Hotel Terrestre: bold design and happy escape on the Mexican coast of Oaxaca

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“The greatest asset of the future is silence,” said Carlos Couturier, co-founder of Mexican hotel group Grupo Habita, from the bow of a battered old motorboat. We cruised along a calm lagoon past tangled mangroves where storks and parrots chirped. I wanted to ask a question, but I suddenly had a keen awareness of breaking through the silence. Couturier, I noticed, was lost in thought, absorbed in the birds around us and the reflections on the water as the sun began to set.

We were returning from lunch in Puerto Suelo, a secluded strip of beach accessible only by boat or horseback, outside the surf town of Puerto Escondido. For most of the afternoon, we sat around a red plastic table in a restaurant under a canopy of palm trees, our feet in the sand.

Plates of fresh fish cooked over a fire and baskets of tortillas kept appearing from the thatched-roof kitchen out back. In the background, the shimmering ocean rumbled and every now and then a whale would dive. Couturier was in his element. After a dip in the ocean, he sipped a coconut. “It’s luxury,” he said, leaning back in his chair.

I had met Couturier a few hours earlier, after dropping my bags off at the group’s new Hotel Terrestre, about 15 miles northwest of Puerto Escondido. I was in my room, desperately searching for a bathing suit, when there was a knock on my door, followed by an invitation to join Couturier and his extended family for lunch. I didn’t want to leave the beautiful room with its vaulted cement ceiling and rooftop plunge pool that overlooks the sea and the scrubby mountains. But equally appealing was a beachside feast in a ‘secret’ location, with someone who knows the area well.

View of the surrounding mountains from one of the hotel rooms © Jaime Navarro

For the past two decades, Grupo Habita, founded by Couturier and his business partners Moisés, Jaime and Rafael Micha, has been on a mission to offer something beyond the bland international resorts that are the mainstay of Mexican tourism. . “It’s our responsibility — that we become a tourist destination with a new identity beyond margaritas and sunbathing,” Couturier says.

The brand began with the Habita Hotel, often called Mexico City’s first boutique hotel, which opened in 2000, then cemented its reputation in the capital with the Condesa df in 2005. The latter incorporated a clean interior and minimalist in a 1928 building and became a social hub for a neighborhood that was emerging as a creative hotspot. A rooftop restaurant offered sushi and mezcal cocktails, there were DJs in the lively bar, and stylish, colorful interiors by French-Iranian designer India Mahdavi.

The hotel is located right next to Punta Pájaros beach, about a 40-minute drive from Puerto Escondido
The hotel is located right next to Punta Pájaros beach, about a 40-minute drive from Puerto Escondido © Jaime Navarro

Today they have 14 hotels across Mexico as well as The Robey in Chicago, all unique and often the work of cutting-edge architects and designers who are early in their careers (Condesa df was only the second Mahdavi hotel, for example). Although they share an approach and atmosphere – often attracting local clientele to their public spaces, frequently helping to put up-and-coming neighborhoods on the map – there’s almost no shared branding and visual conformity that most hotel groups are looking for. Each property has its own website, rather than just a central group page. “We don’t want to repeat ourselves and we never want to be a franchise,” Couturier says. “But it’s a challenge, because each time we carry out a project, we start from scratch, with a new identity. With Terrestre, the band once again adopts a whole new approach.

The expansion comes at a time when Mexico is suddenly on everyone’s radar. A country once considered by some American tourists to be too criminal to visit has been a safe haven during the pandemic. Since 2020, Mexico has imposed few travel restrictions (most arrivals currently do not need a test or proof of vaccine to enter). Some criticized the relaxed approach, but travelers flocked south and many decided to return.

Sand replaces tiled floors outside yellow brick buildings

Sand replaces tiled floors outside yellow brick buildings

There is no air conditioning and the buildings are solar powered

There is no air conditioning and the buildings run on solar energy © Jaime Navarro

A few umbrellas and lounge chairs are set up near the modest beach club.  .  .

A few umbrellas and lounge chairs are set up near the modest beach club. . .

