As soon as I arrive in steamy Puerto Vallarta on Mexico’s Pacific Coast from my home in Mexico City, I’m whisked away for an hour-long ride past the relaxed beach towns of Sayulita and San Pancho. Instead of veering toward Punta Mita—a private peninsula home to the Four Seasons—I’m headed north to Mandarina, a new resort and residential community situated atop the lush, coastal cliffs of Riviera Nayarit’s tropical rainforest.
My destination is the new One&Only Mandarina, a high-end beachfront resort with 105 free-standing villas and treehouses spread throughout 80 acres of dense jungle canopy. Once the staff at the entrance gate flags us through, we drive down a winding pebbled lane hugged by foliage until we arrive at the main pavilion, where I’m welcomed by the ring of a suspended cast bronze gong made by an artisan group with 60 years of experience casting bells for cathedrals. A team of nearly 20 people await me at the doorway, each with their hand over their heart—the classic One&Only greeting.
My butler, Danyael, drives me in an open-air buggy to my villa, a treetop perch where I can see the beach from my plunge pool. Before he leaves, he asks if he can cleanse my room with a smudge stick (obviously, I say yes). He lights a bundle of sage, palo santo, and eucalyptus and circles the room. Once I’m alone, I notice that the resort paid extra attention to sourcing from Mexican designers. The in-room kimono is by Candor, one of my favorite textile studios headquartered in Mexico City, and the orange and cream textiles on the bed are by my friends Libia Moreno and Paulina Parlange of Colorindio, also based in the capital city.
While I could walk to the resort’s various outlets, I rely on Danyael, who I have instant access to by picking up the phone in my villa. He zips me over to dine at Carao by Enrique Olvera, a restaurant meant to emulate the cuisine one would find at a traditional Mexican palapa on the Pacific Coast. It’s set on the resort’s highest, southernmost peak. The meal—prepared by Pujol alum Jesús Durón—is as expected: exceptional and classically Mexican. It begins with fresh ceviche starters and ends with homemade cinnamon buñuelos.
Equally good is Alma, an open-air, garden-to-plate restaurant helmed by French-Mexican executive chef Olivier Deboise. The setting is gorgeous, with a citrus-tree lined patio set above a series of sun terraces and two swimming pools, both extending over a cliff: one shaded under lush greenery, the other facing the ocean. The restaurant has two wood-fired ovens, which Deboise uses to turn out inventive dishes that riff on traditional recipes and ingredients, like epazote ravioles with huitlacoche and almond cheese and matcha crème brûlée.
Thankfully, the resort has a long list of active experiences like guided bike rides through the rainforest and horseback riding lessons to balance out all the eating and drinking. In crafting excursions, they worked with a team of local botanists to help minimize any impact on the existing natural landscape. My favorite activity is a hike to visit the 500-year-old higuera blanca tree known as La Abuela, where a local guide led me through one of the property’s new hiking trails, explaining the flora and fauna and even pointing out rock carvings believed to be etched hundreds of years ago by the local Cora and Huichol cultures. Post-adventure, I had an in-room massage (the spa has partned with natural skincare brand Tata Harper). I’m told future treatments will be offered in the resort’s spa, located in a natural volcanic rock garden that includes six secluded treatment rooms, each with design elements inspired by expressions of sacred geometry created by Huicholes, one of the Indigenous communities of Riviera Nayarit.
I don’t have children, but if I did, I know they’d be pumped to be dropped off at the property’s kids’ club. It’s a resort in its own right, a Brigitte Broch masterpiece (the Academy Award–winning art director behind film sets like Romeo and Juliet and Moulin Rouge). Treehouses are connected by suspension bridges and there are climbing walls, an outdoor amphitheater, and a nature hut with artifacts from the area’s indigenous Cora civilization. But, by far, I’m most impressed by the butterfly sanctuary. Whether intended or not, its shape reminds me of a caterpillar.
On my last night, I watch from my villa as the sun slips through a sherbet-hued sky and into the Pacific. I can see all the way down to the jetty, whose arced shape is meant to represent the center of a long-dormant volcano that helped shape the surrounding landscape. There’s an overwater lounge area and a circular fire pit. I watch as a member of the staff sets it ablaze, a nightly ritual that I’ve come to see as my cue that it’s time for a margarita.
At the end of the day, the One&Only Mandarina is the type of place where every last detail of a visit is taken care of. The decor, food, and natural setting were excellent, but what stood out and what would bring me back were the people: the general manager, Serge Ditesheim, sent me his recommendation for the best mezcal bar in the nearby town of San Pancho, and the food and beverage director, Sébastian de Vizcaya, noted I had loved one of the salsas and handed me a jar, bottled and labeled, for me to take home and enjoy. I’ve finished it—guess I’ll have to go back for more.
Originally posted on Condé Nast Traveler.