We’ve been here before, Sayulita, Mexico. Every winter for the past three years. I wanted to try somewhere else–Tulum, Merida, Trancoso–I really did, but in the end, we couldn’t resist the pull of Casa Ninamu or the laid-back town with prayer flags and street food on every block or the sounds and solitude of jungle. We don’t go to town much, but when we do, we travel down a long dusty dirt road that winds through bright-green palms, towering old gnarled trees with immense trunks, Higuera boughs, and unexpected pops of orange and fuchsia bougainvillea that cascade down the rare clay wall or forgotten gate. We pass the candy-colored cemetery for freshly grilled shrimp on a stick at Playa de Los Muertos, or oysters with hot sauce and lime, and in town, we gulp down smoothies on the beach and browse the handmade textiles at the hammock store. The organic farmer’s market is bigger and busier than I remember, and there’s a new shop selling dreamcatchers made from ripped leather, which makes me think things are changing around here, but it still feels unassuming, if not undiscovered. And, most importantly, the sun still shines in the middle of winter.
Last week we got back from a week at Casa Ninamu, which I wrote about last year after meeting the lovely owners Anne Menke and Johann Ackermann and their three delightful, tow-headed boys. Staying there was a different kind of experience. It was less about the beautiful interiors–with built-in stucco sofas; colorful, handcrafted Mexican textiles; and cobalt blue walls that popped against the lush jungle surrounding it–and more about how we spent our time doing almost nothing at all.
There are so many things I love about the town of Sayulita that I never anticipated how much I’d enjoy staying just outside it. Aside from the thundering waves breaking on the beach (loud enough to wake me up on occasion), the insects and birds chirping up a storm, and the creature-rustling of the flora outside, there is absolute silence. It’s a quiet so deep, it makes a swaying palm frond sound louder than an ambulance hurtling down a city street. Most days, we wake up slowly–with a view of the ocean out the wide-open bedroom doors–and drink coffee, make breakfast and read, while our kids draw at the dining room table (also with a view of the ocean). By midmorning, the kids are swimming naked in the saltwater pool, chasing butterflies, hunting for iguanas and planning the day’s sandcastle design and fortification. We indulge in avid shell collecting, rock climbing, sand burying, crab chasing and jungle exploring, including a hike to a nearby town that was rerouted by high tide up a densely-forested Monkey Mountain over the course of six dreadful hours. Later we laugh about it. Much later. My five-year-old invented a game that involves throwing a fallen coconut into the waves and waiting for it to come rushing back onto the shore, prompting a highly competitive chase-and-grab element. And it’s not until day seven that I realize we never made it to those restaurants we wanted to try, or organized a tour of the nearby cliffs and hot springs we heard about. Instead our entire trip was an endless pleasure cycle of lazing about–pool, play, eat, nap, hammock, beach, repeat. The very best kind of travel, an actual vacation.
I recently started poking around for a new place to go in Mexico this winter, even though I feel a strong pull back to the town we went last year, Sayulita. But so many friends and readers have asked about or gushed about Tulum, I decided to do some exploratory digging. I found a string of no-fuss beachside bungalows that all speak the same understated, bohemian thatched-roof vernacular. And the Coqui Coqui guest house and spa is pretty much right in line with that rustic aesthetic, but it comes with a rare thoughtfulness and exquisite taste. Owned by model Nicolas Malleville and his girlfriend Francesca, the thatched-roof stone buildings seem more residence than resort, every room thoughtfully and simply decorated with local artisan-crafted furniture and objects. These beautiful images by Todd Selby reveal spaces that feel both primitive (no internet or air conditioning or electricity aside from solar panels) and highly curated–a balance difficult to strike. In the budding Coqui Coqui empire of small-scale, authentic enterprise, there are also two other equally magical hotels, plus a cafe, shop and perfumery in nearby Yucatan towns (up to an hour and a half away).
Last winter, we traveled to Sayulita to stay in designer Patrizio Fradiani’s latest vacation home stunner–a run-down house and garage he and his partner bought on a vacation-high whim and spent eight months rehabbing (he spent a week every month there, working around the clock). I couldn’t post extensively about it here, because I was on assignment, writing about it for CS Interiors. By the time it came out in print, the weather was spring-like, so I decided to wait until a Mexican getaway felt more relevant. I recently spoke with Patrizio, who said reservations are filling up quickly for the winter months, so if you’re at all interested–it’s perfect; do you hear me, perfect?–I highly recommend making some early travel arrangements. You do not want to miss this.
High in the outdoor living room of the bright orange villa–three floors above ground and 100 above sea level–there’s a soaring view of the Pacific Ocean and verdant mountainous skyline. The tops of houses, palm trees and climbing fuchsia bougainvillea give the distinct feeling of sitting in some sort of luxe tree house. Inside the two structures–which Fradiani connected with a walking bridge–four simple, luminous-white bedrooms are decorated with furniture and textiles from local markets. They are the only rooms with real walls. The rest of the 2,700-square-foot spread is dedicated to the fresh, open air. The kitchen, dining room and living room all sit on the third floor, under a thatched roof, and there’s a small soaking tub up there and a set of hammocks with pinch-yourself vistas of jungle, garden, rooftops, ocean.
