There was a time when Mexico was the New World, and pioneering Spanish nobility built majestic haciendas reminiscent of their grand estates in the old country. These days, properties like Jalisco’s Hacienda el Carmen have emerged from decades of neglect to welcome discerning guests back to the splendors of a bygone era.
Hacienda el Carmen may be the hardest place to miss in all of the state of Jalisco if you’re driving from Guadalajara: there are more signs directing you along the highway than there are for any other landmark (or even route markers, for that matter). You are on one of the byways of the famed Ruta del Tequila, skirting the Tequila volcanic ridge, passing vast fields of sugar cane interspersed with patches cultivating the unmistakable blue agave plant.
From the moment the electronic gates part allowing you onto the property’s manicured grounds, you feel you are stepping back into history. The majestic arches of the main building beckon, alongside the cupola of the chapel. Antiques representing a lifetime of collecting by the matriarch of the family usher you into the lobby at the foot of the grand staircase, and thence into the immense courtyard. The eye is drawn to a bank of double-sized hammocks; the body is bound to follow.
Relaxing can be done in a number of other areas on the property as well: on chaise longues alongside the pool, or around the artificial lake where the swans swim; in the outdoor whirlpool spa; in the indoor lounge containing a giant-sized flat screen satellite TV; or in the cozy bar. More active recreational activities also abound, including horseback riding and golf on an expansive putting course.
The guest rooms, each named for an ancestral member of the aristocratic family, continue the theme of genteel elegance, down to the monogrammed robes and slippers. The 21 alcove suites are complemented by three Master Suites and two Grand Master Suites, the latter complete with fireplaces; the top of the line is the Presidential Suite “Alcoba Azul,” with its own interior plunge pool and sunken bathtub.
For extra pampering, the spa at Hacienda el Carmen offers a full range of therapeutic relaxation and beauty treatments, featuring such exotic and unique ingredients as a proprietary combination of volcanic clay and Merlot wine. Even the physical layout of the facility itself — housed in an ancient granary — is awe-inspiring. There is even a purifying temezcal (indigenous herbal steam lodge) on the premises.
The proprietor of the hacienda is a caterer, so the food — prepared from the freshest ingredients the bountiful countryside and ranch have to offer — is delicious. For guests’ convenience, comprehensive meal plans are offered, with or without the option of alcohol. In any event, be sure to try (at least once) the superb tequila aging in the branded barrel at the hotel entrance: uncork the top, dip in the distinctive ladle, and enjoy the best the cradle of tequila has to offer.
Number of rooms: 27
Published rates: $130-$290. Meal plans range from $37 (children) to $70 (adults), or $100 including unlimited alcoholic beverages.
Text and photos by Buzzy Gordon, who was a guest of Hacienda el Carmen for purposes of review.