James Bond would feel right at home.
To enter this secluded piece of paradise at the extreme south end of Mexico's Baja California peninsula, visitors must pass through a 300-metre-long tunnel lit by chandeliers and torches. Instead of a shark tank and 007 villain, the other side of the small mountain presents a unique 96-room luxury resort built on a narrow strip of sand and arid land between the granite cliff and the pounding Pacific surf.
Capella Pedregal was completed just three years ago on a 10-hectare site surrounded by the Pacific to the west and the Sea of Cortez to the east. This area has boomed in recent years as a safe secluded playground for well-heeled travellers from the United States, Canada and overseas. We've visited many areas of Mexico but the Capella excels in its level of luxury and sophistication.
The resort is built in a series of one to four-storey gold and brown-toned stone and stucco buildings that blend perfectly into the rocky landscape. Instead of lush, tropical foliage, the landscape is dotted with gardens of desert cacti and tall grasses with several large infinity swimming pools and lots of comfortable loungers. Service is provided by a staff of 300 (including maintenance and groundskeepers) for a maximum of 200 guests. An amazing ratio, but service is never intrusive. The beach is wide and clean but unfortunately the heavy surf and dangerous undertow make it unsafe for swimming (hence the multiple pools).
The oversized rooms are stunning. Each faces the broad Pacific and has a private plunge pool, gas fireplace, showers with both a rainfall head and traditional nozzle, a giant soaker tub, a small fridge with water and juices, and free WiFi. Authentic Mexican touches like hand painted dual sinks, hand-tooled leather headboards, lamps with leather shades and heavy mesquite doors add to the comfort. Every afternoon an attendant leaves an ice bucket with two Mexican beers and dishes of guacamole and salsa with homemade corn chips -- especially enjoyable while relaxing in the plunge pool and watching the surf thundering against the beach.
The town of Cabo San Lucas is a short walk away (through that amazing tunnel) with excellent shopping (bargaining expected) and some fine restaurants. But the cuisine is so good at the Capella resort that we preferred to eat all our meals at one of the three restaurants. Executive Chef Marco Bustamante (a graduate of the French Culinary Institute and formerly of Per Se in New York) brings a modern twist to traditional Mexican cuisine.
"I want our food to have local, organic and sustainable ingredients," he told us. "It's rustic but refined and I'm always looking for something new."
Breakfast at the Don Manuel restaurant can be a la carte (the pecan waffles are extraordinary) or buffet style from a traditional hacienda at the back of the restaurant (also the room for tequila tasting, and where Bustamante gives Mexican cooking lessons). Lunch and dinner at Don Manuel are special treats. The fresh sea bass with a thick macadamia nut crust was the best restaurant seafood we've ever enjoyed.
El Farallon restaurant (built on a cliff, it literally and accurately means, "a rock that comes out of the ocean") is unique in its location above the pounding Pacific. Guests choose their seafood (or beef) from a display of fresh fillets, which are cooked to order along with side dishes and brought to your table. We enjoyed perfectly prepared amber jack and parrot fish, two of the choices supplied to the chef daily from seven local fishermen.
The third eatery is the casual Beach Club for lunch. We couldn't resist the sea bass tacos with spicy mango margaritas. The ceviche -- bass, tuna or shrimp -- is also outstanding.
For a small, secluded resort the Capella Pedregal has one of the biggest and most complete spas we've ever seen. Including the tradition of Mexican folk healing, the 1,115 square metre Auriga spa has eight treatment "pods" floating on a private pool along with couples suites and steam, sauna and ice rooms. The spa also has four unique signature treatments based on the phases of the moon. All treatments begin with a foot-scrub using sea salt and fresh herbs.
For Martha and Randy Cass of Toronto, this was their third stay at a Capella property. "We love the west coast of Mexico," they said. "The property here beautifully reflects the rough and wild nature of the landscape. The private tunnel is fantastic and the service here makes us feel very special."
In the summer, the resort hosts its own Food and Wine Festival with several celebrity chefs, cooking demonstrations, wine tastings, gourmet dining and a barbecue party on the beach. This year's event included Iron Chef winner Kent Rathbun of Dallas and Johnny Iuzzini, New York City's top pastry chef and, according to Forbes, "one of the 10 most influential chefs in the U.S."
NEED TO KNOW
Capella Pedregal is a five-star resort and prices reflect that. Packages are available and a personal assistant is on hand to help you book activities. For more information, see capellahotels.com.