Rancho San Marcos Toros Pintos S/N Km 88.300, Francisco Zarco, 22750 Ensenada, Northern Baja California
La Villa del Valle's comfortable luxury transforms its simple country setting into a chic oasis in where guests are met with delicious food, elegant wine, and irresistible hospitality.
Valle de Guadalupe's backroads have been known to turn around many a traveler. As you wind past dusty farms and even dustier pick-up trucks, you may begin to wonder how one of Latin America's top 50 restaurants or a famed luxury boutique hotel could be located in such an desolate place. Once you follow the last sign and make your final turn into the Villa del Valle complex you know you've underestimated this patch of northern Baja California desert.
Vineyards rise up to meet you on both sides of the road and a stately house on the hill curiously watches over the goings-on below. This property is a labor of love, developed over the past 12 years by owners Phil and Eileen Gregory, British ex-pats who fell in love with these fields as soon as they laid eyes on them. They have now built themselves a luxury complex with all the comforts of home.
The property's draw is three-fold: La Villa del Valle boutique hotel, the Vena Cava vineyard and Corazón de Tierra, their on-site restaurant. La Villa del Valle, the 6-bedroom boutique hotel, originally envisioned as Eileen and Phil's weekend retreat, is consistently listed as one of Mexico's best small hotels and exudes the warmth of a weekend visit to friends in the country. The traditional Mexican décor is bright and cheerful, with colorful handwoven rugs, pillowcases, and table runners accenting larger-than-life mirrors and high-vaulted hallways. Each room features a view of one of the property's charms; its flower garden to the south, vineyard to the northeast, or the hills in every direction speckled with acacia trees and patches of farmland.
Vena Cava, the vineyard and tasting room a few hundred yards through the grape vines is where you will find owner Phil Gregory most days. He is constantly experimenting with his latest enological creation, working to perfect a formula just right for his guests.
"We're lucky here," he tells me. "For most wineries it's not cost efficient to make small batch wine, but since we have the restaurant, I can make a few hundred bottles and test out my newest experiments." His "experiments" have become national success stories. You can now find Vena Cava wines in some of Mexico's best restaurants; including Máximo Bistrot and Pujol in Mexico City, as well as Corazón de Tierra right on the La Villa del Valle property.
The combined effort of young chef Diego Hernandez and the Gregorys, Corazón de Tierra has been voted one of Latin America's top 50 restaurants for three years running. Their farm-to-table philosophy informs their 6-course tasting menu as they source almost everything they offer from the property's garden or nearby farms.
The restaurant sits on an elevated platform in the middle of the property with a view of La Villa del Valle's garden. Bursts of sunflowers serve as the unofficial welcoming committee and three lazy cats saunter about, passing through the open dining room to weave among the brightly-colored upholstered chairs and rustic wooden tables.
Their kitchen fuses Mexican flavors and Mediterranean staples with a touch of Asian flair. Each night's surprise menu includes fresh-from-the-garden produce, innovative flavor combinations and lots of local fish and seafood. And the pièce de résistance: Vena Cava wine.
Each afternoon at La Villa del Valle starts with a glass of Vena Cava's delicately citrusy sparkling wine and a canapé on the patio. Guests mingle among themselves and the owners are often there to meet and greet, retelling the story of building their Mexican dream house. The scent of lavender drifts in from the surrounding gardens—the plants are used to make the hotel's organic line of lavender soaps, shampoos and conditioners called Baja Botanicals.
There are no room keys at Villa del Valle, in an effort to make guests feel truly at home. A small but efficient staff attends to each guest personally, emailing a few days in advance to offer reservations at Corazón de Tierra or to schedule a wine tasting in the Vena Cava tasting room. The rooms in the hotel are ample without being extravagant. Small reading nooks, large comfortable beds, and wooden-beamed ceilings give the guest rooms the cozy feel of a country retreat. Each bathroom is filled with Baja Botanical lavender bath products.
Breakfast is a simple affair in the house's dining room, with a mixture of Mexican and international dishes along with yogurt, granola and fresh fruit. All the wines and bath products that you can sample on the grounds are also available for sale, just ask any of the hotel staff. And be sure to take a walk through the hotel's beautiful flower garden, taking time to smell the roses and maybe even catch a game of bocce on the bocce ball court.
This hotel makes a great getaway or a nice anchoring point for spreading out and exploring the Valley's many wineries and incredible countryside eateries. In comparison to some of its neighbors like Cuarto Cuatros and Encuentro Guadalupe, whose style is a little more hands off, this hotel is perfect for travelers who crave friendly interaction with other guests and their hosts. For winning hospitality and your own gastronomic adventure, Villa del Valle, Vena Cava, and Corazón de Tierra are a winning combination.
Web Address: www.lavilladelvalle.com
Total Number of Rooms: 6
Published rates: Published rates: $225 to $345 BB (two night minimum)
Review and photos by Lydia Carey