As Dr Johnson once (famously, patronisingly) wrote, ‘when a man is tired of London he is tired of life’. When Sir James Goldsmith became tired of London, and the rest of England for that matter, he left and bought Cuixmala – a 25,000 acre estate in Jalisco, on Mexico's Pacific coast – to live out the rest of his days. Only after SJG died was the estate converted into an ‘eco resort’, with casitas and bungalows ranging from $400 to $15,000 a night.
Mrs Smith and I arrived late at night and (I cannot lie) I was in a foul mood entirely of my own making following a ludicrous decision to visit San Miguel de Allende the day before – a mere nine-hour drive away. I intended to be unimpressed: what kind of eco place has an airstrip anyway? Why wasn’t I in the $15,000 a night room? That kind of thing.
The manner of arrival at Cuixmala didn’t help, as I was completely unprepared for it. As we arrived (turning off a long, winding road to discover a four- by 10-inch ‘46km’ sign was the only indicator of location) we were met by two members of the Policia Federal, complete with enormous handguns, bullet belts and clip pads. I’m not sure whether these men are intended to reassure you, but their presence had the opposite effect on me. Having taken our names, Policia #1 offered to lead us to our casita, and herein lies the cause of my confusion – we weren’t ready for the sheer size of the domain we were entering. To get from the front gate to our casita was a seven-kilometre drive, at the end of which I was at my lowest.
From then on, things started to look up. The staff at Cuixmala instantly made me feel better – providing a wet towel and cold margarita on arrival, showing us to our Casita Gardenia and amply feeding us. As we sat at our table talking to our waiter he told us that, this being the week before the peak period, we were the only people at Cuixmala that day. I finished up the evening in a better frame of mind, but with a nagging doubt this was not going to be everything I had hoped it would be. It didn’t really feel like the kind of place that might cost $15,000 a night to me.
Morning came and changed everything. From the moment I opened the bright-blue shutters of our whitewashed casita I understood. Out of the window, in immaculate early morning light, I saw an indescribably picturesque expanse of palm trees and animal-filled fields, all leading to a pristine beach and, eventually, the Pacific. All that, just for us. In fact quite a lot turned out to be just for us. By my calculations we were the sole beneficiaries of 25,000 acres, 150 staff, one guest house, around six kilometres of private beach, 700 river crocodiles, 28 antelope, 18 zebra and a few horses on whose backs you can roam around the grounds (as Mrs Smith very happily did). All of which might well be described as reasonable value for money.
We spent most of our time lying in the sun capturing the wonder of it all, but Cuixmala does offer an array of things to do if sipping margaritas by the pool is not your thing. These range from hiring a yacht for a day ($1,500) to helping hatch wild turtles and release them into the sea ($0). Having quickly counted up our pesos, we opted for the latter, and it turned out to be one of the highlights of the whole trip – we ended up on the beach, bathed in moonlight, releasing some 500 turtles no bigger than a baby’s hand onto the beach and watching them crawl into the crashing waves. Unforgettable.
Cuixmala is a place where big is beautiful, and can only be fully appreciated in that context. The food was excellent. Fresh produce, often organic, is grown in the grounds, or in the (also Goldsmith-owned) Hacienda de San Antonio. Our casita epitomised that old hotel cliché of barefoot luxury – the whitewashed building comes with a blank canvas interior lavishly sprinkled with hand-crafted Mexican masks, statues, inviting day beds and (Mrs Smith would never forgive me for failing to mention them) stunning, vibrant, colourful cushions that are on sale in the resort boutique – as our battered credit card can testify. However, even our temporary home pales into insignificance next to Casa La Loma, the incredible main house. If $15,000 a night is within your means then I imagine few places provide more persuasive arguments to part with it. Spectacular.
On the morning of our departure we met another couple over breakfast who had arrived late the night before. Their eyes were as wide open in astonishment as ours had been a couple of mornings beforehand. Later, however, as we wound our way slowly back to the main entrance we passed another couple arriving, and we began to feel sorry for them all. There is, after all, nothing worse than having to share paradise.
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Smith extra at Cuixmala
An hour's horse-riding session for two