Neverending Siesta

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By Kevin Sullivan and Mary Jordan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, November 24, 2002

There was nothing doing down on the hacienda. A rare storm had blown in overnight, and a steady rain was pelting down on the sculptured Spanish garden just below our balcony. Bright yellow and lime-green songbirds took shelter among the purple bougainvillea. Hummingbirds rode out the storm, buzzing in the olive trees planted next to a rolling lawn big enough for Barry Bonds to roam for fly balls.

We could hear a stream of water flowing down off the volcano that towered above us in the Mexican town of San Antonio. It rushed across the top of the century-old aqueduct and past the hacienda's 90-year-old chapel, along the inner courtyard filled with grapefruit and orange trees, through the elegantly tiled canals crisscrossing the hedge garden and into a little brook, which swooshed delightfully past the tennis court and the organic coffee plantation, where it joined a river that winds its way 40 miles down to the Pacific Ocean.

We pulled on soft cotton robes and lit a fire in one of our suite's two enormous fireplaces. A soft puff of hardwood-scented smoke floated gently up to the vaulted brick ceiling. We threw open the four sets of French doors to our balcony. Five columns cut from charcoal-black volcanic rock supported arches that divided our broad vista into perfect postcards of green mountains and African tulip trees lush with tangerine-colored blossoms.

It was too rainy for a swim in the 115-foot swimming pool, tiled in aqua and navy and attended by a team of towel-fluffing men in white. The fleet of mountain bikes would have to wait, as would the horseback riding on the 5,000-acre ranch adjoining the hacienda, along with tennis and hiking the trails up toward the twin volcanoes, past the hotel's private airstrip. No television in the suites, thank God, and cell phones don't work up here, so those temptations were out. And we don't know how to play boccie.

Ah well, breakfast.

But that posed the kind of dilemma one faces here at Mahakua-Hacienda de San Antonio, a meticulously restored 120-year-old Mexican mansion, where the word "hotel" seems as inadequate as calling Bill Gates a "computer salesman." Where would we eat? On the rooftop terrace, under canvas umbrellas set between the volcanoes and the view of miles of lushness rolling downhill from the hacienda? Tomorrow. In the dining room in front of the castle-size fireplace, on round tables covered with white linen and Italian silver, savoring the murals of Mexican country life beneath the wall sconces? Maybe, but the fire in our suite was crackling so sweetly. And two little songbirds had just flown in through the French doors and were chirping at us from our expanse of Mexican wool carpet. It seemed hard to leave.

So we ordered in. In a ridiculously short time, coffee -- rich and dark and grown on the grounds -- and sweet rolls came on a platter with three kinds of juice and a big glass of lassie, a sweet drink of banana, yogurt and milk. We read for a while, listened to the parrots in the trees outside and decided: a full breakfast downstairs, on the veranda outside the library. There, on a lovely wrought-iron table facing the gardens, we shared French toast filled with fresh peaches, a Frisbee-size salmon omelet and more of the hacienda's homegrown coffee. One of the platoon of waiters attending us inquired if we would be needing the masseuse later.

The other half lives very well, even in the rain.

The Hacienda de San Antonio, in Mexico's Pacific Coast state of Colima, is the 12th and newest luxury resort in the Singapore-based Amanresorts chain, which began in 1988 with its flagship Amanpuri resort on Thailand's Phuket island. Aman hotels are also located in Indonesia, the Philippines, French Polynesia, France, Morocco and Jackson Hole, Wyo. A 13th resort is opening this Christmas near Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

The Aman resorts raise luxury and pampering to royal levels, which is why they have been attracting the likes of Mick Jagger for almost 15 years. It comes at a price, of course. The Amanfolks speak of their "niche" market, and by that they mean Mick and others who don't blink at room rates that look more like mortgage payments. The 25 suites at the hacienda start at $900 a night for a double and the two largest, called Sol and Volcan (Sun and Volcano), provide 1,300 square feet of sprawling bliss for the size-matters crowd at $1,600 per sunset.

About the only thing taking the edge off the price is that it includes all meals and all the wine, tequila and other drinks you care to consume -- and the kitchen produces fantastic meals to order, at all hours. To further help you cool your smoking wallet, it also throws in laundry service and romantic picnics in forgotten meadows deep on the property, near lakes filled with trout and with egrets, cormorants, blue herons and hawks soaring overhead. The staff of more than 75 never misses an opportunity to refill a glass or bring a cold towel on a hot afternoon. The hacienda makes its priorities clear with a single fact: There are 36 fireplaces here, and no clocks.

Luxury Break in the City

Once wrapped in the hacienda's luxury, there is no reason to ever leave the property -- except that it sits in the middle of a state well worth exploring, one that few travelers know much about. Colima rests at the Pacific elbow of the flexed arm of Mexico. It is slightly more than 2,000 square miles, almost twice the size of Rhode Island. Travelers, if they have ever heard of Colima at all, know it for the ocean resort city of Manzanillo, which is about a four-hour drive south of Puerto Vallarta.

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© 2002 The Washington Post Company

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