The beachfront Grand Velas, Riviera Nayarit in Nuevo, Vallarta, Mexico, the recipient of the coveted AAA Five Diamond Award, and one of only two family-friendly resorts to get the distinction in North America, is a member of The Leading Hotels of the World. This inviting and fine tuned “All-Inclusive” luxury resort, just 15 minutes from the Puerto Vallarta Airport, has mastered the art of delivering personal and distinct signature services to their guests.
Attention to detail is the order of the day, and my Grand Velas “pampering experiences” began upon arrival. I was led to a comfortable chair for check in (versus standing at a counter), and what followed I must admit was a first, even for this jaded travel and spa writer. While seated, a therapist from the spa, alerted to my arrival, appeared and proceeded to massage my back, shoulders and upper arms. This unexpected relaxing welcoming treat erased all traces of the flight fromNew York toPuerto Vallarta.
My terraced suite, with a direct view of the swimming pools and sea, is tastefully decorated, and the white towels in the bathroom are thick and fluffy. I quickly unpack, change into a bathing suit, and make my way down to the beach and into the water. It is warm, calm and caressing. There is time for a drink at the swim up bar and a plate of fresh fish ceviche before dinner. That has been scheduled for eight.
I have a choice of breakfast in my suite or down at Azul, the beachfront restaurant that serves breakfast and lunch, both buffet and a la carte. I prefer Azul and their most accommodating waiters who carry my plates to the table, pull out my chair, and keep my cup filled with steamy hot coffee.
Three of the hotel’s five restaurants serve gourmet French, Italian and Mexican cuisines. Frida is named for the legendary artist Frida Kahlo who was married to famed Diego Rivera. In the dining room, we are surrounded by her self-portraits and colorful paintings of children and monkeys. The music of live guitars and the restaurant’s unique serving dishes take on an exciting art form that compliments her flair. The special tasting menu, being offered during the hotel’s year long 10th Anniversary celebration, is an exciting fusion of mouthwatering Mexican and International flavors, which chef pairs with light and fruity white wines One can also dine on the beautiful terrace with stunning ocean views.
After breakfast, we’re off on a Marietas Eco-Discovery Tour to a group of islands, designated a National Park, for a day of water activities: swimming, snorkeling, diving, kayaking and paddle boarding. Emilio, the master of ceremonies, and his highly talented crew, keep their high energy flowing as we zip through the water. We slow down as dolphins swim by to greet us. Close to the park, we drop anchor. I jump off the boat into schools of large and small colorful fish. I ask for a piece of bread to feed them, and suddenly I am surrounded by a frenzy of fish that begin to bite me. Thinking I might taste like stale bread, I head back to the boat. Back on board, there is a lovely buffet and an open bar. Heading back to the marina, huge sea turtles swim by on their way to land to lay their eggs.
We are treated to cocktails and a delicious spread of canapés in the $10,000 a night Royal Spa Suite. Needless to say with its elegant décor, huge wrap around terrace, outdoor Jacuzzi and private massage table, it is indeed fit for royalty, which is exactly how Grand Velas treats all their guests.
Lucca, the hotel’s Italian Restaurant wows our palate with a special savory tasting menu. We are presented with a variety of Italian cold cuts, cheeses and a trio of garnishes …thin slices of filet of beef … a tile fish coarse …and veal osso buco Sicilian style, served with black truffle flavored polenta. Wines are included in your stay, and there is a pairing with each course. We enjoy our culinary journey while enjoying live piano music and sweeping ocean views.
My Journey to Nirvana
When I enter the Spa I am attracted by a large bowl arranged with flower petals and leaves into a colorful mandala (a symbol of sacred peace). There are several around the spa, picked and artistically created each day by the person who opens the spa. Silvia Valasco, the Spa Manager gives me a brief tour of the 16,500 square feet spa. There are 20 treatment rooms and a staff of 60. As a welcome ritual, she places a colorful mariposa (butterfly) in my hands. It represents the four elements of nature and transformation. She tells me: “you are one person when you arrive… and a different person spiritually when you leave. The most important person is you; we want you to forget everything else while you are here”.
I am most impressed with the extensive spa menu; divided into ceremonies that focus on the Huichol people’s belief that we are created by nature’s four elements: earth (inner stability), water (to liberate the inner spring of your spirit), wind ( breathing is living, living is breathing), and fire (moving energy). We are all a miniature of the Universe, mirror of the natural and spiritual world.
Before any treatment, guests relax and refresh with a series of hydrotherapy rituals that include: revitalizing showers … a cinnamon infused sauna (the sweet yet pungent spice is an unexpected surprise) …and an herbal chromo therapy steam in a room with a huge crystal rock in the center that slowly changes colors to reflect the colors of the chakras. I then move from one stone Jacuzzi tub to the next … submerging my feet, legs and then my body in warm and cold water …and then under cascading waterfalls. This opening and closing of my pores increases circulation, and releases any stress or tension stored in the back or neck.
The Four Hand Samunprai Treatment
What could be more decadent and delicious than four hands working on my body at the same time? There is a bowl, under the hole in the face rest of the massage table, filled with herbs. I am asked if I prefer mint or citrus for my essential oil; I choose the mint. My treatment begins face down. Laura pours hot water into the bowl. The vapors rise and I am told to breathe deeply. Then the magic begins. There is a yin and a yang rhythm as they work in tandem on opposite feet, legs and arms. Knowing hands press down on every vertebrae as they move up and down my spine. When I turn over, a rolled-up cold towel is placed under my neck. Laura kneads my abdomen as Elia massages my neck, and shoulders. When my journey to nirvana is over, I am served warm hibiscus tea, a skewer of 3 fruits: strawberry, blackberry and raspberry, and given a meditation stone in a small pouch to carry home.
Friday, I spend the day on the beach, in the sea and enjoying flutes of champagne, and a delicious lunch. One of the joys of being a guest at an “All-Inclusive” is not having to worry about the cost of a glass of bubbly or a steak.
We meet in the lobby bar before dinner for a margarita mixology class, tasting and rating 12 libations on the hotel’s signature margarita menu: The Avocado and Pistachio Margarita was interesting, but my favorite was the “Coriander Concoction”.
Piaf is a classic and innovative AAA Four Diamond rated French Restaurant. I enjoy the elegant simplicity and order the rack of lamb which is cooked to medium rare perfection, tender and savory, it is a festive evening, and I will miss this extraordinary resort.
The quality of the wines, wide selection of gourmet house specialties, attentive service, and an innovative spa menu is what sets this “All Inclusive” apart from any other I have experienced. Thank you, Grand Velas for a truly memorable visit. Please invite me back soon.
Casa Velas, Puerto Vallarta
Grand Velas, Maya Riviera
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