By Travel Editor Tracey Minkin
The hashtag of choice at One&Only Palmilla, the esteemed luxury resort and spa on the tawny-colored, tiny-pebbled beach of Cabo San Lucas in Baja California, Mexico, is #thelegendreturns. And I am just returned from three days at One&Only to say that the hashtag fits. What was already great prior to Hurricane Odile's flattening attack on the beloved hideaway last September has emerged even greater. Let me show you what I mean:
This is Palmilla's newly reimaged (and open to those Baja breezes) Agua Bar. It was already a spectacular reveal, but then there were flights of tequilas for tasting (Agua features long lists of tequila and mezcal: ask for labels you can't get in the US).
Even without tequila (although it was never far from hand), it was a delight to rediscover the exuberance and confidence of the entire property, which reopened its doors in late April. Every detail was already curated to just the right pitch, from the serenely sophisticated spa (including the new Barber & Blade grooming/shave studio and Mani:Pedi:Cure Salon, as well as a blow-out menu at the new OBO Salon by Jonathan & George that will turn you into an addict) to expanded fitness facilities that almost lured me into workout mode... almost. The pools were large and glorious, and the bleached-white exteriors, maintaining their 1950s provenance, remained timeless and beautiful.
Outdoors, vignettes delighted from every turn. Outside the doorway to my room, for example:
Inside, Palmilla's 172 guest rooms featured a new palette of blues (accented by crimsons in the artwork); the result was a subtle reflection of the azure of the sea visible from every window. Those famously ample daybeds were still there... just dressed in new patterns and hues.
In the baths (where Palmilla really knows how to feather a nest), shampoos, lotions, and bathing salts came in large bottles that looked and felt hand-blown, the sewing kit was selected to match the colors of my clothes hanging in the closet, and a rainfall shower (out of view in this detail) was poised high enough above to actually feel like rainfall. Between this shower and my deep tub with a view of the ocean, I felt like the saint of a bleached and refined grotto.
Even the lush landscaping, which took a beating from Odile's high-velocity winds, and for which Palmilla was famous pre-hurricane, hung in there to maintain the resort's haute-jungle green, which added that sense of privacy no matter where you roamed on the property (or paused for assignation). Here's the path up from one of the beaches:
And the beaches themselves: they're back and they're as beautiful as ever. Stately and private cabanas stood ready for shaded retreats, and the rocks at waterline made for a non-stop show, whether you're having fish tacos and a margarita at Breeze Café (Palmilla's poolside breakfast/lunch/cocktail spot), or taking a morning walk:
Palmilla's management took advantage (if one can say that) of Odile's forced reboot of the resort to update its restaurants, which have emerged as a destination unto themselves within the property. Two more-formal restaurants under the culinary vision of Jean-Georges Vongerichten have new, modern interiors and concepts: SEARED (pictured below) is a refined steakhouse, and Suviche features sushi and ceviche.
Down the beach, Agua By Larbi has blown out all the doors (literally) to create open-air settings for innovative plates that showcase classic Mexican influences under the helm of chef Larbi Dahrouch. Order the table-side guacamole preparation--it's a fresh and delicious show. Also of note: Palmilla employs one of the few female sommeliers in the Baja, and she's fabulous. As are the wines emerging from this country, which don't get nearly the attention they deserve (and are hard to find outside of Mexico).
At Breeze, a quick bowl of ceviche hit its mark perfectly, both in fresh and ocean-pure flavor, as well as colorful presentation.
But finally, what has returned with the legend of Palmilla never really left: hundreds of highly professional, dedicated staff who provide layers of gracious service (and who were kept on the payroll by One&Only throughout Palmilla's rebuilding). Geneveva Gutierrez, one of OBO's stylists, took one look at my hair pre-blowout and let me know that it needed, well, work (and performed a celebrity-level cut that has inspired me to fly back to Cabo for an update in five weeks). My massage therapist, whose status as a healer allowed him to wear the only male ponytail on the property, delivered one of the top three massages I've enjoyed in three decades of world travel. Also worth return for that experience alone.
Service was everywhere, and yet never invasive: the perfect answer to my telephone call, the driver of the golf cart who knew when to slow down to see if I wanted a lift, and when to zip past because I didn't need one. The butler who popped in with bottles of water as I was running low. The man who carefully, perfectly, raked the sand as the sun warmed it every morning. The woman who made my white bedspread into a canvas for a turn-down work of bougainvillea-petal art.
What a return, indeed. Here's to every man and woman who has kept Palmilla so welcoming and splendid, at every level. To everyone who is celebrating in the Baja that the legend is back? Cheers.