A feast for the senses by Rebecca Chance
Cinnamon-perfumed neck wraps, guava and mango Bellinis, Bulgari green tea toiletries, an aromatherapy room perfume menu in the hotel reception, salty sea air wafting through the white muslin draperies around the beach cabanas…I’d go back to Mexico for the delicious scents alone. And then there were the exquisite tastes, the beautiful sights, the soft sounds of the sea…Starting with that guava Bellini, offered to me by a smiling, white-jacketed waiter as I walked into the deliciously cool reception of the El Dorado Karisma hotel, my two-week stay at the resort was a feast for the senses.Technically, I was actually working: I was on the Mayan Riviera, staying in the smaller, very deluxe Casitas Royale section of the El Dorado, to research crucial parts of my latest book, Killer Queens.
My hapless heroine, Lori, on honeymoon with her new husband, the King of Herzoslovakia, discovers, in the middle of paradise, that being a queen may actually not be all she expected it to be…and the contrast between her increasingly gloomy emotions and the sheer beauty and serenity of her surroundings was perfect dramatic material.So much so that it hardly felt like work. I would get up every morning to a breakfast of omelette and bright tropical fruit. Sitting on the terrace of my swim-up suite, still in my silk dressing gown, I would write around two thousand words of the book, and then organise notes on all the amazing experiences I was having in order to use them for the Mexico-set scenes.
My wonderful butlers, Elizabeth, Pablo and Liliana, organised me with crisp and sunny efficiency.Everyone made sure I had plenty to write about for the book: I visited the temple at Chichen Itza, one of the new seven wonders of the world; swam in a cenote, one of the many underground sinkholes which are like magical secret hidden lakes in grottoes; and travelled to Tulum, where the Mayan ruins perch majestically on the edge of a cliff. I ate perfectly-grilled salmon for lunch at the Maroma hotel, and dined at Le Chique at another Karisma resort, the Azul Sensatori hotel. A molecular gastronomy 26-course tasting dinner which was one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten in my life, with locally-sourced, sensationally inventive food. I toured the resort’s huge greenhouses and Juan Carlos, the urbane and charming manager, gave me a VIP circuit of the Casitas, including a view of the two crocodiles, Pancho and Maria.
And of course, I had lots of time off! Even after writing, I had a good hour on one of the floating lilos in my private swimming pool, which led to the ‘lazy river’ that circled the horseshoe of low white Casitas suites, which in turn led to the swim-up bar and the thatch-covered terrace on which I could lounge in the shade on a double-bed cabana, sipping vino espumosoand contemplating where to go for lunch. I didtry to hit the gym most days, God knows, which was very important as there are, quite seriously, more lovely places to lie down and stretch out at the Casitas Royale than I have ever experienced in my life.
On my patio, for instance, there was a daybed comfortable enough to sleep through the night on. Then I had two loungers by my little swim-up pool, and two lilos floating on the water. Just our own exquisite Casitas garden had hammocks, cabanas and loungers, such an abundance that nobody ever had to commit the vulgarity of ‘bagsieing’ a favourite place: one would always be available. Along the stunning white beach were more cabanas, their muslin curtains billowing in the wind like sailboats, extra beach towels ready-rolled on their mattresses.
Everything about this holiday-cum-research trip spoke of abundance: all food and drink are included, which I absolutely love. Karisma calls it ‘Gourmet Inclusive’, and the bliss of the ‘Gourmet’ part is that it isn’t overwhelming. The portions are small, balanced, delicious: you’d have to work hard to overeat, which, on a beach holiday, is ideal. No guilt, no temptation to pig out; from the refined elegance of the two D’Italia restaurants, to the fresh, bright flavours of grilled fish at Jojo’s on the beach, I never woke up the morning after the night before feeling too stuffed to wear a bikini.The beach bar in Flamingos, the ‘horseshoe’ in which my swim-up suite was set, opened at ten am and closed at five pm: perfect timings. Vegas and Cancun are there for people who want to drink around the clock; the Casitas Royale cater to visitors who want to relax in the supremely lovely sense that everything is in balance. Food, drink, exercise – I borrowed a bicycle and had some lovely rides around the resort – sun, sea, and maybe just one more cucumber Bellini. And possibly the occasional strawberry popsicle or ice-cream scoop at tea time. Oscar Wilde’s line about being able to resist everything except temptation is very apposite when it comes to a lovely cold afternoon ice-cream!
I came home with the entire Mexico section of the book perfectly worked out in my head, the words dancing around, eager to be written. It centres around a world-class massage that Queen Lori has in one of the Sky Massage rooms, built high over the beach: Felipe, the shaman at the spa, creates a truly moving experience that is the moment at which Lori realises the extent of the mistake she’s made. The ceremony before the massage, rose-petals scattering into the water, the burning of aromatic herbs in a bowl made from volcanic rock, will be even more powerful than Lori could have imagined, crystallising in her mind the conflict she’s experiencing. I could never have imagined or written that crucial scene, or so many others, before my visit to the El Dorado Casitas Royale: it’s a magic place. And as a writer, it does go to show how essential research is. There’s no substitute in the world for visiting the place you’re describing, seeing it come to life before your eyes: the brilliance of the colours, the tastes of the food, the beauty of the country, the cinnamon-scent of the neck wrap… the trouble is, though, that in describing it like this I want to live it all over again!(You can enter to win the amazing holiday described by Rebecca Chance in this article and in Killer Queens by buying a copy of the book and following the instructions inside.)
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