Nestled within an upscale residential neighborhood just a 5-minute drive from the Puerto Vallarta airport sits Casa Velas—a serene adults-only luxury boutique resort that’s helping set new and noteworthy standards in the all-inclusive realm. As one of the many properties in the Velas Resorts portfolio, which have earned no less than 43 diamonds by AAA, I had high expectations for my own stay at the location—especially given it has garnered 8 of those diamonds in its own right. What I had not anticipated, however, was how “at home” I would feel while on site, which felt as much like a private estate home with an ever-attentive staff rather than a slick hotel operation with pre-programmed employees. Indeed, the layout of the grounds and the casually elegant and intimate atmosphere evokes the sense of being in a private hacienda. Furthering this sensibility is a staff that all regard guests by name, who welcome you “home” upon arrival (with each outing) and generally do their utmost to ensure each guest’s needs and wants are being duly catered to.
All 80 traditional Mexican-styled suites at Casa Velas are top notch, with each boasting a private terrace with plunge pool or in suite Jacuzzi, goose-down comforters, free WiFi, L’Occitane bath products and a fully stocked mini bar. For even more privacy and space, the exquisite 3,000-square foot, four-bedroom Presidential Suite, which sleeps 8, is replete with original artwork by Mexican artist Sergio Bustamante and also features a large dining room, living room, master suite with a spacious marble-laden bathroom, and an expansive terrace with an oversize plunge pool and Jacuzzi.
While the Spanish style architecture and interior design captivates, the setting in which it all resides is truly breathtaking. Lush tropical landscaping abounds with abundant flora and fauna at every turn that, of course, attracts wildlife. In fact, a bevy of wild peacocks have taken up residence at the property and can be seen meandering about throughout the day and night. A pack of “pet” snapping turtles live in a pond-like water feature at the hotel’s front entrance for which the valet staff will eagerly provide you with food to feed them.
Adding to the serene green vistas is the fact that the resort overlooks the lovely Marina Vallarta Golf Course where Casa Velas guests enjoy special privileges like free greens fees. Other on-site amenities include a full fitness center with Life Fitness cardio and Nautilus equipment, a full service spa and salon, and a pool area with plush lounge chairs, shady cabanas and a swim up palapa bar. If surf and sand are high on your vacation agenda, have no fear as the hotel will provide you with complimentary, on-demand shuttle service to and from its private and exclusive Casa Velas Ocean Club where guests enjoy cushioned loungers and cabanas on the beach itself, along with food and beverage service, as well as access to a pristine pool area and al fresco eatery all overlooking Mexico’s Pacific Riviera beyond.
Even amid all of this haute hospitality, what is incredibly impressive about Casa Velas is its elevated gourmet food and beverage program that has significantly raised the bar for all-inclusive hotels worldwide. With its on-site gourmet restaurant, Emiliano, one of only two restaurants in all of Puerto Vallarta that have earned the AAA Four Diamond award, guests are treated to unlimited access to high caliber cuisine for breakfast, lunch, dinner and 24/7 in-suite service. Beverages at Casa Velas are equally progressive, particularly for an all-inclusive, with guests enjoying premium wines and liquor without restriction and can partake in fun nightly events like wine pairings; tequila, mescal and martini tastings; and other events that also allow guests to get acquainted and socialize.
If you’re a foodie seeking a culinary-oriented resort retreat, Casa Velas is for you. I particularly love the concerted and continual effort the property makes to keep its culinary options interesting and innovative, ensuring guests can have a unique atypical all-inclusive experience time and time again.
