Checking In at Chablé, Mexico’s Newest Jungle Retreat
In the Mexican city of Mérida, where I have a vacation home, the chatter has been building over the last few years about a mysterious hacienda hotel less than an hour out of the city. There have been hacienda hotels in the Yucatán jungle before now, but what sets Chablé — one of Travel + Leisure's best new hotel openings of the year — apart is the sophisticated dance between historic and modern, along with a sense of drama that infuses every aspect of the property.
The First Impression
I arrived at Chablé late at night, traveling via a long dirt road through scrappy jungle and past the Mayan village of Chocholá. A lantern-lit road led me to the main house, an oxblood-red 18th-century hacienda built on the era's typically grand scale. The main house has been restored to its original glory, with hand-made tile floors, wooden beams, soaring ceilings, and a long colonnaded veranda overlooking manicured jade-green lawns shaded by gnarled trees.
The 40 guest rooms are discreetly set apart from the hacienda, among lushly landscaped gardens. The thoroughly modern casitas (courtesy of architect Jorge Borja and interior designer Paulina Moran) are studies in minimalist cool. Constructed from rough-hewn limestone, rich dark wood, and what feels like acres of glass, each freestanding villa is an intimate hideaway with its own hammock-strung plunge pool, double walk-in showers, and a spacious terrace with lounges and a daybed. Sweet touches abound: fresh flowers, handmade turndown treats, a complimentary mini-bar, and coffee and pastries left each morning on the terrace.
Guests are likely to divide their time between the gorgeous spa and the pool area, an unabashedly tropical swimming pool lined with sun loungers, umbrellas, and palm trees. (A slightly incongruous sight in the middle of the Yucatan jungle, but I doubt anyone will mind.) The 14-room spa, clearly the star of the resort, is set around a large cenote, the clear freshwater limestone sinkholes that dot the Yucatán Peninsula. Therapists are dressed in sky-blue linen jumpsuits by Mexico City-based fashion designer Bianca Bejos. The spa uses natural materials like Crema Maya (the white porous stone floor tiles), Brazilian hardwood, and limestone. There is a wide-ranging menu of treatments, from massages and facials (many incorporating Mayan healing rituals) to unusual experiences like Janzu water massage and three temescal, the pre-Hispanic Mexican version of a sweat lodge with ceremonies are performed by local shamans. There's also a hydrotherapy circuit that includes three plunge pools, a steam room cave covered with gold tiles, and a saltwater-filled "floatarium."
Dining is another highlight at Chablé, whose three restaurants — the main dining room Ixi'Im, poolside Ki'Ol, and a spa restaurant serving healthy meals in bento boxes — are overseen by chef Jorge Vallejo of famed Mexico City restaurant Quintonil. Ixi'Im is lit up like a jewel box at night: set among trees, the stone ruins of one of the hacienda's buildings have been attached to a glass dining room lined with the owner's 5000-strong collection of vintage tequila bottles. The vibe is big-city sophistication, with décor that wouldn’t look out of place in Mexico City or New York: dark gray granite tables, pale-blue banquette-style sofas, black-and-white tiled floors, a show-stopping chandelier composed of black lacquered gourd skins. Inventive cooking showcases the region's bounty in dishes like deer tartare with sour orange, habanero, and avocado; and suckling pig with recado negro sauce.
One afternoon I booked a dining experience with Doña Eneida, considered the best cook in the village of Chocholá. This animated, bright-eyed abuela whips up traditional Yucatecan staples like cochinita pibil (pork slow-roasted in banana leaves underground), hand-made tortillas and relleno negro (turkey in black sauce) on a wood-fired stove, all while engaged in rapid-fire Spanish banter. I ate this feast on a shady terrace overlooking the resort's vast kitchen garden, watered using a traditional canal system that dates back to colonial times.
I was particularly taken by the resort's dedication to creating a wealth of intimate spaces in this formidably grand setting, from the woven wasp nest-style day beds suspended from trees boughs to yoga sessions held beneath the canopy of a laurel tree hung with lanterns. I loved that crumbling remnants of the original hacienda walls and archways have been left in situ, including the bouganvillea-draped stone archways with steps carved up the sides, a way for cowboys to count the cattle back in the hacienda days. I had a few occasional quibbles: the casita's sliding wooden doors are so heavy they require superman-like upper-arm strength, and the pathways to the rooms could be better lit. But they're easily forgiven in the scheme of the overall symphony. The Yucatán state has rarely seen a property of this caliber, and Chablé will be a destination hotel for years to come.