Lavishing The Guest

Cabo San Lucas lavishes guests with amenities

BY BILL ZWECKER Sun-Times Columnist

September 25th, 2005

LOS CABOS, Mexico ― The moment the custom, platinum-hued Hummer arrived from the One&Only Palmilla resort, I had a sense things were going to be top-flight. Comfortably settled on the super-SUV’s leather seats, the soft-spoken driver handed my companion and me a scented, chilled, and perfectly moistened cloth ― just to refresh ourselves for the short drive to the luxury resort and spa that is clearly raising the bar for high-end travel destinations around the globe.

Yes, I thought to myself — this is going to be a unique experience. Call it intuition. Call it a Midwestern hunch. But after years of traveling, this Chicago kid is usually pretty good at sensing whether something is headed in the right or wrong direction.

There can be nothing more right than the chance to experience the One&Only Palmilla.

As we pulled into the roadway that eventually winds down to the resort’s entrance drive — about a third of the way between the Los Cabos International Airport and the town of Cabo San Lucas to the west — we are hit by the unmistakable scent of hibiscus and catch our first glimpse of bougainvillea crawling up the One&Only’s whitewashed walls, peeking out behind a forest of well-manicured trees and bushes.

    IF YOU GO GETTING THERE: There is a weekly seasonal (October-June) Saturday flight to Los Cabos International Airport by American Airlines. Los Cabos is served year-round directly on a daily basis (via) Dallas, Houston, or Los Angeles by American, Continental, and United Airlines.

    WEATHER: The Cabo San Lucas area has an excellent climate ― low humidity and cool ocean breezes keep the summer temperatures at 78 degrees to 90 degrees. In the winter, temperatures range from 73 degrees to 80 degrees.

YOU CAN DRINK THE WATER: All resorts mentioned have complete water purification systems in place.

    SPORTS: Golf, tennis, deep-sea fishing, snorkeling, and other sports easily accessible at all resorts mentioned ― or at nearby locations arranged by the resorts on request.

Stepping from the Hummer, bags are silently whisked away, a hostess hands us a choice of chilled all-natural fruit pops and we’re greeted by a group of staff members all nodding and tapping their hearts. Within moments of arriving you learn that hand gesture will be inescapable for the time you remain at the One & Only Palmilla.

Used for centuries by the OtomOi Indians, native to the mountains of Mexico’s Jalisco region, the gesture is an ancient tradition of hospitality that indicates you are being welcomed to their home as one would greet a family member.

Speaking of “home”, it was now time to discover the accommodations that would become ours for the next several days, and one that comes with its own butler! Yes, every room or suite at the One&Only comes complete with a butler on call 24/7. Considering the One&Only Palmilla features 61 guest rooms, 91 junior suites, and 20 one-bedroom suites (really spacious apartments, complete with kitchens and dining rooms) you’d think that’s a lot of butlers floating around. Consider the fact the resort can accommodate 172 guests and the staff number 900, you quickly get an idea of the level of service provided. There are more than four staff members per guest. It’s no wonder Kelly Preston picked the resort last year as the site of the big surprise 50th birthday party she threw for husband John Travolta, a lavish bash attracting Oprah Winfrey, Tom Cruise, and virtually the entire Hollywood “A” list.

The One&Only Palmilla Preston chose was a far different resort than the 15-room inn founded in 1956 by Don Abelardo Rodriguez, the son of a Mexican president. As explained by Andre Boersma (then Palmilla’s resident manager, recently promoted to general manager of the One&Only Ocean Club, Paradise Island, Bahamas), Los Cabos was a far different place back then. “There were no regular telephones. Guests would have to radio the Palmilla from the dusty little Los Cabos airfield to check on their rooms and ask to be picked up.”

Over the years rooms were added (primarily in the mid-1980s). The Palmilla Golf Club was Jack Nicklaus’s first course that opened in Mexico in 1996. But after a $100 million renovation, completed in 2004, the One&Only Palmilla today is truly a totally different place — but with the same architectural flair of its predecessor. “Someone coming back today would obviously realize all the changes, but we’ve worked hard to maintain the same look of the resort that was always here,” said Boersma.

Our home-away-from-home at the One&Only is one of the resort’s newly-constructed junior suites located in the Casa Colores building, only a short walk from the Porte Cochere — the resort’s main entrance. Up a few steps and you enter an environment which have been designed to incorporate distinctive Mexican decor elements with all the comforts the contemporary traveler expects in a luxury hotel. At nearly 750-square feet, our junior suite offers an ample seating area, separate from the sleeping accommodations, but one that frankly was never used. Why sit inside on a couch — when you can loll around on a unique upholstered day bed on a huge terrace overlooking the Sea of Cortez?

