Mexico's western peninsula is known for its swell surf, mountainous desert and a legendary resort where Hollywood royalty and seasoned world travellers flock to be pampered. Andrew Sardone checks in to the One & Only Palmilla
Photography by Carlyle Routh; Styling by Odessa Paloma Parker
Zipping among the immaculate whitewashed villas at the One & Only Palmilla on the back of a chauffeured golf cart, it's nearly impossible to notice any lingering negative effects of the category 4 hurricane that threatened Los Cabos and the entire Baja California Sur tourist trade a year and a half earlier.
Instead, there are its 174 ocean-view accommodations, which have been refreshed with colourful textiles but maintain unobstructed views of the dramatic surf and – via a pair of in-room binoculars – grey whales migrating from the Pacific to the Sea of Cortez. There's Priscilla, a resident African spurred tortoise that arrived around the same time as Hurricane Odile in September 2014 and, obviously knowing a good thing when she saw it, decided to permanently move in to her own open-air villa, where she feasts on heads of iceberg lettuce every afternoon. And there's the almost 1,000-person-strong army of hotel staff who, already legendary among luxury travellers for their charming disposition and gracious service, seem even more committed to maintaining this Mexican landmark's status as one of the most stylish resorts around.
Situated between party-town Cabo San Lucas and the burgeoning art- and farm-to-table cuisine destination San Jose del Cabo, Palmilla is a lush enclave of private villas on the edge of the Baja desert. The first home in the community was built in 1956 by Don Abelardo Rodriguez, a local pioneer with political connections on his father's side of the family (his dad was the 43rd President of Mexico Abelardo Rodríguez Luján) and Hollywood clout via his marriage to silver screen actress Lucille Bremer. At a time when the only way to reach the area was by its private airstrip or sea, the couple's social circle helped establish Los Cabos as a glamorous destination for the likes of John Wayne, Lucille Ball and U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower, who came for endless sun and sport fishing.
Over the decades, Rodriguez's house expanded into a hotel, added a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course and, in 2004, was reinvented as the One & Only Palmilla by the high-end resort brand founded by South African hospitality entrepreneur Sol Kerzner. Today, it's the centrepiece of a Los Cabos that isn't just surviving post-hurricane, but thriving. A huge wave of development by the likes of Ritz-Carlton, Thompson Hotels and J.W. Marriott is poised to up Cabo's luxury credentials.
Posh touches are everywhere you look at the One & Only. A new restaurant called Seared, overseen by Michelin-starred-chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, is the centrepiece of the resort's reinvention, serving up tomahawk cuts and fine wine - including delicious vintages from fledgling Mexican vineyards Casa Magoni and Casa Baloyan - in a glamorous space covered in bookended slabs of Roman imperial marble. The Neo boutique elevates the concept of a hotel gift shop to new heights with its chic selection of clothing and accessories by the likes of Temperley London, Charlotte Olympia and Tom Binns (inside scoop: when the bulk of Globe Style Advisor's shoot wardrobe didn't make the flight from Toronto, the shop's racks were stocked with more than enough fashionable resort wear to style these pages). A spa made up of 13 private-treatment villas and a Barber & Blade grooming space is hidden away in the property's well-manicured gardens.
What really raises the One & Only Palmilla above other five-star experiences is its staff and their knack for spoiling guests while giving them enough space to feel like they've really escaped. You first encounter the team at the San Jose del Cabo airport, where a driver is waiting in a WiFi-equipped Suburban to whisk you to the property. A welcome party greets arrivals at the hotel's porte cochère, and dedicated butlers lead a quick tour of the grounds that ends with a walk-through of in-room amenities. Those thoughtful extras include sewing kits personalized to match the palette of your wardrobe, a complimentary bottle of tequila reposado and menus for ordering snacks and aromatherapy essences (a plate of pepitas chased with notes of calming ylang-ylang perhaps?) at turndown time.
Splurge on the 10,000-square-foot Villa Cortez - a private four-bedroom oasis with a screening room and a long list of celebrity regulars - and a team of 12 will be on hand to cater to your every desire, including setting up a mirrored screen in front of the infinity pool to dissuade eager paparazzi from snapping your entourage while they sunbathe.
But as grand as the experience can be, it's the little gestures guests remember most. During that welcome tour of the property, one the private butlers points out the hotel's intimate reception area. "This is where you'll come when you, unfortunately, have to check out," she says. It's practical information conveyed with a charming sense of pride to remind you to make the most of the time you have in Los Cabos. Unless, of course, you make like clever Priscilla and move in.
The only one
Over the next three years, One & Only plans to open new properties in Mexico, China and Montenegro, but its latest addition is the Palmilla's Villa One. At more than 14,000 square feet, the home incorporates a more contemporary style than its clay-roofed counterparts. Floor-to-ceiling glass wraps around the structure, offering expansive views of the 48-foot infinity pool and the Pacific beyond. The 870-square-foot master suite complements three other bedrooms as well as a stocked bar and pantry, fitness space and screening room. Rates start at $12,500/night.
Photo shoot credits: Makeup and hair by Robert Weir for M.A.C Cosmetics/Judy Inc. Model: Juliann H at Elite Model Management.