Juanacatlan, Mascota, Jalisco
A remote lake surrounded by steeply emerging hills seems an unlikely place for an exclusive resort. But now, from the visionary folks who brought you the luxurious Garza Blanca beach resort, comes a vacation spot that must be seen to be believed.
The climb to Lake Juanacatlan is slow, as the road – alternately paved, cobblestoned and unpaved – clings to hillsides, affording magnificent views of valleys ringed by the westernmost peaks of the Sierra Madre mountain range. There is hardly any traffic, except for the occasional pilgrim, on foot or on horseback, heading to pay homage to the Virgin of Talpa. Finally, a large gate with an elaborate overhead sign welcomes you to Sierra Lago, an enclave of luxury and serenity overlooking the beautiful crater lake that bears the name of a neighboring village.
The epitome of a “get away from it all” retreat, Sierra Lago is an atypical resort belonging to the Villa Group, known more for its sprawling mass-market beach properties near such popular tourist destinations as Puerto Vallarta and Los Cabos. Comprising only 10 units – four rooms and six cabins – Sierra Lago is a place where nature envelops visitors without overwhelming them.
As befits such surroundings, check-in is outside, an informal procedure witnessed by a gray macaw that may just surprise you with his raucous greeting of “Hola!” Inside the main building is less of a lobby than a spacious sitting room, decorated with antiques and filled with comfortable couches and chairs arrayed in front of a large fireplace.
The cozy bar is conveniently right there as well. One can sit at the small horseshoe bar or in a cushy armchair, nursing a drink from the small but adequate selection. The specialty is the house tequila: a smooth distillation prepared locally (Jalisco is, after all, the leading tequila–producing state in Mexico) especially for Sierra Lago.
It is but a few steps from the bar and lounge to the dining area, where tables are set elegantly along the huge picture window, affording all diners the same pleasing view guests enjoy from their cabins. Given the size of the hotel, the menu is understandably limited; but the food is as good as in any larger establishment. This is especially important in a place where there are no real dining options off the property, and virtually all guests choose the full–board plan for the duration of their stay.
There is no chef at Sierra Lago, rather a cocinera, a female cook with the experience of a grandmother who gets creative with classic Mexican dishes. (This is a common set–up found in many superb hotel kitchens in central Mexico, as well as some very good restaurants, such as Marantina in Puerto Vallarta.) The ingredients from the surrounding countryside are exceedingly fresh, including the fish and seafood, which come from the coast only 2.5 hours away by road. The shrimp pasta in chipotle sauce, for example, is terrific.
The spa menu is limited, but it does cover most of the bases: three types of massage (including aromatherapy and hot stone), two kinds of facials, and reflexology. Massages are administered in an open-air gazebo by the side of the soothing lake.
There is plenty to do besides eat and be pampered — although the temptation simply to relax in one of the comfortable hammocks is always there. The lake offers kayaking, pedal boats and fishing. Swimming is discouraged in the cold, deep water, but there is a floating deck offshore for sunbathing and quick dips. On dry land, choose among tennis, hiking, bicycling, mountain biking, horseback riding, and horse–drawn carriage rides. Indoor options include a game room with a pool table and assortment of board games. Most activities are available at no extra charge.
Spacious guest cabins (cabana suites) overlook the lake and are extremely well equipped, in a style that might best be described as “rustic elegant,” using natural wood and stone. Each cabin features a wood–burning fireplace and can sleep up to four people, in a kingndash;size bed and a couch that pulls out into a double bed. Other highlights include whirlpool bathtubs, bathrobes and slippers, large–screen flat TVs with satellite programming, sound systems, and an expansive porch from which to enjoy the view.
These are worth the upgrade over the lower–priced non–suites (called standard cabanas, even though they are rooms that share a common verandah) as these have fewer amenities: no television, whirlpool or fireplace.
This is the first year Sierra Lago, a member of Mexico Boutique Hotels, is beginning to market to foreign tourists, after achieving success in the Mexican market; in preparation, the staff is taking English lessons.
Web Address: www.sierralagoresort.com (Spanish; English site under construction)
Total Number of Rooms: 24
Published rates: $336 to $548 (per couple, all inclusive plan)
Review by Buzzy Gordon. Photos courtesy of Sierra Lago.