Away From It All

Hacienda de los Santos is a true Mexican retreat

By: By Jim Calio

The Details

Hacienda de los Santos 
Small Luxury Hotels
Commission: 10 percent

The closest commercial airport to Alamos is located in Ciudad Obregon, Sonora. Flights are also available through Phoenix on Aeromexico and through Tucson, Ariz., on AeroLiterol, an Aeromexico feeder, with a stop in Hermosillo.

The hotel will send a van to pick up guests at the Ciudad Obregon airport ($150) for the 75-minute drive to the property.

Budget Rent-A-Car is also available at the airport, but most guests don’t need a car once they arrive in Alamos. The hotel also has its own hangar for private aircraft and a 4,000-foot paved runway two miles from the resort.

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The spa menu at the Hacienda de los Santos Resort and Spa contains an interesting warning: "Our staff has not yet mastered the English language but is familiar with important terms that you might find helpful. These include: More pressure, less pressure, can you direct me to the bathroom? I have pain in this area or would like more time spent there; I do or do not want a head massage; and please do or do not massage my face."

Hacienda de los Santos is located on seven acres of lush gardens. // (c) Hacienda de Los Santos
Hacienda de los Santos is located on seven acres of lush gardens.

But the owners need not worry. The work is professional, courteous and just what you’d expect from a luxury property tucked away in the foothills of the Sierra Madre mountains of northern Mexico: gracious. Hacienda de los Santos combines all of those things that are good about small-town Mexico with some state-of-the-art resort amenities, including high-speed Internet but, mercifully, no satellite or cable television (fax and PC plugs are available).

"A lot of people who come here never get out of their bathrobes," said Nancy Swickard, who, with her husband, Jim, owns the Hacienda de los Santos in Alamos, Mexico. "They get a spa treatment and then say, ‘OK, what’s next?’ They never go outside the walls."

And why should they? The Hacienda de los Santos is about as self-contained as any spa resort can be, with seven acres of gardens, fountains, patios and a 75-seat theater where old and current movies can be screened.

The Swickards happened upon Alamos, an old silver mining town about 450 miles south of Tucson, 17 years ago when they were thinking of retiring to San Miguel de Allende, a traditional ex-pat community populated by American writers, painters and retirees. But then someone suggested that they take a detour to Alamos, and they never went any farther.

"I think it was when they saw the church in the middle of town that they decided, ‘This is it’," said Jamie Alcantar-Swickard, one of the Swickards’ daughters who, with her husband, also works on the property.

Throughout the city, colonial-era houses built flush against the sidewalks conceal inner gardens. Today, visitors can enjoy leisurely strolls down the cobblestone streets, dining at a surprising variety of good restaurants or shopping in the many (and inexpensive) open markets.

Over the years, after acquiring a rundown, 17th-century hacienda and lovingly restoring it, the Swickards acquired five other adjoining properties, including a sugar mill that now houses the spa. Both had been antique appraisers in their previous lives, and they put that knowledge to good use: The furnishings in the rooms and in the public areas are vintage Mexican, and the old dining room features the couple’s priceless collection of retablos or devotional paintings of saints on tin. In addition, all the guestrooms are named for saints.

But this is not to suggest that there is a religious bias at Los Santos. On the contrary, there is always a lot of music, and festive holiday parties abound. Jim Swickard prides himself on his collection of almost 500 varieties of tequila. It’s not that tequila is the same as holy water but, this being Mexico, it’s probably just as revered.

The spa treatments run the gamut from deep-tissue massage to homeopathic therapy to complete spa packages. The spa itself is located in a building reached by crossing one of the property’s many stone paths and then going up and over a bridge that spans an arroyo running through the property. Treatments can be given inside or on the patio.

During my recent stay, I stretched out on a massage table, with the sounds of water emanating from a nearby fountain, and was instantly transported to a quieter, more peaceful time in colonial Mexico. My treatment, a full-body massage, ended with a "crescendo," a two-handed race up and down my spine.

After that, if it’s late in the afternoon, the best place to go is back to your room where, in the chilly nights of winter, the fireplace will be lit, and a quiet night of calm awaits you. As Nancy Swickard said, why go anywhere else?