KM 7.5 Carretera Transpeninsular, San Jose Del Cabo, Mexico
As part of a huge golf course and real estate development on miles of land, One&Only Palmilla is not exactly intimate. With a promise of exclusivity, privacy, and superlative service, however, it gets more than its fair share of flashy celebrities and new money billionaires looking to find some quality time with friends, lovers, or family.
Located on the corridor between San Jose Del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas, the One&Only Palmilla resort sits on 250 acres of a 900-acre master-planned community including private residences and one of the best golf courses in the region. A winding road leads from the highway past part of the 27-hole Jack Nicklaus course to the tiled entrance. There staffers greet you with chilled washcloths, water, and an adult frozen popsicle.
Like most waterfront resorts in the region, this one got hit hard by Hurricane Odile in late 2014 and had to close for seven months for renovation. The distinctive Mexican design with strong Spanish influence is still in place after $80 million in renovations, and beloved elements like delicately patterned wrought iron and striking doors with hammered black metal accents are still in place. The main differences any repeat guests will notice are thinned-out trees and a bit of beach erosion offset by new fabrics and furniture in virtually every room in the property. Overall the look is a bit more bright and cheerful throughout. The owners also used the down time (and insurance money) to brighten up the main restaurant near the lobby, revamp the spa, and add more terraces for lounging by the beach and pool.
For the first time there's a staffed kids' club on site as well, a dedicated indoor-outdoor facility designed to serve children ages 4 to 11. Besides the usual playground and games, parents can book special activities such as surf lessons or dessert cooking.
From the covered entrance, all guests are escorted directly to their room for personal check-in service by their butler. Over 50 butlers give 24-hour service to the 174 rooms and suites. Dependent upon your room category, you may share a butler with others in your casas or have your own. Personalized touches are helped along with the emailed preference checklist that guests complete before arrival. Based on your responses, your butler will take care to stock your favorites: Jack Daniels or Don Julio, fine European wine or local Mexican beer, fruits or chocolate, your choice of aromatherapy.
One&Only Palmilla offers 12 categories of luxury accommodations, ranging from the 20 oceanfront superior rooms (at a generous 500 square feet) up to two multi-bedroom villas. All rooms are presented as Mexican style "casas" in single- and three-story buildings hugging the resort grounds. After the first two categories of superior and deluxe, the others are all junior suites of 600 square feet or more. The top suites for couples are the 12 beachfront one-bedroom luxury suites, the size of a small house. These have several sitting areas, commodious bathrooms, and of course a terrific view. Or splurge for the one ocean front pool casita master suite and swim in your own pool facing the crashing waves.
Since everything had to be replaced after the hurricane hit anyway, management took the opportunity to unify the decor and color schemes so that the different room styles now have more of a common look. All now feature high-end designer furniture and lots of splashes of color set against the white or cream colored walls. Well-chosen pieces of art work go up in quantity and quality as you move up the spectrum of accommodation levels. There's still a strong sense of place, however, integrating the look of a modern Mexico that still respects its heritage.
Baths seldom fail to impress, with many having some kind of free-standing or sculptured bathtub, rain shower, and twin vanity sinks. Standard amenities include a flat screen satellite television with DVD/CD player, Bose system surround sound stereo, minibar nightly turndown service, and a telescope for seeing stars or whales. A welcome bottle of tequila is a nice touch and as in most of Mexico, Wi-Fi is included in the rates. All rooms have some kind of balcony or terrace and even the lowest category has a daybed for lounging while enjoying the sea breeze.
For the ultimate family quarters, four-bedroom Villa Cortez is on the water with its own infinity pool and huge terrace. It has a full office with leather floors and all the needed gadgets to make some day trades to finance the room tab. A private theater that had an investment of a million dollars in soundproofing has 1,500 movies queued up, with a screen that's as wide as the room itself. You also get a private exercise room and massage room in the complex.
An even larger one debuted at the end of 2015 after a crew of 150 worked on it seven days a week to get it ready for its first booking. Villa One has 14,000 square feet including terraces, a large swimming pool, and a master bath bigger than most hotel rooms. With these villas the rates can go as high as $25,000 per night in high season, but you do get a full staff of 12 to take care of your family or group—including two chefs. The bar is stocked and you get priority access to the restaurants and spa.
The grounds are beautiful and plush with well-tended gardens. It can be a pleasurable walk to traverse the whole property, but golf carts are continuously driving the whole route to give you a ride when needed. One big selling point for this resort is that it has a long swimmable beach—a rarity in this corridor where the flag are always red because of strong riptides. It's usually calm enough for children to wade in or for taking out a paddleboard.
Four restaurants are on site now and a fifth Italian one is set to debut in 2016. The former Market restaurant was replaced in the renovation. Still designed by Michelan-starred chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, the signature spot is now Seared. You can order seafood here, but it is primarily is a steakhouse featuring aged beef on display in a refrigerated glass case. The wine list here competes as one of the most extensive in the country. Agua by Larbi is an open-air, colorful dining spot facing the sea. It features seasonally driven farm-to-table fare. Breeze is a casual spot between two pools serving Mexican specialties, salads, and sandwiches. Suviche is an elegant Japanese restaurant serving ceviche, sushi, and teppanyaki, with a sake sommelier roaming the room to help you choose what to drink alongside your selections. Pelican Beach Grill is at the far end of the property by the swimming beach area and has a few bites with its drinks.
If you're health-conscious and get hungry at the spa, you can also order from a low-calorie, low-fat menu there. Several bars, lounges, and terraces are scattered around the property, poolside and next to the restaurants. Whether you're ordering shrimp tacos, a margarita, or a $100 steak, expect a gorgeous presentation and a real flair. This resort takes great pride in its cuisine and there's a strong emphasis on quality ingredients at every level.The phenomenal Spa at One&Only frequently gets touted as one of the best in North America and it is one of the largest at 22,000 square feet. All the things repeat guests loved about it were restored, but now the fitness center has brand new equipement and there's an additional spot men will love: Barber & Blade old-time barber shop. For men whose idea of pampering is letting someone else take care of the shaving, this is a nice addition, especially when your face gets slathered with quality after-shave lotions at the end.
Otherwise you weave your way through a maze of six secluded buildings with 13 private spa villas (including six double villas). Naturally there are lots of gardens, fountains, and relaxation rooms. Couples' areas include their own changing rooms, rain showers for two, and daybeds.
The historic Palmilla chapel is on a hillside, looking very traditional inside and having a view of the ocean outside. This is naturally a key factor in the many destination weddings booked here and wedding parties willing to pony up enough cash will find all their dreams fulfilled in terms of photo shoots in dramatic locations, romantic private dining, and an array of indoor and outdoor reception spaces.
One & Only Palmilla is decadent luxury at its best, and after massive renovations in 2015, it's looking better than ever. Despite lofty rates, this resort enjoys high occupancy from its primarily American clientele and a reported 40 percent of bookings are from repeat guests. It serves a wide range of demographics, from wedding groups to honeymooners to families to retirees. Becauase they usually come away thrilled, this fine resort often tops magazine "best of Mexico" lists and compares favorably to the best on any continent.
Review and photos by Timothy Scott