The Royal Treatment: Esencia Xpu-Ha, Mexico
About an hour south of Cancun on the Yucatan Peninsula is a 50-acre private estate on a two-mile stretch of secluded white-sand beach: your personal retreat on the Riviera Maya.
Imagine you are staying at a friend’s family compound—a very wealthy friend’s family compound on its own private beach. There are no checks to sign, the staff knows your name and drink preferences, coffee and warm rolls tucked into a linen towel magically appear each morning at your door, there’s a massage therapist available, even a complimentary nanny service. Sounds like heaven, right? Well, it is. The main mansion at Esencia was once the winter home of an Italian duchess and heiress to the Ferrari fortune; the Duchess had so many visitors that she decided to convert it to a hotel, adding 20 rooms and cottages, tucked discreetly off paths dense with vegetation: palms, cacti, sea grape—and the occasional iguana scuttling by. These all are lovely, housed in white buildings with all-white décor accented with splashes of tropical color. But the place you really want to be is in the mansion, with its nine suites, private dining room, and expansive living room looking out over the pool and the Caribbean beyond. Each suite is unique; ours, designated only by a stained-glass jaguar, had front and back terraces, a red-brick domed ceiling, an outrageous bathroom, and fabulous sea views. The Duchess still visits each year and stays in her own Rosa’s Suite with private terrace, solarium, and plunge pool. The Torre Deluxe Ocean View Suite has 360-degree views. No wonder this place is a favorite with other royals, celebs like Kate Moss, and masters of the universe.
Start your day with frittata Esencia or ranchero eggs at the Poolside Pavilion, then walk along the beach (expect to see a lot of topless women and men in tiny Speedos) or join in an outdoor yoga class. I can’t imagine a better way to practice your asanas than with ocean breezes, the sound of the surf and birdsong, and gauzy white curtains billowing all around. At some point during your visit, indulge yourself at the all-organic Aroma Spa; an herb garden at the entrance provides many of the ingredients for face and body treatments, which they hand-mix in front of you—specialized treatment indeed. My friend and I opted for the chocolate massage ritual. It started with us standing face to face on a round rug, a bowl of smoking herbs between us, cleansing our auras. Then, with our eyes closed, rain sticks were gently shaken over our heads followed by an oblivion-inducing massage with honest-to-goodness real chocolate. (I admit, I had a little taste of it, just to make sure. It was chocolate—and it was really good!) Looking for something more exotic? Try the Temazcal ceremony, a traditional cleansing ritual held inside a pyramid-shaped enclosure.
The partially open-air Sal y Fuego (meaning salt and fire) restaurant serves Meso-American cuisine using Yucatecan methods, such as banana leaf-wrapped fish and meat cooked in a pib (an underground oven). We loved the Tikin-Xic, a roasted red snapper, and lobster taquitos. Ceviche is a specialty here: You may choose from eight different types, or ask for a sampling of three. There is seaside service, too, if you can’t tear yourself away from the beach, a definite possibility.
Mayan ruins such as Tulum and Coba are nearby, so you can leave this little bit of heaven for a day trip…or just sit back in your cabana with your toes in the sand and an ice bucket full of Coronas and limes. Guess which option I chose? —Nancy L. Claus
Getting There: Catch a non-stop flight from JFK on JetBlue, Aeromexico, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, or American Airlines, and you’ll be in Cancun three hours later. The estate has a car service to pick you up for the 40-mile drive down to Xpu-Ha, $110 each way for up to six people.
Details: Rates per night, per room, vary according to season and include breakfast. Rooms, $565-$809; suites, $685-$1679; family cottages, $1955-$2405
Contact: Esencia, Carretera Cancún-Tulum Km 265 Xpu-Ha, Mexico, (877) 528-3490; hotelesencia.com