Gourmet Tasting Menus
In addition to its regular menu, Emiliano also extends six different five-course meals (a new one each evening) that are masterminded by head chefs from Casa Velas’ sister property, the AAA Five Diamond Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit. Menus draw from all three of their AAA Four Diamond restaurants: Frida, Piaf and Lucca . These dynamic menus rotate each evening and run for a week, starting with a French tasting menu and martini tasting hour on Sundays led by Piaf’s head chef. On Monday, Lucca’s Italian-Mediterranean sampling and wine pairing takes center stage. Tuesdays and Thursdays are an extra special treat as 20 guests are invited to a private “dinner with the chef.” Here, Chef Eliseo Ibarra Ramos prepares a special menu while television cooking personality, Yolanda Yanar, gives step by step explanations on the menu’s preparation. Wednesdays, Frida’s head chef hosts a Mexican tasting menu and tequila tasting hour. Fridays offer a truly elegant experience as Chef Ramos prepares a gourmet French menu while a renowned pianist provides accompaniment and live entertainment. Saturday rounds out the week with cuisine and seafood specialties from Veracruz, Mexico.
Authentic Street Food
While Emiliano’s gourmet tasting menus have proven enormously popular, the revered restaurant also features dishes that bring to mind the temping aromas and “tantalizing visions” of the street foods found in Mexico’s colorful markets. Guests can sample entrees, appetizers and desserts from six different regions including Veracruz, Puebla, Guerrero, Oaxaca, Jalisco, and the Yucatan. Each day a different region is featured alongside Emiliano’s larger menu of additional Mexican and international selections. What’s more, servers are dressed in corresponding regional costume and are happy to answer questions about ingredients and preparation to any foodie’s satisfaction.
Where the Gastro Garden Grows
During my stay I strolled down to Casa Velas’ impressive on-site organic botanical garden where the resort grows its own herbs, flowers and vegetables. These uber-fresh ingredients find their way into fresh cocktails and culinary creations as ingredients and garnish. For example, home‐grown albacar, thyme, mint, lemon and cactus are used in the kitchen, while home‐grown mint is used for mojitos, cilantro for margaritas and hibiscus flowers in martinis. Want to bring the taste of a Casa Velas specialty cocktail home with you? The chefs will gladly send guests home with their favorite recipe. Guests will also spot, or better yet smell, clove, mint, aloe vera, spearmint, and basil leaves in the resort’s spa treatments.
A Mighty Mini Bar
Casa Velas’ commitment to luxury, well-being and elevated eats extends beyond the bounds of the resort’s restaurants and bars—extending right into the guest rooms. Instead of the usual boring, calorie-laden mini bar fare, Casa Velas provides freshly “made on demand” crudités. Guests can choose from the “Mexican turnip,” a combination of carrots, cucumber, jicama, or an alternative selection featuring celery, beetroot and pineapple. Guests can also choose from three different light and healthy dressings including mango, chipotle or albahaca (basil). Crudités are available upon request from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily and, of course, are included in the all‐inclusive daily rate.
I had the pleasure of dining with Luis Angarita, Casa Velas’ General Manager, who spoke about what sets the resort apart from others in the region. He underscored that, more than anything else, Casa Velas prides itself on providing top-notch service at every level of the operation. He also reiterated the resort’s focus on food as part of an all-inclusive, noting it’s a major draw. “Food, creativity and presentation comparable to top restaurants in world capitals,” Angarita gushed. “Name your favorite specialty cuisine–Mexican, French and Italian, it’s exquisitely prepared by award winning chefs…everything, from unlimited food and wines to premium beverages, in suite service, and even gratuities and tax are part of the all-inclusive daily rate.” With its efforts to continually innovate coupled with the quiet, private and secluded nature of this Puerto Vallarta oasis, it’s no surprise U.S. dignitaries the likes of Condoleezza Rice, and two Mexican presidents have been hosted at Casa Velas. But, one need not be a dignitary to be treated like royalty here, as the staff goes over and above to ensure each guest is having a personalized and pampered experience. With its heightened level of hospitality, Casa Velas is playing an integral role in re-defining the all-inclusive category at large, and is a decidedly fine choice for the standards-driven jet setter.
By Merilee Kern, ‘The Luxe List’ Executive Editor
Merilee Kern is Executive Editor and Producer of The Luxe List, showcasing noteworthy gifts, gets and getaways. Reach her online at www.LuxeListReviews.com.
***Some or all of the accommodations(s), experience(s), item(s) and/or service(s) detailed above were provided at no cost to accommodate this review, but all opinions expressed are entirely those of Merilee Kern and have not been influenced in any way.***