We're staying in the same hacienda as Bill Clinton and George Bush. OK, they’re not here right now – but they were. Naturally, hip boutique hotel Hacienda Temozon is where dignitaries reside when they visit the Yucatan in Mexico. Pride of place in the main 17th-century building’s lounge are photographs of Dubya standing on the front steps and another of Bill strolling in the gardens. They look happy and relaxed – who wouldn’t at Hacienda Temozon?
Previously the Yucatan Peninsula’s most active plantation, Hacienda Temozon used to produce hundreds of tons of henequen rope-making fibre. Fast forward a century or so to our arrival: it’s Friday afternoon, and we’re ready to enjoy a weekend a world away from hard work. Lightening crashes overhead as an unseasonable thunderstorm adds a dramatic element to our entrance. What was once a pharmacy, schoolhouse, workers’ sleeping quarters in the hacienda’s mini-society, has since been reinvented – in a luxuriously regal fashion – as 28 bedrooms and suites. We're greeted with huge umbrellas and chilled agua de Jamaica juice before being shown to our boudoir.
Despite the stylish renaissance, aspects of the region’s rustic roots remain: a donkey-drawn truk takes you around the grounds, across orange fields and to cenotes, the natural rainwater reservoirs in underground caverns that pepper the peninsula. 10-foot high wooden double doors open to reveal our deluxe king suite, which I waste no time in exploring. A large high-ceilinged sitting room leads to the bedroom, where a huge iron bed is covered with fragrant bougainvillea petals, and overlooked by biggest flatscreen TV I’ve ever set eyes on; soft, coloured-cotton hammocks provide an authentic Mayan alternative to mattress-based snoozing. The bathroom, filled with fluffy robes and bath products, gives way to a plunge-pool-garnished terrace. I find myself wondering if it will be entirely necessary to leave the room at all over the weekend.
Hunger, thankfully, motivates us to move, and with the rain clouds vanishing as quickly as they arrived, we make our way to the Casa Principal. A more romantic setting would be hard to find than this restaurant; each table looks out across an illuminated swimming pool with four pillars towering pointlessly but beautifully over the water while above stars twinkle, and all around a chorus of frogs and crickets emanates from the gardens below. As for the flavours at Hacienda Temozon, the menu is an encyclopaedia of Yucatecan cuisine; using only the freshest local ingredients, here they fuse European and Mexican tastes with the tasty Mestizo cuisine. We dine on poc chuc (tender pork flavoured with the paste made from achiote seeds) and try as we do, we find no space for dessert. An after-dinner stroll around the hacienda’s pool before bed is all these Smiths can muster.
Sleeping at the hacienda is a treat in itself. ('It should be nicknamed Hacienda Temazepam' quips Mr Smith.) Shutters ensure total darkness and it is so quiet that nothing threatens to disturb your slumber. For all of these reasons we snooze rather late and arrive for breakfast just as most guests are setting off on excursions around the Yucatan. But hey, we’re on holiday – what’s the rush? (Not everyone here is kicking back though. The hotel has built workshops on-site to support the local community, and you can see furniture, textiles and other artisan materials being assembled, a flashback to the hacienda's industrious heyday.)
After breakfasting on huevos de Temozon (two fried eggs covered in frijoles on a bed of pumpkin and pork crackling) we venture out to explore the tropical grounds. While the main buildings have been converted to accommodate guests, there are plenty of reminders of the property’s history as a former sisal plantation. Walking past the pool, we discover the old machinery works and rusted railway tracks. Through the gardens of herbs and fruit trees we arrive at one of the hacienda’s two cenotes (underground fresh water swimming holes). Down the steps into the cool cave below, I find beds where tired and weary guests can enjoy a traditional Mayan massage.
Feeling lazy, I suggest a day relaxing by the pool. But Mr Smith has an adventure in mind, and somehow he manages to usher me into the car. A road trip in the Yucatan demands two things: good navigational skills and a state of marital bliss between the driver and his co-pilot. But where’s the fun in that when you can get lost and hot and bothered instead? After much fuss trying to find a petrol station, we make it to the Mayapan ruins, where we’re the only visitors and the site feels full of the ghosts of Mayan warriors, and the odd iguana scampering between the rocks. Next, we arrive at the village of Tecoh, where my Mexican mother-in-law grew up and Mr Smith suspects he may have long-lost relatives. Sure enough, with the aid of some friendly locals, we track down 'Uncle Victor', the village hairdresser. This is followed by a happy afternoon at his home talking about old times.
Arriving back at the hacienda in time for supper, this time we succeed in shoehorning in dessert (coco cream with coconut ice-cream, honey jelly and chocolate butter). We even manage to squeeze in a game of pool before retiring. (Mr Smith wins – just.) The next morning, I leave Mr Smith snoring away as I take a stroll through the morning dew sparkling on the grass and dripping from the cacti. I have only the gardeners in their white wide-brimmed hats for company, quietly tending to their flowerbeds; a couple of donkeys munch on the grass while bright orange, red and blue birds celebrate another day with riotous chirping.
Spotting that the hacienda staff is starting to prepare breakfast, I wake Mr Smith to the sound of local children playing outside the hacienda’s church ringing in my ears. Truly pampered and relaxed, although it is time to leave, the feeling of wellbeing makes it slightly easier for us to say goodbye to Hacienda Temozon. And anyway, we really should be vacating our room – you never know who might be visiting the Yucatan next. Just don't be surprise if Barack Obama is next to you at check-in...