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Our culture is obsessed with stories of folks who drop out of society to follow a magnetic personality to a remote land, where a dark underbelly festers and things take a turn for the worst.
We don’t often hear about the success stories. Here is one such tale.
It was 1968, and Gian Franco Brignone, an Italian banker, was flying over a part of Jalisco, Mexico’s Costalegre that stretched from the Pacific Coast into untouched jungle.
Without stepping foot on the ground, he decided to purchase 20,000 acres.
That land is what we now know as Careyes, or what some are calling the next “it” spot of Mexico.
Despite its distance from any major town (about a 1½-hour drive from Manzanillo and a 2½-hour drive from Puerto Vallarta), the hideaway is celebrating 51 glorious years among people in the know.
In its early days, Careyes served mostly as an enclave for Brignone’s social circle — a place where Italian elite, celebrities, nobility and models could live la dolce vita in North America.
Gradually, a population of part-time and full-time owners was built, and that sense of community remains Careyes’ defining characteristic. Celebrities still flock here — model Naomi Campbell was recently spotted — most likely thanks to its preserved sense of privacy. Wealthy but unpretentious, owners and visitors appreciate time spent in nature with friends, away from the hustle and bustle of city life, where creativity can flourish.
Because if there’s a second defining characteristic of Careyes, it’s the inimitable architecture.
The first major structures here set the tone for what would follow: Castles made of concrete and painted in bold monochromatic colors were decorated sparsely (but lavished with infinity pools) so as to frame nature and let “emotion run through the house,” says Filippo Brignone, a developer for Careyes and Gian Franco’s youngest son. Adding to the drama are the home locations. Perched atop lush slopes, the villas crown Costa Careyes’ craggy coastline.
Gian Franco, well into his 90s now, still lives in Casa Mi Ojo, which is painted a bright blue that conjures Morocco’s Chefchaouen or La Casa Azul, Frida Khalo’s former home and studio in Mexico City.
During my visit, all guests of Careyes were invited to this mothership for mixing and mingling. I walked around — mezcal cocktail in hand — tracking the many vantage points of the sunset: the infinity pools; the bridge that begins at the house and extends, dramatically, over the ocean to a hill; and the rooftop, where an entire bedroom was converted into a bar. Here, I watched as friends, acquaintances and strangers chatted warmly until I, too, was swept into a conversation with U.S. polo players and Mexican socialites and artists.
Luisa Rossi, a Careyes board member, explains the Careyes style as a mix of ingenious Mexican craftsmanship and a sophisticated Italian eye. Think Luis Barragan’s dramatic buildings softened by the Amalfi Coast’s (or Mykonos’) chicest beach houses. There are more than 60 villas now, along with a neighborhood of 40 smaller casitas.
While most are available to rent — and come equipped with a staff for cooking and cleaning — a new visitor option is El Careyes Club and Residences on the former site of a hotel. El Careyes is not officially considered a hotel, though its horseshoe-shaped building, five infinity pools and on-site beachfront restaurant will satisfy hotel-seekers.
Units, which start at $350 per night, are contemporary and feature concrete floors, muted colors and, for top-floor condos, ocean views. My three-bedroom suite on the first floor featured a terrace set with ghost chairs, a wooden table and an off-white sofa topped with textured pillows, all neutral except for one small, blue accent pillow.
According to Rossi, El Careyes is the perfect product for travel advisor partners, which the destination is now enthusiastically seeking. Manager Aura Serna and head concierge Karen Curiel can explain the lay of the land and book activities and meals for guests, making El Careyes the best bet for first-time visitors who want to get the hang of Careyes quickly. The setup is also ideal for groups who need multiple rooms in one easy location.
What to Do in CareyesBesides befriending residents and peeking into their homes, guests in Careyes can enjoy nature without the crowds and tourist clutter of some of Mexico’s popular, more developed destinations.
During my visit, I dipped into pools and spent time swimming in the ocean. At times — specifically before 7:30 a.m. — I had the entire place to myself. One day, my group hired a boat to take us around the coastline; we didn’t spot dolphins or whales as hoped, but we did dive in for a refreshing snorkeling session and see boobies flying outside of caves.
There are seven places to eat, drink and socialize, and most are poolside or beachside. Some are located in Careyes’ town square, which also houses a chic art museum; a small cinema; a storefront for the nonprofit Careyes Foundation, which focuses on educating local children and protecting sea turtles; a few designer clothing and jewelry shops; and an adjacent, and stylish, small hospital.
The ever-present sense of style is very European — as is the party ethos. Even though a third of Careyes’ owners are North American, folks here kiss on both cheeks and smoke at the table (which features the almost anachronistic ash tray). Dinner starts late; dancing, even later.
The Brignone family takes pride in its parties and has a hand in planning bigger celebrations such as the Chinese New Year Celebration in February, the Arte Careyes Film Festival in March, the Agua Alta Polo Cup in April and Ondalinda, a psychedelic music and art fest that attracts California’s Venice Beach crowd in the fall.
But at Careyes, it’s not all about partying.
The Copa de Sol is one of the many unique architectural pieces in Careyes, imagined by Gian Franco Brignone.Credit: 2019 Careyes
Visitors can climb to the top of the oceanfront Copa de Sol and walk its perimeter.Credit: 2019 Mindy Poder
The Copa de Sol can be used for sound bath meditations led by Niki Trosky, Careyes’ yoga teacher.Credit: 2019 Mindy Poder
Careyes’ villas are known for the artistic ways they frame nature.Credit: 2019 Careyes
The home of Filippo Brignone features a one-of-a-kind library, topped with a ladder that Brignone says is for “people from other worlds to know they’re welcome.”Credit: 2019 Mindy Poder
One coastal corner of Careyes is occupied by the manifestation of one of Gian Franco’s dreams. From afar, the Copa de Sol looks like a bowl. Up close, the shape is more complex, punctured by diamond-shaped windows that let the sun in via otherworldly beams of light.
Here, guests can partake in a private sound bath and meditation led by Niki Trosky, Careyes’ yoga teacher and de facto spiritual guide, and Daniel Pardo, resident sound-bowl healer, DJ and restaurant manager. As the sun set through the windows, Trosky performed energy healing over my third eye. The sounds of the bowls seemed to generate from within. By the end of the session, I felt like my back had melted into the base of the bowl itself.
Careyes had managed to get under my skin, just like everyone told me it would.
The DetailsCareyes www.careyes.com