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The Rise of Cuixmala

Max Kim-Bee Caleta Blanca, one of three Beaches at Cuixmala.

Photo: Max Kim-Bee

"Daddy would not have wanted Cuixmala to become one of those dead places, where rich people go only to drink cocktails." As the sun sets over the Pacific Ocean on Mexico's Costalegre, also known as the Virgin Coast, Alix Goldsmith Marcaccini is talking about the future of the mad castle in the jungle built by her late father, Sir James Goldsmith, the corporate raider, organic farmer, right-wing agitator, and iconic pirate of high-eighties flash. The dull roar of the swells pounding the beachfront ricochets around Sir Jimmy's former lair, the clifftop La Loma, which lords it over the 2,000-acre estate hidden within the 32,473-acre Chamela-Cuixmala Biosphere Reserve. "Cuixmala means 'the soul's resting place,' and Daddy loved the idea of having his family around him in the jungle, where we could be surrounded by beauty," Marcaccini says. "My brother Manes first brought us to this part of Mexico in 1983, and it took forever to buy the land from different owners—and then two years and two thousand workers to build all the houses."

In the heady days of the late 1980's and early 90's, Goldsmith would fly into Puerto Vallarta on his silk-lined, India-themed 757, accompanied by friends on the order of Ronald Reagan, Henry Kissinger, and Richard Nixon—along with a revolving cast of secretaries, mistresses, wives, girlfriends, and kids. For the 99-mile jaunt south to Cuixmala, they would all transfer to a prop plane, touching down on a grass landing strip as zebras, elands, and crocodiles scattered in the wake of the incoming glamour. No wonder some guests compared the experience to weekending with Dr. No.

Now, Marcaccini has turned her father's grand folly into a combination working farm, relentlessly hip eco-resort, colossal bed-and-breakfast, and politically correct watering hole for the neo-glitterati. One of her first guests was—who else?—Madonna, followed soon thereafter by Mick Jagger. Marcaccini's own lists, for her New Year's parties at Cuixmala (Simon Le Bon, Quentin Tarantino, Johnny Knoxville, Seal, Heidi Klum, and that crowd), also have a way of making the press. A devout environmentalist who loves Mexico, Marcaccini is also an international social figure, and there are people who would rent La Loma just to be in the Goldsmith family's orbit. Even after her father's death in 1997, Marcaccini was never tempted to move into the oceanfront splendor of the big house: "La Loma is the place everyone wants to rent." In the vicarious age of reality TV, it's perfectly acceptable even for the wealthy to inhabit a life that seems more interesting than their own. And the hype is still around Goldsmith, who would find the whole situation vastly amusing.

In many ways, Sir Jimmy continues to run the show: it's as if his ghost has just stepped out for a cigar. As it happens, this big, brash tycoon, who once observed, "vulgarity is to some degree a sign of vigor," grew up in the hospitality game. His father, Frank Goldsmith, a Rothschild relation and an English MP, was a manager of Hôtels Réunis—a European chain with classic spots like Monaco's Hôtel de Paris and the Carlton in Cannes—and the family lived like sultans in hotels. Some of his family's freewheeling style is evident at Cuixmala: two absurd life-sized bronze statues, a gorilla and a rhino, still guard the entrance of La Loma, and the two-tiered seating in the screening room has Indian pillow–topped settees the size of double beds. It's impossible to imagine Nancy Reagan perched like a couture canary in a room that brings to mind a determinedly groovy Peter Sellers farce, and yet the adjacent office boasts a commemorative White House bowl that she brought as a bread-and-butter house gift.

For a billionaire eco-warrior, Sir Jimmy had a remarkable flair for whimsy, and Cuixmala is fantastic theater. At the front gate, guards in shiny SUV's take visitors down a five-mile-long driveway that meanders to the top of a bluff overlooking grasslands, coconut plantations, mangrove swamps, and a river, then heads down past a bridge adorned with a pink crocodile sculpture. La Loma, a 37,342-square-foot affair that goes for $9,000 to $15,000 a night, is capped by an illuminated blue-and-yellow Moorish dome, which glows at night like a cheery, radioactive beacon. Included in La Loma's fee are seven guest cottages tucked into an overgrown knoll with views of the ocean and a dormant volcano. Each little villa is an exercise in pure charm, with more modest variations on the decorative theme —luminous walls, concrete built-in furniture, and white enamel floors, designed to make spotting scorpions easier.

For mere mortals, a reasonably priced, nature-driven vacation can be had in one of the cute-as-a-button rental casitas, originally built for Goldsmith's pilots, doctOrs, and support personnel; thesE coSt $350 a night and up. Three separate rental villas with vaulted brick ceilings are close by. Just below the bluff is a tiny restaurant open only to guests, and a boutique that stocks trustafarian hippie garb . Up above is Marcaccini's private house, where she lives with her husband, Goffredo, another devoted environmentalist, and their three daughters.

Cuixmala was a singular vision, accomplished by Robert Couturier, the brilliant architect of Goldsmith's dreamscape. Only 25 at the time he began it, Couturier would spend years working on Sir Jimmy's properties: El Jabalí, a Spanish colonial hacienda in the nearby mountains of Colima; the New York town house; the 1640 château in Burgundy; even his private 757. From the start, La Loma was meant to be a universe unto itself, obeying its own dizzying logic. With so much white paint, and the octagonal floor plan revolving around an open courtyard, it's easy to become disoriented there and spin about in a peculiar, self-immolating orbit, like the astronauts in 2001: A Space Odyssey. To Couturier, the house is "a completely artificial creation, but not pretentious: Jimmy was not a hypocrite or a liar. He envisioned a formidable palace that would make the estate subservient to his house. The circular form abstracts the sense of time and space, and the central courtyard and the white inspire spirituality."

By the time Cuixmala was finally finished, in 1989, Goldsmith had become obsessed by apocalyptic worries (globalization, nuclear energy, pesticides, genetic engineering, and so forth), and his estate doubled as the world's most profoundly opulent survivalist camp. La Loma, all steel and poured concrete, could weather Armageddon—it has already been through an earthquake or two. Goldsmith also maintained his own private army of security officers, who still patrol the grounds, mostly on the lookout for poachers (they prey on sea turtle eggs, pumas, and wild boars). On paper, Cuixmala has remained pretty much the same since Goldsmith died.

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