Traveling south from cancun Along Mexico’s Riviera Maya, a giant white wall behind a glistening turquoise pool beckons entry—the minimalistic aesthetic is a welcome break from the cacophony of colors along highway 307. But behind the “great wall” there’s a surprise: 206 acres of glorious gardens, lush jungle and mangroves leading to Grand Velas Riviera Maya resort.
Three distinctive sections, Zen Grand, Ambassador and Grand Class, house a total of 540 suites, each a whopping 1,100 square feet or larger. As you enter any suite, the sheer scale of the room and the stunning views will take your breath away. High ceilings, massive doors and lots of natural light add irresistible appeal.
The suites look as if a top designer had a hand in every aspect, not only in the design, but also in the functionality. The furniture is perfectly scaled, with sitting areas, desk areas, super-luxurious beds and regional-inspired artwork. Bathrooms are floor-to-ceiling marble, with double, raised sinks, large Jacuzzi tubs, rain showers and L’Occitane amenities.
Zen Grand is Polynesian-style with an enormous open-air lobby. It serves as the resort’s main activity hub with closest proximity to the convention center. The Ambassador suites are family-friendly, and tucked inside is a business center, Kids’ Club and Teens’ Club. The Grand Class, with suites up to 1,300 square feet, is exclusively for adults. Ambassador and Grand Class suites have pool and ocean views, and completely private terraces or balconies. The Zen Grand suites are set in the jungle with all the lush flora and fauna one would expect.
No matter which section you chose, expect to be indulged—your personal Concierge will see to that. Need a beach chaise set up with chilled towels? No sweat, your Beach and Pool Concierges have you covered.
Health, beauty and wellness experiences are easiest at resorts where you’re in a beautiful environment—there’s fresh air, sunshine, healthy food, excursions—but the Grand Velas Spa takes it to a whole new level. Voted Best Spa in the World by Virtuoso, the spa’s naturopathic approach, extensive treatment offerings (40 treatment rooms), lush green surroundings, low lighting, and, what seems to be “water, water everywhere,” helps guests instantly downshift into escapism.
If you can, spend the entire day at the spa to experience the ultimate in ancient curative traditions of Mexico. It is not to be missed. Upon arrival, the pampering starts with a refreshing strawberry and lemon drink garnished with starfruit, and an iced, orange blossom-scented face towel. Following that, the Hydrothermal Journey, which includes no less than seven water-based therapeutic processes, is the spa’s heartbeat (until you’ve experienced a Water Bubble Bed, you haven’t lived). Treatments—facials and massages, among others—incorporate products considered sacred by the ancient Mayans, such as corn, honey, coffee, cocoa, aloe vera and millet. The treatment menu even suggests a Forté tea pairing for each service, and throughout the spa there are tiny energy balls, hand-made with granola, honey, pepitas and nuts, to accompany the teas.
Grand Velas is all inclusive, beginning with in-suite refrigerators and cabinets filled with snacks, drinks, bottles of wine and a help-yourself bottle of Don Julio Tequila. There is also a Nespresso coffee maker in every room, and an endless supply of coffees and teas. But, as most all-inclusives go, the question is, have any corners been cut in the quality of food and alcohol served? At Grand Velas, the answer is no, emphatically not.
Perhaps Grand Velas’s most notable distinction is its level of fine dining. Chefs hail from all over the globe, offering their artistry to the resort’s many luxury dining restaurants, casual bistros, oceanfront venues, lounges and bars. And, as it should be at this level, the chefs are celebrated like rockstars.
Cocina de Autor (Author’s Kitchen) holds the AAA Five Diamond Award—the first all-inclusive restaurant in the world to win this prestigious distinction. Celebrity chefs Bruno Oteiza, Mikel Alonso and Xavier Pérez Stone offer a relaxed gastronomic tour through creative dishes that reflect their collective experiences, with emphasis on Mexican and Caribbean cuisine. Whimsical descriptions such as “Dabbling Duck” and “Foie on the Crop” hint at the chefs’ creativity.
Piaf, the French restaurant named for Edith Piaf, has a Four-Diamond rating by AAA and is a sexy, elegant room dressed in red with sparkling Swarovski crystal curtains. Lamb T-Bone Steak, Roasted Duck Breast and Short Rib Bourguignon are a few highlights on the Viandes et Volailles menu. Sea Scallops with Risotto and Morels, or Tarragon-Marinated Shrimp and other Poissons et Fruits de Mer cater to fish and seafood lovers. Piaf also has deliciously decadent vegetarian options. Piaf’s Executive Chef Mario Soto works alongside Chef Michel Mustiere, a distinguished member of the Maître de Cuisinier de France (Master Chefs of France; see caption on opposite page). Chef Soto is registered in the national final of Bocuse D’or, one of the most important awards in gastronomy.
Also earning the AAA Four Diamond Award is restaurant Frida, celebrating the legacy of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo as well as the rich culinary heritage of Mexico, artistically translated by Chef Ricardo de la Vega.
Italian cuisine by Chef Francesco Cavicchi at Lucca is among the favorites with Grand Velas guests. Classic dishes such as Risotto al Frutti di Mare (with shrimp, calamari, clams, octopus and mussels) and Chicken Cacciatore pair with selections from Lucca’s extensive wine list.
Sen Lin, like the aforementioned restaurants, is open for dinner only and is the resort’s Asian Fusion restaurant presided over by Chef Wayu “Light” Wattanakamin.
For a relaxed, casual setting, whether dining inside or out, the buffets at Azul stretch over numerous stations and feature literally hundreds of items (lobster for lunch, anyone?) Bistro and Chaká, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, are other dining venues dotted throughout the resort. There is also an extensive menu (including sushi) for dining in-suite.
Grand Velas Riviera Maya has been member of the Leading Hotels of the World since 2009 and recognized as AAA Five-Diamond property since 2010. It is also a member of American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts, Signature Hotels & Resorts and Virtuoso, a network of the best hotels in the world.