At almost any time, day or night, the sounds of the surroundings drift through with the breeze–a drum band, a cacophony of roosters, a truck peddling gas with music and loud-speaker announcements, kids playing soccer nearby. The pool on the ground level, surrounded by one of the most vibrant gardens I’ve ever seen, feels intimate and private, and if you get bored with the endless pleasure cycle of lazing about–nap, pool, eat, hammock, repeat–the town, which is a short walk down the hill, has a laid-back surf vibe and authentic culture that sets this fishing village apart from busier, tonier resort towns. Take a hike through the jungle to reach one of several off-the-beaten-path beaches (the main public beach is pretty busy); the payoff is remote, sprawling and unfathomably gorgeous.
Four bedrooms with queen beds and in-suite bathrooms. Prices range from $1,850 to $2,950 a week, depending on season. Rent it at casadoschicos.com.
[Photos: All photographs by Bob Coscarelli]
Interiors, lifestyle and architecture photographer (The New York Times, Dwell, LA Times) and blogger Laure Joliet recently made a trip to Todos Santos to visit her dad’s new house, designed by LA architect Hervé Daridan. It’s a stunner of a place–all clean lines, streaming light and creamy, smooth concrete. While she was there, she made a stop at the markedly different Todos Santos Inn for dinner and a cocktail at sunset and was instantly captivated by the grand old hacienda from the 19th century, full of magnificent, well-worn charm and period antiques. Built by a sugar baron in the 1800s, the inn is one of the oldest buildings in town. “[It's] been totally restored as a historic inn and stands as an incredible contrast to my dad’s house,” says Laure. “I fell in love with the high, beamed ceilings, colonial-style brick, tile floors, Spanish fixtures and, of course, the crumbling mural in the entry.”
[Photos by Laure Joliet]
When Kim from Desire to Inspire went to Puerto Vallarta a couple weeks ago, she stayed at the Hacienda San Angel–a collection of five hilltop villas (with 14 suites) that she called “the most beautiful hotel I have ever seen.” Puerto Vallarta is a touristy resort town, sure, but strictly pertaining to what’s inside this elaborately decorated hotel–Mexican tiled restaurant, fountain-filled courtyards and statue-surrounded pool–you probably won’t want to leave anyway. The place is dripping with some pretty serious old world antiques: hand-carved wooden beds, tables and high-backed chairs from the 19th century; ornate chandeliers, candlesticks, candleabras, wall sconces; and Mexican paintings (of the Immaculate Virgin variety) in every room. And Hollywood history trivia bonus: Apparently, one of the villas was once owned by actor Richard Burton, who bought it as a Valentine’s Day gift for one of his wives (not Elizabeth Taylor).
[All photos by Kim from Desire to Inspire]
When Brooklyn-based furniture and lighting designer Jason Milller told us the name of the most interesting place he’s ever stayed–Casa Dracula–we had to check it out. Turns out, this eccentric, old house in Todos Santos is not only pretty amazing to look at, it also comes with a good story. Built in 1852 by Don Antonio Domingues, Todos Santos’ first sugar baron, Casa Dracula gets its name from the arched Gothic windows along the brick facade (not an actual vampire). Although, according to local legend (ala the rental agency’s website), there is said to be treasure buried somewhere within the walls. Rent it at vrbo.com. Here, the rest of Jason’s interview about the importance of travel:
Most meaningful or inspiring travel experience? Spending a week in the Aeolian Islands in 2009. My girlfriend and I found out that we were going to become parents during the trip (no thanks to a faulty Aeolian-Island pregnancy test).
How does travel influence your work? I think it is very important to have perspective on one’s own culture. Travel provides great perspective. There is something thrilling when you show up in a new place and you don’t know how to buy a subway ride, get on a bus or order lunch. We take these simple things for granted at home, only because we have learned the the way to navigate our own small world.
What do you look for in a trip? Since I spend most of my time in New York, I more often than not, look for a bit of nature when I travel.
Most interesting place you’ve ever stayed? Casa Dracula, Todo Santos, Mexico. It was purchased by my girlfriend’s father and 3 friends in the early eighties. It is a former sugar storage facility in a small surf town north of Cabo San Lucas. My girlfriend and her family have been spending holidays there for 20-plus years.
Do you have a specific piece that was in some way inspired by travel? The Modo lamps were inspired by some vintage pieces I came across in California.
Most treasured travel purchase? A glass vase that i bought in a thrift store in Istanbul. It’s very odd.
While I was in Sayulita, the property manager at the house where I was staying, Nick, introduced me to the talented Vogue and Travel + Leisure photographer Anne Menke. I had the chance to hang out with Anne and her incredibly nice and welcoming husband Johann, who insisted on picking me up in town, then proceeded to give me a top-to-bottom, Pacifico-in-hand tour of their breathtaking spread on the beach. As an interiors editor/writer I get to see some pretty remarkable homes, but this place has an unusual magical quality–a thatched-roof ode to Mexican Pacific architecture at the edge of the lush tropical jungle with majestic ocean views from almost everywhere. And with details like a swing in the bedroom, a bed hanging from ropes, the theater, an infinity pool at the edge of their open-air living room and pillows made of beautiful Mexican textiles tossed in every direction, it’s every bit a playful, comfortable family home as it is architectural stunner.
