On a bright afternoon in late summer, I left the Colima airport in the highlands of Western Mexico and drove through a labyrinth of fields and farmland. Sunlight swathed the landscape in gilded ribbons as I arrived at Hacienda de San Antonio, a nineteenth-century coffee plantation-turned-hotel painted pink as a lily flower.
From the moment I set foot on the property’s grass-covered plaza, I felt as if I’d landed in a magical Mexican wonderland. Towering above the hacienda is the Volcán de Fuego, a 12,500-foot volcano haloed with clouds. Surrounding it is Rancho Jabalí, a 5,000-acre working ranch and organic farm that’s steeped in heritage and history.
The story of the property began in 1890, when a German immigrant named Don Arnoldo Vogel built the hacienda and transformed the estate into a thriving coffee plantation. Coffee from the property was served at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City and favorited by the German Imperial Family, among other notable clientele. Over the years, the estate changed hands, withstanding both wars and volcanic eruptions, until it was acquired in 1985 by Sir James Goldsmith, a French-British financier and politician, whose family still owns it today.
Goldsmith’s daughter, Alix Marcaccini, worked with designer Armand Aubery to furnish the hotel, drawing inspiration from the haciendas of yore. For a year and a half, she traveled around Mexico collecting art, furnishings, and fabrics, such as Highland Maya textiles and colonial antiques, to complement the storied architecture. “We would go off in a little plane and look at the map and point to a place and say to one another ‘Let’s go there because they are famous for their pottery,’ or ‘They make beautiful wooden tables or beadwork,’ and so on,” Marcaccini relates.
Today, each of the twenty-five suites spread between the ground and second floors is uniquely appointed and thoughtfully curated. Large French doors open onto volcanic stone terraces and step-out balconies embracing views of the gardens, the volcano, and the river valley below.
Over the course of my visit, I settled into the hacienda’s quiet cadence. With doors and windows ajar, the sounds of bubbling fountains and birdsong became the soundtrack of my stay. Every morning, the aroma of coffee grown and roasted onsite lured me downstairs, past arched colonnades and a flowering courtyard, for breakfast on the terrace.
Dining at Hacienda de San Antonio is a sensory feast and celebration of the land. Not surprisingly, an agriculture-based tradition continues at Rancho Jabalí, where the mountain climate contributes to its vast and verdant gardens. Roughly ninety percent of the ingredients served at the hacienda—from organic fruits to vegetables, cheeses and meats—are sourced onsite and delivered daily to the kitchen. Tropical fruits, like bananas and coconuts, are flown in from Cuixmala, a sister hotel and luxury eco-resort on Mexico’s Pacific coast.
Equally verdant are the grounds behind the hacienda, where formal European gardens planted with boxwoods and flowers cascade down the hillside to the tennis court and swimming pool. The 110-foot-long alberca is laid with turquoise and lapis lazuli–colored tiles that shine like precious stones beneath the sun. Here, the hours slip away like the ice-cold margaritas, which are made with a mango liqueur distilled on the premises.
Sunning and sipping aside, there is a plethora of adventures and activities available, from hiking to hot air ballooning, birdwatching, and mountain biking. “Horseback riding is the absolute best way to see the ranch,” says Wayne Hudson, who manages the property’s public relations. From waterfalls to lakes and bamboo forests, touring the grounds is an immersive, unforgettable experience—and one that’s worth saddling up for.
Picnicking is another signature experience. “It’s everything you could imagine,” says Hudson. “They do it under a big tree that overlooks Epazote Lagoon with the volcano in the background. When you arrive, there’s a fabulous picnic waiting for you.”
Daily tours of Rancho Jabalí give guests an appreciation for the more than three hundred employees who make visiting the hacienda so special. During my tour, I learned about the estate’s historic, ongoing coffee operation and the more than twenty varieties of cheese that are made here, from Brie to Camembert and Mexican Asiago. Beekeeping is another buzzing endeavor; the organic honey is used in the hotel’s homemade soaps and served with everything from cheese to fresh-baked bread during breakfast.
Even the toiletries are crafted with clean, organic ingredients. Every evening, I savored the fragrance of my grapefruit and chamomile shampoo and my basil and lime bath oil, all scents I’d selected upon check-in.
Today, it is the little details from my trip that remain alive in memory. I had traveled to the hacienda for a friend’s wedding, which took place one afternoon in the tiny chapel there. Unsurprisingly, the setting is a popular destination-wedding venue, and ceremonies are frequently held in the chapel or in the terraced amphitheater on the grounds.
After the service, I walked to the Mirador Terrace for the rooftop reception. As dusk descended on the property, the Volcán de Fuego took on a rosy glow. Looking out over the landscape, I gave thanks for this enchanting place, with its glistening lagoons and flowering gardens, its fertile farmland, and hard-working people. Green vines hugged the walls of the hacienda like long, loving fingers. I, too, felt embraced that day, forever thankful for the gift of travel and the places near and far that make us feel at home.
This story appeared in the Fall 2021 issue of MILIEU. To purchase this issue in print, visit the MILIEU Newsstand. To purchase in digital format, visit zinio.com.
WRITTEN BY SALLIE LEWIS
PHOTOGRAPHY BY DAVIS GERBER