Travel

By Kelley Granger

It takes a mere four hours and 10 minutes of flight time to arrive in hacienda-style heaven on the shores of the Caribbean ocean – so in almost no time flat I was checking into the Valentin Imperial Maya, an all-inclusive resort on Mexico’s Playa Del Secreto, champagne flute in hand.

Though the adults-only resort is a common destination for family reunions, the oceanfront accommodations, intimate dining options and spectacular scenery are best enjoyed with a significant other. Honeymooners basically have the run of the place. Weddings are practically a daily occurrence, and I was an unwitting spectator as I sipped margaritas from a beach chair in my bikini. Good thing I had the boyfriend in tow, or I might have been feeling a bit lonely in a place so conducive to romance (though he squirmed a bit as I eyed my naked ring finger during the beachside ceremony).

The only thing better than Emerald Suite’s balcony views are those from the bathroom’s jacuzzi

Take our room, for example – the Emerald Suite is an inviting retreat with a second-floor vantage point that allowed unobstructed views of the ocean and lush tropical vegetation below. The balcony beckoned from the moment we entered the room, though the crown jewel of the place was the amber-hued, tiled Jacuzzi, framed by giant windows that throw open to a clear view of the water and the sounds and smells of the beach. This was cause to celebrate, and with all-inclusive beverage and meal options, why not order room service to savor in this very spot? We did just that – only after raiding the mini bar, stocked with beer, chocolate and other goodies that are, just like most everything else here, free for the taking.

There may be no pleasure quite like guiltless mini bar indulgence, but when it came time for dinner, we sure aimed to up the extravagance ante. There are a slew of intriguing restaurants, from the French L’Alsace to the Indonesian-inspired Taman Zari to traditional Mexican at La Hacienda. No matter where we chose to dine, we were pleasantly surprised with the quality and taste of the food and each restaurant’s unique ambiance.

The restaurants spare no expense when it comes to serving delicious, exquisitely presented dinners

Since we’d signed up for just a short weekend at the resort, we feared we may not be able to try them all, as many dinner venues are not open for lunch. Our solution? We started at Ginger and enjoyed soup and sushi from a menu of Peruvian-tinged Japanese cuisine, took a breather with a glass of wine outside in the plaza, then headed over to Il Olivio to finish off with a hearty Italian entrée. While we thought we’d cross the seaside Mar & Tierra off our list after sampling their lunch buffet, we were remiss to find out later that the restaurant transforms into the Lobster Pot during dinner hours. While the lunch’s buffet food was pretty typical, the surroundings were anything but – the open air dining room provided beach breezes and views of the turquoise water and striking tropical birds. In the evening, under the glow of candlelight, I can only imagine how romantic a scene it becomes as the Lobster Pot (where the seafood is supposedly phenomenal).

The gigantic pool area at the Valentin Imperial Maya

The best vacations are about doing what comes naturally instead of abiding by a schedule, so we let our instincts take over. When we were hungry, we ate. When we felt like sleeping all day, a beach chair and the sound of surf lulled us in and out of afternoon naps. If we felt like being more active (which honestly, we didn’t) we could choose from a range of activities, like kayaking or a bicycle tour of the sprawling property and its scores of resident lizards. We met other couples around the gigantic palm-fringed pool area, which is a hub of social activity with scheduled dance lessons, live music and the requisite swim-up bars. In the evening, a theater puts on productions of Broadway favorites like “Mamma Mia!” or Mexican takes on Cirque du Soleil while live music fills the main outdoor plaza. A billiards room and a stately cigar lounge rounded out our opportunities for leisure.

In spite of all the amorous amenities of the place, my favorite part of the resort was a lot less elaborate. It was simply the fact that we were alone, just he and I minus the BlackBerry, the laptop, the flat screen and all the other things that intrude on us, even in the privacy of our apartment. We ended each evening with a stroll down the pathways padded by flourishing foliage and meandering streams, often making a few wrong turns. We let ourselves accidentally stumble upon the treasures of the resort, like a dimly lit chapel surrounding by water and filled with flowers. These were our favorite moments at the Valentin, when we had slowed down and relaxed enough to really feel each other hand in hand. We followed the paths unrushed and allowed ourselves the freedom to stop along the way, gaze in amazement at the blanket of stars above, and just be grateful for each other.

Tulum, a historic site with seaside ruins, makes a captivating excursion

If you’re planning to visit the Valentin Imperial Maya, here are a few extra tips to make your stay most enjoyable:

- A getaway to Riviera Maya couldn’t be complete without a visit to at least one of the surrounding archaeological sites, like Coba, Chichen Itza or Tulum. The latter is just an hour away from the Valentin’s property and easy to reach by tour bus. Even if you aren’t enthralled by the site’s historic value, it’s impossible for your heart not to skip a beat when you see these ancient monuments imposed on the dramatic, varying blues of the coastline and the dense greens of the plant life. We didn’t know it when we went, but there’s a swimming beach engulfed by a rocky bluff that makes for a once-in-a-lifetime dip.

- Bring comfortable shoes, because you will get lost at least once on what must be miles of winding paths between your suite and other areas of the resort.

- Should you want to really impress your love, shell out a little extra for one of the stunning private rooms in several of the restaurants, or for a really special occasion, talk to the concierge to plan an exclusive dinner right on the beach.

- The spa is surprisingly small when compared to the palatial size of the resort, however it’s worth a visit if only to sample one of its 30-minute back massages (not part of the inclusive rate, of course).

For booking and information on last-minute Valentine’s Day savings of up to 40 percent, visit http://www.valentinmaya.com or call 800.232.8316.

Originally published February 2010
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