For those who care, and who doesn’t? ― the baths are enormous, featuring walk-in closet/dressing rooms, giant shower areas and separate tubs where you can soak away your tension — again with clear and unobstructed views of the ocean. The resort’s buildings and grounds snake along a rock and boulder-strewn 250-acre stretch of beach on the Sea of Cortez. The centerpiece is a complex that includes the reception areas, Charlie Trotter’s second-floor “C” restaurant and bar, overlooking the casual dining Breeze outdoor restaurant, adjacent to the One&Only’s Vista pool ― restricted only to adults.

(Quick tip: Despite the child-friendly atmosphere down the way at the Agua pool, that enormous, meandering pool is so large even child-adverse adults may prefer it to the far more crowded adults-only Vista pool environment.)

As is the case with all Sea of Cortez/Los Cabos resorts, one can only swim at clearly designated “swimmable” beaches. To plunge into one of the other beaches –where incredible undertows are constantly present ― runs the risk of serious, if not fatal swimming accidents. The One&Only features both a large “swimmable” beach at its southeastern end — plus it also provides several private “floating bed” beaches (reservations required) where a couple can lounge all day on a huge, covered suspended king-size-plus mattress with private butler service for beverages and lunch included.

Of all the myriad activity choices available at the One&Only Palmilla there are two absolute musts:

*Experiencing the best-ever spa treatments presented in the resort’s amazing individual spa villas.

*Dining at Charlie Trotter’s “C” restaurant.

To call the One&Only’s spa “extensive” is the understatement of the year. From the spa’s main building you are escorted by an attendant to a private treatment villa entering your own garden hideaway that surrounds an air-conditioned pavilion where an array of massage therapies are administered. After a soothing footbath comes any one of a two-dozen natural and herbal-based treatments. (In my case, I chose a deep-tissue muscle massage, but you might opt for the “Aztec Aromatic Ritual,” or “Exotic Frangipani Body Nourish Wrap” or a “Royal Thai Massage,” geared to releasing tension, increasing vitality and flexibility.)

After one of the best massages of my life, my attendant led me to the whirlpool bath (Couples alert: It’s big enough for two!) outside in the lush garden, where I luxuriated in a mixture of essential oils while sipping a specially-prepared hot peach and ginger tea. Followed by a 20-minute nap on a terry-draped covered king-size bed, and I felt like a totally new man!

A new man – ready to enjoy Charlie Trotter’s world-famous cuisine, now re-interpreted at the tip of the Baja California peninsula at the One&Only Palmilla’s “C” gourmet restaurant.

First of all, I have to be honest. While fully appreciating Chef Trotter’s huge contributions to the world of haute cuisine, I have never been the biggest fan of his signature West Armitage restaurant in Chicago. The combination of too-precious fare and a less-than-friendly, I’m-smarter-than-you-are waitstaff has always been an issue.

Maybe it’s the south-of-the-border friendliness of Mexico, but imagine my delight to discover “C” is not only a place to find fantastic food, but it’s presented by a staff who exude the warmth and graciousness typical of our neighbors to the South. Leading the team is the gregarious chef de cuisine Guillermo Tellez, a native of the Michoacan region of Mexico who spent more than 14 years toiling at Charlie Trotter’s Chicago restaurant well-trained by Trotter to work culinary magic in the kitchen. Obviously Tellez takes advantage of the abundance of great seafood found in Cabo treating us to wonderful halibut, Pacific lobster and yellowtail dishes. Yet, the Mexican flavor influences are clearly present as well, re-interpreted the Trotter way.

It’s a family affair in the kitchen, as Tellez’s wife, Leslie is the pastry chef — turning out such delectable goodies as Passion fruit and milk chocolate soufflè, special flans, and homemade ice creams.

Coupled with an outstanding wine cellar “C” is a clear winner.

*Charlie Trotter also oversees Breeze, the resort’s informal outdoor cafè (as well as the resort’s room service program) — where the fare includes lighter-than-air quesadillas, the freshest of ceviches and the usual complement of sandwiches and salads.

*The One&Only also offers a fun third restaurant and bar (which turns into a nightclub in the evenings) called Agua. Set at the end of the resort complex, the eatery, dubbed “Mexiterranean” in style and substance, offers spectacular views of the sea and innovative menu offerings of seafood, meat, and excellent vegetarian dishes.

When it’s all said and done, the One&Only Palmilla offers the ultimate getaway for those willing to pay for it, but perhaps one of the resort’s most special “treats” is something that costs not one penny. Rising about the resort is a private chapel that has been on the property since the beginning. Adjacent to the white-washed little Mexican-style church (where lucky brides are frequently wed) is a very special garden know as “Hammock Hill.” There an attendant will provide you with your own iPod, customized with an extensive selection of relaxation and meditation music. Just pick your secluded hammock (each surrounded by particular kinds of aromatic flowers and plants) and settle in for yet another soothing escape!

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