Hidalgo 21, Barrio San Felipe del Agua, Oaxaca City, Mexico
In the hills of San Felipe de Agua, named for the waterfalls that cascade into ancient stone aqueducts that still flow two miles into the heart of Oaxaca City, a beautiful hacienda was built upon a gentle rise and is now a fine boutique hotel.
Despite the expansive estate's unparalleled views to the pine–carpeted mountains, the property languished even as the city's finest neighborhood ("the Beverly Hills of Oaxaca") arose all around. But amidst these freshly built mansions, the old hacienda's classic colonial style captured the imaginations of Peter and Ligia Kaiser.
The experienced international hoteliers, who met and married while managing a luxury property in the Bahamas, had long been looking for the perfect place for themselves. The hacienda's rolling grounds particularly appealed to Peter, a devoted gardener.
And so, as Los Laureles was painstakingly remodeled to preserve its colonial flavor, all high ceilings and huge shuttered windows, and the estate was transformed into an Oaxacan Eden. Undulating expanses of manicured lawn, perfect for hosting a fairy tale wedding, are shaded with trees as old as the original building and accented with fluttering rainbows of tropical blossoms and the butterflies that enjoy them.
At the turn of this century, the estate re–opened as lovely Los Laureles Hotel and Spa, in time earning five stars, four diamonds, and recognition as one of the city's finest hotels. It is discretely hidden from the shady main street, which is still divided by the old Spanish colonial aqueduct. With a warm welcome, the gatekeeper will guide you to the attractive lobby, furnished with museum–quality antiques, original art, and local handicrafts. As the former hacienda owner was a custom furniture maker, the whole property is filled with detailed hand-carved furniture.
After check–in, you'll be led along the broad brick walkway, its graceful, bougainvillea-covered awning supported by stately columns that frame stunning garden views. The 23 quietly opulent rooms and suites are divided between the original hacienda and a newer two–story building; both are outstanding. There are five classes of rooms, all of them different, and all remodeled to an impeccable modern standard that still celebrates the centuries of tradition. Antiques, wrought iron, and handmade mahogany and furnishings tastefully accent the archways and ceramic tile in the otherwise simple, whitewashed rooms. Each comes with fine modern amenities though including satellite TVs, amply stocked minibars, security boxes, hairdryers, fluffy bathrobes, and quality toiletries. Complimentary Wi-Fi works in the rooms and in public areas.
You'll be welcomed to your room with the word "Bienvenido/a" or ("welcome" in Spanish) written in bougainvillea blossoms across a large, comfortable bed. The least expensive standard rooms, with all the luxurious amenities, are arranged much like a traditional U.S. hotel, two elegant wooden double beds facing a tastefully hidden television, and ample furnishings for arranging your things. Consider springing for more spacious superior or suite and enjoy Persian rugs and Mexican ceramics, plus a fruit basket, separate sitting area, and bathtub. Rooms 102 to 107 are on the first floor facing the gardens, while 108 and up have a small sitting area outside the doors in a shared covered porch area. Those above these on the second floor have a private balcony. The Master Suite has an extra dining room area on another level and two separate sinks in the bath, while the Junior Suite Deluxe comes with whirlpool tub and is on a corner with lots of light.
As you take in the pretty pool, which also features a fountain and small whirlpool, you may notice a tiny adobe structure behind the umbrellas and lounge chairs. The smoothly rounded "hut" with small wooden doors is actually a temezcal, a type of sauna used by indigenous Oaxacans to sweat out spiritual and physical impurities.
Today, temezcals are usually offered to tourists as more of a spa treatment. Los Laureles' onsite spa, however, provides an experience that preserves many of the traditional aspects of the ritual. Guests are expected to abstain from food, cigarettes, and alcohol for at least four hours, and perhaps indulging in one of the spa's several massage treatments instead. You are met by a traditional healer who uses local medicinal plants, aromatic steam, and cold splashes of water to help guide you through chants and dances to cleanse the body and soul. Not your style? The spa also offers several other upscale options, including a variety of facials, exfoliations, and hydrotherapy treatments.
Don't stay here without experiencing Los Cypresses Restaurant, one of the city's best. You'll already be dining here for breakfast, after enjoying your first cup of rich Oaxacan coffee over a local newspaper in your room perhaps. But, while room service is available, take a morning meal in the beautiful main dining area, a glistening glass–enclosed garden patio.
The unsurpassable view, upscale address and locally revered cuisine of Chef Horacio Reyes have made this a see–and–be seen hotspot for Oaxaca's elite. Impeccably dressed powerbrokers make friends and deals over impeccably prepared power desayunos. Oaxaca's "ladies who lunch" come a bit later for the restaurant's signature dishes and deserts, which combine the region's celebrated traditional cuisine with modern international techniques. Dinner takes it upscale, with a romantic, candle-lit ambiance and interesting multi-course set menus with wine. Large groups can reserve a more private dining room. Reyes also offers half–day cooking classes (with a market shopping tour) for guests and Oaxacan cuisine fans.
Of course, there aren't many other eateries in this quiet residential neighborhood, or many businesses at all. The well-maintained streets are certainly a pleasure for an evening stroll, and there's an outstanding city park, with hiking trails and waterfalls, close by. But if you want to experience the swirl of Oaxaca's museums, shops, restaurants and other cultural attractions, you'll need to take a 10–minute cab ride into the center. If you have a car though, there's ample parking here on site.
Los Laureles Hotel offers almost everything for their guests on site, including a business center, bar, spa, car rental, laundry service, handicrafts boutique, and a tour desk for arranging day trips and larger excursions. If you prefer the peace of Oaxaca's remarkable natural offerings right at your doorstep, but with the bustling city's spectacular attractions ten minutes removed, then this may be the haven you've been looking for.
Web Address: Hacienda Los Laureles
Total Number of Rooms: 23
Published rates: Rooms $159 to $370 BB
Original review and restaurant photo by Paige R. Penland. Updates (2014) and other photos by editor Timothy Scott.