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San Francisco (San Pancho), Mexico

At these Mexican rentals, you can enjoy comfortable rooms, your own cook, and a beautiful beach.

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Guestbook: Casitas by the Sea Guestbook: Casitas by the Sea

Jean Allsopp; Styling by Brian Carter

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Just 25 miles north of Puerto Vallarta, Las Casitas Bonitas—a three-cottage complex overlooking the Pacific—invites guests to kick back, relax, and enjoy the slow pace of life on the Mexican coast.

Once part of a coconut-palm plantation, the single-story, two-bedroom Casa Tranquila was completely renovated by owner Jeff Steele. With the help of San Pancho architect Luís Palomera Ruíz, he expanded the property by building two more casitas. Now visitors can rent any one of the homes or reserve all three for a group holiday.

Casita Amorita, the two-story home closest to the waves, is a good option for families with children, or a group of couples: Each floor is self-sufficient, so guests can come together for outings and retire to their own spaces for privacy.

The smallest, Casita Lolita, offers one bedroom, a kitchen, and a dining space open to ocean vistas. The highlight, though, is the bath built around a large "gringo tree" (so called because of its red, peeling bark, reminiscent of a sunburn). "Part of the ceiling is open, so you shower under the branches," Jeff says.

All three residences have traditional Mexican architectural features, including locally quarried travertine floors and thatched roofs woven from dried palm fronds. Furnishings include concrete molded beds and sofas, plus designer fabrics that lend contemporary flair.

Visitors can ride horses on the sand, lounge around the pool, and explore the beachfront town of San Pancho. When Jeff is there—which is often—he mixes cocktails and offers suggestions for the next day's outings. "Although people come here from all over the world," Jeff says, "there's something about this place, and when they leave, we're practically a family."

(published December 2007)

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