrived in May to see a resort that looked both new and established at the same time, with a variety of white-washed units with red-tile roofs spilling down gentle hills towards the blue sea. The landscaping is as good as any resort I’ve visited, with almond trees and mangoes and palms and riotous bougainvillea.
The food here is utterly top-notch. At SEARED, which is overseen by celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, I try to sneak the citrus-topped burrata under my shirt to take home to my room overlooking the ocean but am caught red, or in this case, white handed. I don’t much like polenta, but the dish they served at SEARED had a lovely, crispy coating. The jalapeno fritter was spicy and tender and light, and the lamb filet was almost like a dessert; sweet and tender with caramelized onions.
At breakfast I sat a table overlooking the Sea of Cortez and dined on Sonoran shredded beef with scrambled eggs, onions and red and yellow peppers, along with tiny potatoes, cherry tomatoes sliced just so and creamy, fresh avocado. They had San Francisco-quality sourdough toast, served with smoky pineapple jam in a tiny, adorable jar.
There appeared to be staff everywhere but the service never felt stuffy. I was later told they have 900-plus employees for 173 rooms. They have the workers, but they also have the right attitude.
Managing Director Peter Dowling says the motto here is “what you want, when you want it.”
“Some hotels might say ‘Oh, it’s 11 a.m., we don’t serve ice cream yet.’ That won’t happen here. If you wake up late and want your bacon and eggs at 2 p.m., you can have it.”
My room was a suite with a dark wood headboard featuring intricate carvings on each side. The room featured an arching ceiling, a huge, round mirror and leather straps on the bar and dresser versus simple wood; another bespoke touch I appreciated. There was an enormous sofa big enough for the starting lineup of the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team to share, plus a gorgeous rain fall shower and a bathroom decorated in Mexican mosaics of light green and muted yellow. My large verandah/porch had a day bed that I slept on one night, listening to the sound of the waves crash on the beach below.
The spa was wonderful. But I was mostly taken by the chance at my first-ever barber straight razor shave. The fellow poked and prodded and steamed my face and got every stray bit of graying hair he could find in an hour-long session that had me drifting off to sleep. I woke up just in time for an offer of a glass of fine Scotch or tequila. Thanks, I said but not at 10 a.m.
The beach on the south end of the property goes on for miles, while there’s a smaller, protected stretch of sand along with beautiful coves on the eastern edge. Pelicans could be spotted soaring and swooping in the air and perched on the jagged black rocks as they eyeballed a midday snack.
The restaurant coffee could use a bit of an upgrade, and the beaches were a bit stormy when I was there; making it tough to swim. But the pools were magnificent; free form beauties lined with pink, blue and green tiles that shimmered in the sun as you swam underwater; pulling you along in a series of sparkles like nothing I’ve ever seen in a resort pool.
On the way to the airport after a three-day visit that was far too short, one of the women I was travelling with asked if I’d noticed the sewing kits. I hadn’t.
“Oh, it was amazing,” she said. “There was a kit in my room when I got there. But the next day I noticed they had taken stock of the clothes and colors I had in the closet and brought back a new kit with thread that matched my wardrobe. They even had pre-threaded some of the needles with the right colors.”
FACT BOX One and Only Palmilla has a variety of programs, including a kids club. You also can learn to surf or play tennis or golf. I loved the cooking and margarita-tasting session at a wonderful nearby restaurant and farm, Los Tamarindos. Website:www.oneandonlyresorts.com
About the author
Jim Byers is a freelance travel writer based in Toronto. He served five years as Travel Editor at the Toronto Star, the largest paper in Canada. His work can be found regularly in Canadian newspapers and magazines, including Zoomer magazine, WestJet magazine and others. He also contributes to the Houston Chronicle, Dallas Morning News and The Australian newspaper. Check his blogs at www.jimbyerstravel.com and follow him on Twitter @jimbyerstravel.