Way Off the Beaten Path

Sierra Lago is an adventure from the onset

By: Dawna L. Robertson

Guillermo Villa is an excellent driver he has to be. As Villa zigzagged our van up the narrow, rocky route into the Sierra Madre Mountain range from the quaint village of Mascota, it was obvious he knew every dip, curve, nook and cranny intimately.

This final 10-mile leg of our three-hour road trip from Puerto Vallarta to Sierra Lago Resort & Spa was an adventure in itself. Up to this point, we stopped to view the shimmering agave fields and slowed for an occasional cattle drive sharing our road, so the trek seemed quicker than the clock. That certainly wasn’t the case at the end, however.

Remote and secluded, Sierra Lago is an exclusive 200-acre mountain retreat developed around the Juanacatlan Lagoon. I was instantly overwhelmed by the crisp, clear air and tranquil atmosphere. The sights, sounds and smells were relaxing and invigorating at the same time.

Villa took me directly to my room, one of seven standard cabanas. Sierra Lago also features nine canvas-clad eco-cabanas geared to families, plus suite cabanas designed for couples and honeymooners with their freestanding Jacuzzi tub, fireplace, mini-refrigerator for champagne, television and spacious sitting area.

Scattered amid pino, roble and madrono trees, all suites are brightly furnished in rustic, traditional Mexican style with remarkable views of the sparkling lagoon and surrounding suncapped mountains.

I actually felt like I was staying at the home of a friend a very wealthy friend with incredible taste, mind you. The taja-tiled main building housing the lobby, dining area and kitchen was actually the home of Fernando Gonzalez one of the trio of owners of The Villa Group hotels.

Spotting the pristine area from the air, Gonzalez decided to build a residence there. Several years later, he added the cabanas and spa. Today, The Villa Group manages the property, an ideal complement to its diverse beach resorts in Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas.

The design is a dream. Rock pathways meander along Juanacatlan Lagoon in both directions. Toward the right sits a tennis court, pavilion and area where guests can actually pitch tents for camping. The other direction leads to a freestanding spa facility, outdoor Jacuzzi and La Terraza, where all-inclusive benefits cover a three-course lunch daily.

Both Mexican-style breakfasts and candlelight dinners are presented in El Lago, the lobby restaurant which brims with regional artwork. Chef Albaro’s daily specials typically include a choice of fish, chicken and beef delicacies prepared with his special flair.

Aside from the sumptuous fare, the setting is exquisite. Floor-to-ceiling doors and windows bring the lagoon inside. A giant fireplace, chandelier of deer antlers and two large paintings of San Rafael and San Miguel highlight the cozy room with its cozy sofas. Most of the artwork was created in Michoacan, some four hours away from the resort.

Here in the lobby, guests kick back to read, enjoy evening cocktails and get aquatinted. This is the property’s social hub, so to speak, since Sierra Lago basks in its idyllic isolation. As for activities, diversions include freshwater fishing, kayaking, pedal boating, mountain biking, horseback riding, rock climbing or sailing around the peaceful lagoon.

Clients can also indulge in the spa’s array of services that include aromatherapy along with a variety of other relaxing massage options. A steam bath is available, as well as the outdoor Jacuzzi.

“We have visitors who come only to fish all day and relax,” explained Leticia Garcia, general manager.

Some try their luck from shore, while others take out kayaks or pedal boats.

“Whatever they catch, the chef will clean, prepare and serve to them for dinner,” she added.

Swapping the bustling lifestyle of Mexico City for these quieter environs, Garcia came to the property four years ago to establish hotel operations. She lives on site full time with a handful of other employees.

“Sierra Lago means you’re home,” noted Garcia. “We have strong return business that the staff gets to know year after year.”

Garcia feels the atmosphere is a natural for those wanting to meet others like themselves in a relaxing, low-key environment.

She added that the property is especially appealing for young couples and just-marrieds who enjoy fine cuisine and wine.

While I was neither a honeymooner or with my family, I found Sierra Lago a wonderful escape for enjoying solitude, fine cuisine and a chance to regroup. I left uplifted for the journey ahead, especially since it was all downhill with Villa at the wheel.

The Details

Sierra Lago Resort & Spa

Commission: 15 percent
Rates: Standard Cabana, $389; Eco-
Cabana, $338; Suite Cabana, $458
All inclusive rates are per couple, per night, and are effective through Dec. 31.