Puerto Vallarta didn’t start out posh. Prior to Hollywood’s arrival in the Golden Age of films, it was a remote fishing town. Liz Taylor and Richard Burton put it on the in crowd’s circuit when they descended upon Mexico’s Pacific Coast in the early 1960s for the film The Night of the Iguana.
Surprisingly, Ms. Taylor wasn’t even in the film; she came along as Mr. Burton’s plus one. For a time, Puerto Vallarta was their quiet hideaway where they could roam unnoticed. To put this into modern-day terms, it would be like Brangelina walking down the street unrecognized.
Oozing cachet, the coastal town grew with the explosion of air travel, followed by the cruising and all-inclusive booms. Thankfully, Puerto Vallarta’s cobblestone streets, behind the requisite tourist shops and open-air bars, remain. This is the Puerto Vallarta I’m talking about. The one hugging the foothills of the Sierra Madre mountains. The one built up around the Hollywood legends’ former stomping grounds. The one without bottomless drinks.
Viewfinder Tip: Watch The Night of the Iguana, the screen version of the Tennessee Williams play, to prepare for your trip to Puerto Vallarta.
My penchant for a posher Puerto Vallarta started while reporting an all-inclusive story for an airline. A big part of the article centered around using my packaged paradise as a basecamp to explore, versus a place to stay pina-colada put.
This basecamp was the Marival Residences and World Spa, one of the most luxurious packaged properties in town. At first, it felt like a crime to leave my rooftop plunge-pool suite – a gorgeous perch where I’d officially like to start my winter snowbird-in-training sessions – but the more I explored about town, the more I was wooed by Liz and Richard’s former flaunting grounds.
Winding my way up from the beach, I found their time-worn residences connected by a Venice-like pink bridge towering over the uneven street. History has it that the bridge was built so Liz could sneak into Richard’s house unseen. Just up the rocky road from these relics, serendipity happened: I found an exclusive boutique hotel so protective of guests, non-residents aren’t even allowed in the lobby.
Hacienda San Angel
Nondescript from the outside – a strong indication of exclusivity – the entrance opens into a series of interconnected villas and fountain-clad courtyards, conjoined as the Hacienda San Angel. Within moments of getting acquainted with the mosaic-lined and flower-filled grounds, I emailed my husband to tell him we’re celebrating something – anything! – at this 20-suite property.
Later that evening, on the recommendation of locals, I dined at Cafe Des Artistes, one of Mexico’s top-rated restaurants. En vogue and whimsical, the restaurant itself is a lavish work of art draped in glass teardrops. The menu takes it up a notch too, serving sculptural and scrumptious renditions of coastal Mexican fare. My crab terrine looked like the Colosseum and tasted as though it had just come from shore. Note: discreet never comes cheap. Make up for your big night out by noshing on fresh fish tacos beside Banderas Bay.
On the hip side of Puerto posh, make sure you hit La Leche (milk in Spanish), a literal expression of “Dîner en Blanc,” where the cuisine infuses pops of color into the whitewashed physique. In keeping with the gallery theme, my starter salad came with a creative edge: a syringe of balsamic dressing. Good thing I wasn’t wearing white.
Positioned as a jet-set jaunt in Hollywood’s heyday, Puerto Vallarta got a posh push early on. Fifty years later, Puerto’s Pacific Coastal location, cachet, and local warmth makes its brand of chic, discreet, like Liz’s bridge.
Where do you go in Mexico seeking a posh vacation?