By Lisa Loverro
Mexico has always been one of my favorite destinations; the diversity of the people and landscape to its history and unique cuisine, every visit has been awe-inspiring and educational. While there are many well-known tourist spots here: Riviera Maya, Cancun and Cabo, I thought I’d search for new piece of paradise in the country. So, when I was invited to attend a gourmet food festival in Nayarit, on the Pacific coast just north of Puerto Vallarta, I hopped on a plane faster than you could say “tequila.”
Nayarit has quickly become the new hot spot in a country for golfing and 5-star resort accommodations. Named by the government in March 2007, The “Riviera Nayarit,” this 100-mile strip of pristine beach stretches just north of Puerto Vallarta up to the historic town of San Blas. The Pacific Ocean and Bay of Banderas lie to the west and the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range to the east. The origins of Nayarit are found in the indigenous ethnic groups of the Cora and Huichol Indians who settled in the Sierra Madre; to this day preserving their rich culture and ancient beliefs through their unique beaded artwork. Nayarit has everything to offer…history, culture, traditions, stunning beaches, dense jungles and ecotourism.
Lay of the Land
The rugged stretch of coastline is an ideal destination for surfers, nature enthusiasts and the thrill-seeking adventure traveler. Migrating humpback whales pass through the Bay of Banderas from December through March while July begins the nesting season for sea turtles. The Sierra Madre offers hiking, horseback riding and the ever-popular zip lining through the dense jungle canopy. Water sports are endless with sailing, deep-sea fishing, snorkeling and scuba diving, all available from nearby tours operators who have set up shop in the area. Visitors to the region should be sure to pass by the smaller resort town of San Francisco (San Pancho to the locals) to take in a polo match at La Patrona Polo club, and Sayulita where local artisans sell their crafts along the streets while surfers take to the waves.
Rooms with a View
Accommodations range from family all-inclusive resorts to romantic hideaways. My seven-day stay allowed me to sample a few of these resorts and tour through some of the intimate retreats. The recently opened Marival Residences and World Spa could not have been a more perfect spot to start my journey through the region. Their 2-bedroom, ocean-view residence was all things luxury, upstaged only by the rooftop private plunge pool, ideal for watching the last of the sun’s rays sink into the Pacific. The Residences offer both an all-inclusive and a la carte accommodations.
My next home in Nayarit was the Grand Velas Resort. This all-inclusive (really, all-exclusive), AAA-5 Diamond resort with award winning restaurants and infinity pools that go on for well, infinity, is a favorite for the families and couples. This modern, all-suite resort is far from the all-inclusives the of past. If you are looking to try your first all-inclusive, this is the place! With five restaurants, my pick is Frida for upscale, traditional Mexican fare. The Grand Velas Resort and SPA includes an Imperial SPA Suite to rival any Presidential and will surprise even the most discerning traveler.
Heading a bit further north to the area of Punta de Mita a recently opened villa resort adds new meaning to the word exclusive. Imanta Resort, literally built into a cliff along the lush edge of the jungle, borders the ocean and perfect for a romantic excursion. The real beauty to this Mexican Shangri-La is their approach to sustainability. It’s an architectural work of art integrating recycled wood and stone in a world where everything lives together harmoniously. Beyond the sustainable design, this vertical cliff-side hideaway leads down to a perfectly situated beach cove where whale watching and sea turtle hatching are often viewed. There are only nine villas here with an additional Jungle Villa opening soon. If you’re looking for privacy with a touch of magic, I would suggest a splurge vacation to this slice of heaven.
The seas offer mahi-mahi, sea bass, oysters and shrimp. Local dishes include a variety of ceviches and Pescado Sarandeado (Barbecued Fish). In addition to the local cuisine, there are exceptional upscale restaurants. Famed chef Thierry Blouet, who operates Puerto Vallarta’s premier restaurant, Café de Artistes has opened a new restaurant, Café de Artistes Del Mar, in Punta de Mita.
The gourmet food festival headed by Chef Blouet attracts internationally known, award winning chefs into the region to prepare specialty dishes at local restaurants. During this visit to the food festival my personal favorite experience was with Chef Junior Merino, a New York-based triple threat (master mixologist, chef and sommelier) known as the Liquid Chef whose cocktail list was as varied as it was unique. A perfect pairing of Coconut Ceviche with an Avocado Mezcal cocktail rimmed with Lemongrass salt or a refreshing Tequila Blanco, English cucumber and Pineapple drink paired with Lump Crab Soup was only the beginning to what proved to be a very indulgent evening. Thankfully, early morning runs along the wide stretch of beach served as the perfect antidote for my over indulgence. The Riviera Nayarit will certainly not only touch your heart but also linger in your soul for years to come.
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