ZIHUATANEJO, MEXICO - This magical Pacific Ocean fishing village was pretty much unknown until it was mentioned in a memorable scene in the film The Shawshank Redemption when Andy (Tim Robbins) tells fellow inmate Red (Morgan Freeman) where he’d go if he got out of prison.
“I tell you where I’d go … Zihuatanejo. It’s in Mexico. It’s where I want to live the rest of my life.”
Zihuatanejo is captivating, but not easy to say.
“Zee-watt-a-NEH-ho,” my guide Ana Luisa Morán Fernández slowly pronounces it as I eagerly enter it into my phone phonetically.
Laughing, Ana Luisa tells me not to worry. “We just call it ‘Z’ anyway.”
Ana Luisa grew up in Zihuatanejo and witnessed its transformation from fishing village to popular vacation destination. It’s in the Golden Pacific area, part of the famed Mexican Riviera, where mega-resorts and high-end golf courses cater to well-heeled travellers.
But Zihuatanejo has managed to retain its small-town charm, which is what drew hotelier Jacques Baldaserri here in the first place.
“Location, location, location,” says Baldaserri, president of La Casa Que Canta, a stunning hotel high on the jagged cliffs overlooking the Pacific.
“The location is always the most important and I knew this place was one of a kind when I first saw it.”
Baldaserri was an executive for a French cosmetics company when he first came to Zihuatanejo with his wife on vacation in the early ’70s. They fell in love with the area and he quickly purchased a large piece of land.
“I wanted to keep the soul of the property and maintain an authentic Mexican feel,” he says. “You don’t go to Paris to experience California and the same is true here. You should come to Mexico and experience what this country has to offer. I want people to see and appreciate the Mexican landscape, culture and more.”
Baldaserri’s unique hotel displays classic Mexican architecture — a terra cotta coloured palette accented with adobe, palapas and tropical woods that blend in perfectly with the surrounding ocean hues.
Left: The Zihuatanejo resort is among Mexico Right: Service is the key at the resort.
“La Casa Que Canta is Spanish for the house that sings,” Baldaserri says. Appropriately, each room is named after a Mexican song (mine is called Maquita Linda after a famous Mexican ballad), and we are gently rocked to sleep each night by the soothing sounds coming off the sea.
La Casa Que Canta is the ideal base for exploring Zihuatanejo and the other cities that make up Mexico’s “Sun Triangle,” Ixtapa, Acapulco and Taxo.
Zihuatanejo’s fishing heritage is still a way of life for many. Its well-protected bay is the perfect spot for boats to moor and the waters here supply sport fishermen with plenty to catch.
One of the benefits of being in the heart of a famous fishing village is the abundance of fresh seafood. Baldaserri’s head chef Juan Antonio takes full advantage of the “catch of the day” and presents flavourful dishes perfectly accented with Mexican spices. It’s difficult to decide which is more delightful, the cuisine or the spectacular views we see while dining alfresco on the Casa’s terrace overlooking the choppy sea.
“Look how wonderful the view is here,” says Baldaserri one evening as he points to Ixtapa. “It is one of a kind. See how the lights from across the bay look like stars at night.”
The view in my room is equally romantic; after dinner, I return to my room to a candlelit terrace and my private plunge pool overlooking Ixtapa in the distance. Next morning, I enjoy an authentic breakfast called chilaquiles, a combination of fried tortillas in green salsa topped with cheese, sour cream and eggs.
As I wander the public spaces of the hotel, I’m impressed by the property’s attention to detail. Each room is uniquely decorated with Mexican handicrafts, adding an authentic and unique feel. All 25 of the property’s spacious suites offer panoramic ocean views and 11 have private pools. Flower petals arranged on the beds welcome you each evening, and tequila, served in a clay bottle with two matching shot glasses, a saltshaker and fresh lime, is provided in every pool suite.
La Casa Que Canta has villa residences, with butlers and private chefs, which are just steps away from La Ropa Beach, the longest beach in Zihuatanejo. Playa la Ropa, which means “clothes beach,” gets its name from a local legend which says a merchant ship ran aground near the bay in colonial times, scattering clothes and other wares which drifted ashore on the waves.
It rains on our last morning in Zihuatanejo, but Max, a friendly American who says he’s been coming here for 10 years, assures me it won’t last. Max raves about the hotel and the area.
“I travel the world for business,” he says, “but this is where I love to come to relax and recharge.”
Beauty, luxury, romance … Zihuatanejo has it all. Just like in the movies.
To learn more about Zihuatanejo and the Ixtapa areas in Mexico, go to www.ixtapa-zihuatanejo.com / For information on La Casa Que Canta, go to www.lacasaquecanta.com / Canadians can get to Ixtapa with Air Canada via Mexico City / While winter remains the most popular time of the year to visit this area of Mexico, hotels like La Casa offer some some great spring andautumn specials.