Villa del Sol Celebrates 25th Anniversary

Final phase of growth coincides with quarter-century mark

By: Dawna Robertson

Situated beachfront in the sheltered Bay of Zihuatanejo, Hotel Villa del Sol has completed construction of 14 new villa-style suites in the final stage of a two-decade gradual growth. The property expanded its inventory to 35 suites and 35 rooms, which is considered the ideal size by its owner, Helmut Leins.

“That’s it, the perfect number,” claimed Leins, who conceived Villa del Sol the moment he first saw the mile-long stretch of Playa La Ropa beach when visiting the area as a tourist in the 1970s.

The setting of these new luxury units lies among gardens, paths, ponds and landscaped lagoons. Second story suites embrace multiple water images a plunge pool on each private terrace, lagoons, canals, and a free-form indigo-tile swimming pool with its infinity edge on the beach, Zihuatanejo Bay just beyond, and then the open Pacific Ocean on the horizon.

The new suites express original architectural concepts of Leins, who was the forerunner of an innovative “Zihuatanejo-style” design that, he described as, “partaking of the tropical environment and harmonizing with Mexico.”

Also new is a separate building with a 50-foot palapa roof that houses a spacious lobby and concierge area where guests enjoy seated personalized check-in.

Leins remains committed to the clean simplicity of the area and to Villa del Sol fine-tuning his product rather than expanding it to a grandiose size.

“We’re enhancing our wine cellar, tour desk and entertainment,” he explained. “And we’re making sure our cuisine remains upscale.”

Back in the 1970s, Leins, a Munich-born engineer, searched the coasts of Mexico until he found La Ropa Beach on Zihuatanejo Bay. His plan was to “build a resort so intimate and exclusive that it would forever define luxury in Mexico.”

“We have a great destination here,” Leins said. “We’re on one of the best beaches in Mexico wide with soft sand on a sheltered bay. There aren’t many changes from high to low tide. And there are no big waves coming in. The way we sit, you can see the sunset right on the bay.”

When Leins bought his beachfront property in 1977, he decided to build nine guesthouses. He literally helped with construction during the day and sat at his drawing board to design plans each night for the next day’s work.

“I also bought 16 individual properties surrounding Villa del Sol so I could protect the property.”

On a continuing basis, Leins collaborated with local architects to develop this style of spacious, airy-yet-private beachfront design. It features adobe-hue exteriors, Spanish tile roofs, sturdy supporting columns of exotic parota wood tree trunks entwined with Gaudi-esque camuchina roots, and interiors in Mexican colors, crafts, fabrics and foliage. Even the floors are unique, handcrafted with intricate inlaid pebble designs.

To celebrate Villa del Sol’s silver anniversary, Leins has published a commemorative book, 25 Years in Paradise, chronicling the colorful history of Zihuatanejo with his property as the protagonist. The book is available for purchase on the hotel’s Web site.

Also coinciding with its 25th anniversary, new equipment has been installed in Villa del Sol’s gym, and spa treatments have been added. The property features four swimming pools, with watersports available on La Ropa Beach.

For “land sports,” the hotel serves up two night-lit tennis courts, plus challenging golf at two world-class 18-hole courses located in the neighboring resort of Ixtapa, 15 minutes away.

Leins feels that Mexico is especially attractive to travelers right now. He noted that in addition to new guests, the property sees a very high number of repeat visitors. Leins attributes this to Villa del Sol’s service as well as its setting.

“We have 245 employees for 70 units, so there’s always someone around to help out,” he said. “We’re also finding that it’s easier for people to get here than in the past. American, Continental and United are adding seats. And there are more and more code shares. Then European carriers are beefing up nonstops to Mexico. So it’s just an easier place to reach from many different markets.”

The property’s award-winning Villa del Sol restaurant serves international cuisine prepared by its European chef and his Zihuatanejo-born staff. A specialty is the Fiesta Mexicana dinner every Friday evening, showcasing authentic Mexican regional specialties, delicacies and desserts.

In addition, the new, informal La Cantina Restaurant and Bar is located at the north end of the hotel’s 600-foot beachfront. It features a daily changing menu of Mediterranean-style cuisine with matching wines, a boutique and backgammon at the bar.

Year after year, Villa del Sol receives Travel + Leisure’s “World’s Best Award.” It also consistently ranks on both Conde Nast Traveler’s “Gold List - World’s Best Places to Stay,” as well as the magazine’s “Top 100 Reader’s Choice.”

It recently received the Conde Nast Johansens Award for “Most Outstanding Hotel in North America” for 2005. Villa del Sol also carries the AAA Four Diamond award, and is a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World and Virtuoso.

The property’s special four- to seven-night golf packages include accommodations for two, airport transfers, three rounds of golf on a choice of two courses (with cart), 30-minute private putting lesson at a practice facility, luxury transfers to and from the course, “golfer’s picnic” lunch for each round, welcome cocktail upon arrival, custom golf amenities, use of resort facilities, taxes and gratuities. Through March 31, rates are from $2,645 for four-night stays and from $4,085 for seven-night stays.

Package rates are for two guests, while the golf program is for one guest. A second golf guest is $400 additional. During winter season (through March 31), a mandatory meal plan of $60 per person per day will also be added to all rates.