.  .  .  because the hotel insists on developing only the land it needs

. . . because the hotel insists on developing only the land it needs

Terrestrial is just one more reason to go. Set back from the sea along a rutted road that borders Punta Pájaros Beach, about a 40-minute drive from Puerto Escondido, Terrestre opened in January. It was designed by Mexican architect Alberto Kalach, who has worked on numerous projects in the region, and built from local materials. The yellow brick buildings, which simultaneously manage to look both futuristic and reminiscent of ancient ruins, are entirely solar powered.

Map showing Puerto Escondido in Mexico

Rather than an air-conditioned reception area with easy-to-clean tiled floors that feel alien under your feet, the check-in counter is open-air and guests walk on sand. “We encourage people to take their shoes off,” the receptionist said, in the simplest way possible. In fact, there is no air conditioning at all. On the contrary, the bedrooms catch the cooling sea breezes through the slatted shutters. (For warm nights, a giant fan whistles above the bed.)

Guests stay in 14 interconnecting villas, wedged between the ocean and the sierra with magnificent views. Constructed of brick, wood and concrete, they include terraces and private rooftop pools. Elsewhere, there’s a circular communal pool, a long lap pool among desert plants, a hammam, a stargazing terrace, and a restaurant run by a young French couple who recently moved from Marseille. Across the street, a three-minute walk, is the beach club, which is still under construction. For now, a few umbrellas and deck chairs are planted in the sand. During the day you can order beers, elixirs and cocktails, and at night a campfire is lit.

Mexican architect Alberto Kalach designed Terrestre, which manages to look both futuristic and reminiscent of ancient ruins
Mexican architect Alberto Kalach designed Terrestre, which manages to look both futuristic and reminiscent of ancient ruins © Jaime Navarro

Needless to say, Terrestrial is not an easy place to leave. But there is also plenty to explore in the surrounding area. In recent years, this secluded stretch of road has become an unlikely design and dining destination, mostly run by the Sodi family (who own much of the land). It houses Casa Wabi, an art foundation and residence owned by artist Bosco Sodi and designed by Tadao Ando, ​​as well as Cobarde (a mezcal bar co-owned by Bosco’s brother Claudio) and the Kakurega Omakase restaurant. , where sashimi is served alongside local dishes. peppers. Another Grupo Habita property, Hotel Escondido — with 16 thatched-roof beachfront bungalows — opened in 2014. One of my favorite experiences is a temazcal session at El Papelillo, a wood-fired sauna housed in a temple-like red-tiled building (designed by Mexico City-based studio, Tezontle) and surrounded by jungle.

There are superbly chic Airbnbs for rent and architecturally appealing homes being built. This all adds up to the kind of influencers in the area who would bend over backwards to post on Instagram, but Couturier insists that’s far from the intention.

The rooms of the hotel are communicating but also discreetly private
The hotel rooms are communicating but also discreetly private © Jaime Navarro

“We want to avoid being fashionable, we want to be meaningful,” he says, adding that the hotel is considering banning photos or asking people to leave their phones at reception when checking in. In an attempt to preserve the surrounding sierra, only half of the land on which Terrestre sits has been developed. Kalach was also responsible for the landscaping, which is still in progress. “It’s rare that you hear of a Mexican buying land to preserve it, usually it’s foreigners,” Couturier explains. “Mexicans don’t have that mindset – we buy to build.” I immediately think of places like Los Cabos and Tulum, both of which are suffering from the effects of overtourism.

At Terrestre, guests are asked to respect their neighbors and keep noise to a minimum. Which doesn’t mean it’s a silent retreat – at dinner the music plays and the mezcal flows. On my last night, however, I opt for a turmeric-flavored mocktail to accompany my dinner of beetroot tacos, fresh tuna, and tomato broth. He feels appropriate after an afternoon spent at El Papelillo. I think back to what Couturier told me when we first met, how the hotel’s intention is for guests to feel invigorated when they leave. I always feel that way when I leave Mexico but tonight, as the waves rumble in the distance and the sounds of the sierra begin to soar, I feel it even more.

Details

Mary Holland was a guest of Scott Dunn (scottdunn.com). The luxury tour operator is offering a five-night trip to Hotel Terrestre, including flights from New York, transfers and two meals a day from $3,950 per person. Double rooms at the Hôtel Terrestre (terrestrehotel.com) from $416 per night

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