It’s no wonder they moved their family from New York City a couple years ago, making TeiTiare their full-time address (they also helped start the first green school in Mexico, the The Costa Verde International School, where their three boys attend). Before building the new dream home, Casa O’Te Miti, they lived in a more modest (but still gorgeous) casita down the beach called Casa Ninamu. Painted cobalt blue, the original stucco house has two bedrooms, a surfboard hanging over the dining room table and a rooftop terrace. And now that they’re not living there, it’s regularly filled with guests–some they know, others they don’t. While I was there, Anne and Johann invited the current vacation renters over for a cocktail and were organizing a pizza dinner down on the beach for them. Even though she can see it from her current house or walk over anytime, Anne still gets a little nostalgic talking about it. “I miss it,” she says. “Sometimes I just want to go over and sleep there. We have so many family memories there.” I think that’s what makes it feel so special: They’re both emotionally invested in making sure everyone who stays there has the kind of meaningful experience that made them fall so in love with this place.
Casa Ninamu starts at $400 a night. They’re happy to accommodate weddings–which they have done, rather successfully. And in certain situations, they’re often willing to rent rooms from the tower of additional guest rooms a wooden bridge away from their own home.
The adorable, six-room Petit Hotel d’Hafa sits like some kind of exotic temple to high-surf-style in the center of town in Sayulita–just a block from the beach. I wandered in, totally in awe, and met the owner, Christophe Mignot, a Frenchman who spent 10 years living on a sailboat with his family (they now have three kids) before settling in Sayulita. He and his wife Marina pulled from Mexican, Mediterranean and Moroccan influences for the fantasy-invoking interiors of their own design: Rattan furniture, hanging lanterns, beautiful blankets handcrafted in Chiapas, and the signature Hafa heart (marking pillows, walls and grass floor mats) add to the buoyant yet thoroughly laid-back aesthetic. Christophe, who doesn’t let running a hotel detract from the real purpose of his life in Sayulita, muses: “We thought about opening a bigger place, but then there’s no time for surfing.” In the end, the Hafa–with all its brilliant hues and effortless beach town style–is perfect just the way it is.
Note (and no, this is not a joke or a typo): Prices start at $50 per night.
I just got back from Mexico, where my family and I spent the past week hanging out in the beautiful, laid-back, bougainvillea-strewn surf town of Sayulita. I was on assignment for CS and LA Interiors, writing a travel piece pegged to Chicago designer Patrizio Fradiani’s new thatched roof vacation home (an impulse buy he spent the last year renovating after falling in love with the town). I can’t say a lot about it until the story comes out (and I can post a full reveal), but here’s a sneak peek of the place in the meantime. Let me assure you: it is a complete fantasy. Flowers everywhere, pool surrounded by palm trees, rooftop soaking tub with a pinch-me view of the mountainous coast and sparkling ocean. And if you’ve seen Patrizio’s Tuscan farmhouse, then you can imagine the thoughtfulness, care and detail he applies to the interior.
For a four bedroom spread that spans two separate buildings (attached by a rooftop bridge), two pools, an outdoor shower and the perfect location on top of a hill full of spectacular views in every direction, Casa dos Chicos is reasonably priced. High season: $2,750 per week.
The new Art Director for Rue La La (and former Fashion Editor for the magazine group I work for), Graham Kostic is a fashion force of serious reckoning. Few people have even a pinky-worth of his daring, unfussy brand of style and creative vision—which is exactly why when he says how much he loves Hotel Basico—“so much that it’s often in my dreams”—I listen.
With only 15 rooms, the hipster-approved Hotel Basico draws on raw design elements (exposed piping! Concrete and sand walls! Pools made from repurposed petroleum tanks!) for a playful, industrial take on modern design.
Graham gives designtripper a special account:
“We stayed in the Sofia suite, which the girl at the front desk told us was the largest and most private suite. Hello, Luxury!
My favorite design element was the exposed pipe sink and entire wall of mirror that jutted up against a gigantic shower basin. I also loved all the details in the public spaces: oversized, mirrored mosaic urns with plants; large rubber intertubes as wall décor; an xylophone with brightly colored wheels. It was just the right amount of elevated whimsy to match the very masculine feel.
Designtrippers, beware: Playa Del Carmen is uber-cheesy along the main strip. We saw a middle-age woman dancing on a pole to ‘Party in the USA’ by Miley Cyrus. But the hotel is totally worth it—just be sure to take a day trip to Tulum (about 45 minutes away). It’s authentically Mexican with it’s bright, flashy colors, baby blue beaches and small but impressive ruins. It’s a charming town that is so unabashedly Mexican, it’s well worth the drive.
Down the street from the hotel was a place called La Cucaracha. It is a local karaoke place—the only American songs were by the Beatles, Queen and Britney Spears. It’s definitely off the strip and beat-down, but again, definitely worth it to get the local flavor without straying too far.