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Tropical Romantic Round-Up
Thomas R. & Deborah A. Fletcher
Pampered in Playa del Carmen
Muffled giggles drift across the water--giggles arising from lovers' shared secrets. Plying the turquoise Caribbean waters in their kayak built for two, enraptured in the presence of one another, the couple doesn't even notice the parasailor soaring through the air a thousand yards beyond them. It is doubtful they are cognizant of the dancing island--Cozumel--dancing on the edge of the horizon like a desert mirage in the earth's ascending heat vapors. They surely don't hear the joyous laughter of the children playing a game in the pool directly behind us. Toes in the sand, sun caressing our skin; the waitress just handed us another icy drink, such is the scene on the Yucatan Peninsula at Royal Hideaway Resort in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.
Cancun, a favorite destination of the jet-set, on the Yucatan has been booming with tourists for years. About a 40 minute drive from Cancun is Playa del Carmen. The town was once a small fishing village, known mostly for the fact that it was the mainland launching point for the Cozumel ferry boat.
Playa del Carmen's Royal Hideaway Resort and Spa is one of the new, all-inclusive brand of Allegro Resorts. The polished marble floors, high ceilings, and lovely chandeliers greeting guests in the reception area immediately declare "luxury," as do the marble double sinks in the rooms and the plush robes embroidered with the Royal Hideaway logo. We found the five-star resort to be top quality in every way.
There are enough activities to keep even the most active person busy: a well-equipped fitness center, bicycling, volleyball, basketball, tennis, kayaking, swimming, windsurfing, and snorkeling are among them. The property has two swimming pools and three "relaxing" pools, several restaurants and the Beach Club, which offers a variety of sandwiches and snacks all day long.
The theme is relaxation and the toughest decision guests may face is choosing the restaurant for dinner--and one does not find buffet lines here. Ventanas features Continental cuisine and was our choice for breakfast each morning. Palazzo is the resort's Italian restaurant. Azia is the place to check out Thai and Oriental cuisine, and not to be missed is Spices, featuring Mexican and Caribbean dishes. Twice a week a dinner theatre is offered at Club Royale.
Each villa complex has a concierge who handles dinner reservations, books off-site excursions, and, in general, sees that guests are pampered. Royal Hideaway invites guests to leave their hectic world behind, to be immersed in a world of relaxation and pampering.
Island of Romance
The sea breeze, the crystal clear turquoise waters, and the beach all conspire to stir the emotions of love. Saint Croix is a quiet, sun-drenched, sea-kissed, beach-blessed island where a couple may escape to the sensuous surroundings and the company of one another. Our first evening we sat on our deck at the Tamarind Reef Hotel, as the thick sultry sea breeze rolled in--all was well with life. The average annual temperature of 80 degrees and the prevailing trade winds make for nearly perfect vacation weather year-round. Saint Croix is the largest of the US Virgin Islands, more than twice the size of Saint Thomas, but with a fraction of the tourists.
Only 28 miles long and seven miles wide, the island is easy to get around. Taxis are available to carry passengers anywhere on the island, but a rental car is more convenient. Rental agencies are at the airport and some hotels provide rentals as part of their packages offered. One major adjustment is driving on the left. The fact that the steering wheel is on the left (US style) makes it a little disconcerting at first, but it doesn't take long to adjust. There are only two major towns, Christiansted and Frederiksted, so it is pretty hard to get lost, at least for very long. The island's vegetation is amazingly diverse, from a dry, cactus-dotted landscape on one end to a rainforest on the other.
Food prices on the island run about $15-$20 for breakfast, $30-$40 for lunch, and $60-$80 for dinner, per couple. A wise consideration is one of the all-inclusive packages offered by area hotels, such as the Hibiscus Beach Hotel. The package will get you into the area's top restaurants.
Speaking of top restaurants, we recommend is Stixx on the Waterfront, located in the Pan Am Pavilion overlooking Christiansted Harbor. Chef Valentine Smith prepares a seafood pasta, which includes local lobster, in a lemon caper cream sauce that is out of this world.
Hacienda de los Santos Tucked within the foothills of the Sierra Madre Occidental mountains is the historic Spanish-colonial city of Alamos, Mexico. Within Alamos is Hacienda de los Santos. Alamos is a city of walled properties and Hacienda de los Santos is no different. Situated on a walled, seven-acre plot of ground only two blocks from the main plaza, the Hacienda makes exploring this historic city on foot a snap.
The Conquistador Coronado passed through the area of Alamos on his way north in 1531. It wasn’t long before the Jesuit Missionaries followed, starting an area mission in 1613. The mission wasn’t completed until 1630. Discovery of silver in 1683 is what placed Alamos on the map. It was during that year the core of the town was built. Alamos boomed with a maximum population of 30,000 around 1780. Alamos was the richest town in the state of Sonora, and one of the largest silver producers in the world.
Several events conspired to change the gleaming prospects for the town; the silver playing out, Native American raids, floods and a plague, dwindled the population to a low of 300. During the Mexican Revolution, in 1915, Pancho Villa entered the city but spared it, considering it might make a nice place to retire. The city remained virtually deserted after the revolution until the 1960's, when the area began a period of rediscovery. Today’s population hovers around 8,000, with 250 of those residents being from the US and Canada. This romantic city is a Mexican Historical Monument and a Sonora State Historical Site. Some Alamos homes have remained within the same family for 300 tears. Alamos experiences a pleasant climate with plenty of rain in July and August.
Hacienda de los Santos, a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, bills itself as a "hotel/resort/spa." It is all that...and more. The Hacienda could double as a religious art museum covering a period of four centuries. The collection dates from 1565 through the1800's. Truly an "estate of the saints," the collection of retablos alone is jaw-dropping, representing one of the finest collections anywhere. Retablos are pieces of religious art usually painted on tin because it was inexpensive and available, often by local artists, but sometimes by monks or nuns to be sold to support their monastery or convent. Retablos were pieces of religious are for the common man. They were designed primarily for use in home altars. The collection of Hacienda de los Santos is unique in that most of the pieces were housed in a Mexico City monastery. The collection dates from 1850 to 1875. Jim and Nancy Swickard began their collection in 1965. A room adjoining the collection of retablos features a wall filled with carved, wooden Guatemalan crucifixes dating around 1750. Santos, carved wooden saints, are found throughout the property.
The layout of the grounds and wonderful art collection promote quiet reflection. The wood-burning fireplaces in the portals and rooms add to the romantic ambiance, inviting cozy interaction. The Hacienda’s adult-client policy ensures that screaming children do not shatter those reflective, romantic moments.
Hacienda de los Santos represents the restoration of a formerly vacant property, the main house of which was built in the 1680's, with 27 rooms available (each named for a Saint). The full-service spa offers everything from a French facial to a full-body massage, with very reasonable rates.
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Text and Photos Copyright Thomas R. Fletcher