A Departure from Cliché to High Design in Cancun
Cancun is more of a general audience type destination than one associated with high design. However, after a recent trip to the Live Aqua resort in Cancun, I can say with conviction that discriminating travelers seeking sleek design might think twice.
One of the few Mexican-owned resorts in Cancun,
Live Aqua's serene and sophisticated design footprint owes its thanks to Francisco Hanhausen, a Mexico City citizen who graduated with an architecture degree from Anahuac University and opened his own architecture and design atelier in 1987. He has recently published a book about his projects and design aesthetic highlighting what critics already take him for, one of the country's renowned designers and architects.
From old houses to new architectural and interior design plans spanning residential and hospitality, Hanhausen has completed more than 100 residences in Mexico City, Acapulco, Cancun, Tulum, Puerto Vallarta, Miami, Madrid, New Jersey and New York. His hotel work includes Le Meridien Cancun and Live Aqua Cancun, Club Piso 51 in Torre Mayor. His restaurant projects include Landó, Ivoire and Tierra de Vinos in Santa Fe, Siete and MB at Live Aqua in Cancun and Adobe Cafe in Puerto Vallarta.
Cautiously, I explored a mid-winter, long weekend trip to Cancun after being introduced to Live Aqua's premise of offering an all-inclusive, adults-only resort. The emphasis on "Be Yourself", relax and indulge your senses, seemed intriguing, and being that Cancun is a short, nonstop flight away for most of us, it seemed like a logical choice as the temperatures plummeted. With visions of swarms of tourists, scores of drunken college students on the beach, cookie-cutter American-style hotels with no local flavor, Taco Bell style Mexican food and crowded bus tours to the nearby Mexican ruins. Plus, I got to experience the Hanhausen "look".
Since water is the main attraction in Cancun--the hotel zone is surrounded by it on either side with the Gulf of Mexico and the Laguna Nichupté—it comes as no surprise that the resort takes full advantage of the sparkling, rolling waves and deliciously light blue water colors when the sun shines with a soaring glass atrium in the lobby and huge banks of windows in the public spaces. Eight interconnecting outside swimming pools (not deep enough for diving) including an infinity pool, water pools and fountains inside the public spaces, and a deep sunken moat with a gushing waterfall surrounding the main building. I liked the spa-like ambiance and hardly noticed the other guests during my stay (occupancy was at 85%). Who could resist the complimentary hand and foot massages in the Live Aqua VIP lounge and in the private poolside cabana?
Staying at a Mexican-owned resort, instead of a global American one, has a clear advantage. The entire staff is Mexican, beaming to please, eager and proud to share its cultural heritage. From the food to the turndown service, the level of service was remarkable. During my stay, I had private cooking lessons with the Belgian Chef (the only non-Mexican on staff), salsa dancing lessons with a tall, handsome Spaniard named Kuko, and private training sessions on the snazzy TechnoGym Kinesis sports equipment with athletic Fernando in the glass-enclosed gym overlooking the ocean.
Every night, after dining in a different venue (MB and Siete are designed by Hanhausen), I returned to my suite to find the most exquisite turn down service. Housekeepers spend what seems like hours hand painting messages on the blanket with colored rice kernels such as "Sweet Dreams", "ZZZZZZ", or a moon and star. The final night, an artistic tour de force was taking place as I started to enter my room after dinner. Two housekeepers politely shooed me from our room and told me to come back in 15 minutes. When I came back, the blanket was decorated with red rose petals shaped like a heart and red colored rice spelled out "Bon Voyage and Come Back Soon." The Jacuzzi was filled to the brim with a soothing bubble bath, with floating rose petals and votive candles placed around the bathroom. In all my travels to luxury class hotels, I have never seen anything so remarkable, or so memorable, which made this vacation to Cancun a standout. Anything remotely cliché was handled in the most sophisticated manner.