Mexican Seclusion and Luxury
by John and Sandra Nowlan
Within a small mountain adjacent to the town of Cabo San Lucas, a few fortunate travelers will discover a thousand-foot tunnel lit with torches and chandeliers. Like a fantastical scene from a Bond movie, this passage leads to a unique 66-room luxury resort built on a narrow strip of sand and arid land between granite cliffs and the pounding Pacific surf.
This exclusive hideaway, Capella Pedregal, resides on a 24-acre site at the extreme southern tip of Mexico's Baja California peninsula. Surrounded by the Pacific to the west and the Sea of Cortez to the east, this area has boomed in recent years as a safe and secluded playground for travelers from the U.S., Canada and overseas. We have visited many hotels in Mexico but the Capella excels in its level of luxury and sophistication.
The resort is built in a series of one- to four-story, gold and brown-toned, stone and stucco buildings that blend perfectly into the rocky landscape. Instead of lush, tropical foliage, the property is dotted with gardens of desert cacti and tall grasses with several large infinity swimming pools and lots of comfortable loungers. The layout is designed for total relaxation. Service is provided by a staff of 300 (including maintenance and groundskeepers) for a maximum of 200 guests. An amazing ratio, but service never feels intrusive. The beach is wide and clean (private access to the resort assures no peddlers), but unfortunately the heavy surf and dangerous undertow make it unsafe for swimming.
The oversized rooms at Capella Pedregal are particularly stunning. Each faces the Pacific Ocean and has a private plunge pool, gas fireplace, shower with both rainfall shower head and traditional nozzle, giant soaker tub, free Wi-Fi and small fridge with water and juices. Authentic Mexican touches like heavy mesquite doors, hand-painted dual sinks, hand-tooled leather headboards and traditional lamps with leather shades add to the feeling of comfort and privacy. Every afternoon during our stay, an attendant left an ice bucket with two Mexican beers and dishes of guacamole and salsa with homemade corn chips. This was especially enjoyable while relaxing in the plunge pool and watching the surf thundering against the beach.
The town of Cabo San Lucas is just a short walk away (through that amazing tunnel) with excellent shopping (bargaining expected) and some fine restaurants. But the cuisine is so good at the Capella resort that we preferred to eat all our meals in. At the three house restaurants, executive chef Marco Bustamante (a graduate of the French Culinary Institute and formerly of Per Se in New York) brings a modern twist to traditional Mexican cuisine. "I want our food to have local, organic and sustainable ingredients," he told us. "It's rustic but refined and I'm always looking for something new."
Breakfast at the signature Don Manuel restaurant can be à la carte (the pecan waffles are extraordinary) or buffet style from a traditional hacienda at the back of the restaurant (that's also the room for tequila tasting and where chef Bustamante gives Mexican cooking lessons). Lunch and dinner at Don Manuel are special treats with cuisine and service at the highest levels. The fresh sea bass with a thick macadamia nut crust was the best restaurant seafood we've ever enjoyed.
El Farallon restaurant is built on a cliff at the west end of the resort, and its name literally and accurately means "a rock that comes out of the ocean." It is as unique in its location just above the surf as it is in its format. Guests choose their seafood (or beef) from a display of fresh fillets and then each item is cooked to order along with side dishes and brought to your table. We especially enjoyed the perfectly prepared amber jack and parrot fish, two of the choices that the chef receives daily from seven local fishermen. The third dining option is the casual Beach Club for lunch. We couldn't resist the sea bass tacos with spicy mango margaritas. The ceviche — bass, tuna or shrimp — is also outstanding.
For a small, secluded resort, Capella Pedregal has one of the biggest and most complete spas we've ever seen. Incorporating the traditions of Mexican folk healing, the 12,000-square-foot Auriga spa has eight treatment "pods" floating on a private pool, as well as couples suites and steam, sauna and ice rooms. The spa also has four unique signature treatments based on the phases of the moon. All treatments begin with a foot scrub using sea salt and fresh herbs.
The Capella Pedregal is not cheap (rates start at $525 a night) but none of the guests we met felt it was overpriced. One couple who has stayed at some of the finest resorts in Prague, Aspen and Napa told us that Capella Pedregal ranks above them all. "The attention to detail and the gracious service puts this place over the top. We've been here six days. Plenty of time for them to make mistakes ... and they haven't made any!"