Villa del Sol Sets High Standard as Upscale Small Beach Hotel

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Reed Travel Features

ZIHUATANEJO -- When Helmut Leins bought a tiny piece of land in this fishing village on the Pacific in 1974, he had one thing in mind --- to build a small beach house where he could relocate from his native Germany, leave behind his mechanical engineering firm in Munich and "live again."

Today, within that same piece of property, which has grown to 6.5 acres during the past 22 years, Leins and his wife, Muriel, own and manage one of the jewels among beachfront properties around the world -- Villa del Sol.

Situated on Zihuatanejo's tranquil La Ropa Beach, the property, which meanders under swaying palms through lushly landscaped gardens, stone pathways, streams and fountains, is a haven for relaxation.

Setting itself apart with personalized service, luxurious, cottage-like accommodations in an intimate, secluded setting and excellent cuisine, Villa del Sol has been called by many the best small beach hotel in Mexico.

The property became a member of Relais & Chateaux in 1991 and Small Luxury Hotels of the World in 1992, further enhancing its reputation.

"It wasn't planned," said Leins. "I just wanted to build something based on the way I would like to spend my vacation."

Leins started in 1978 with a modest plan to construct the beach house, where he would live, and six guest units.

Later that year, a couple from Houston happened upon the property as they were strolling along the beach, fell in love with the ambience and convinced Leins to let them stay, even though the guest units were a few weeks away from completion.

Within 10 days after their departure, they sent down two more couples from Houston.

Leins expanded upon his initial dream during the years, adding more guest units and refining the experience.

Although Villa del Sol now has 40 suites, including three new beach units and a pool suite, Leins' idea of a vacation paradise has not changed, nor has its appeal to guests from around the world.

The Leins' brand of hospitality results in an 80% repeat rate among the clientele, many of whom have visited the property for more than 15 years.

He has a twofold formula for success: "You have to have a good product that you don't have to advertise," he said, "and if you want to keep repeat clientele, you have to have the right quality."

With that philosophy, Leins and his wife fashioned the resort to cater to high-end clients in search of an exotic, tropical oasis.

"We try to have a small hotel with all the services you would find in a large resort property, but on a more human scale," Leins said.

Each guest is treated like an old friend. For example, Leins throws a cocktail reception every Friday evening so he can visit with guests. But it is the personalized touch that carries over into all aspects of Villa del Sol.

The property's cozy suite accommodations, most of which are split-level configurations, are decorated uniquely in soft pastels complemented by handcrafted furnishings and Mexican artwork.

Each suite's features vary by category. Some of the units have outdoor plunge pools or whirlpools, and special touches include king-sized beds draped with canopies, which are adorned with flower petals at turndown; bathrooms with handpainted Mexican tiles; stained-glass windows; cotton bathrobes, and terraces strung with hammocks.

Five categories of accommodations are available, including standard minisuites, superior minisuites, deluxe minisuites, master suites and beach suites.

The public areas of Villa del Sol are just as appealing as the intimate accommodations.

Guests dine in an open-air, restaurant boasting gourmet Mexican and European-style cuisine as well as a view of the beach -- a perfect way to enjoy a sunset dinner.

During high season, a Mexican fiesta with a buffet and live entertainment is held in the restaurant on Friday evenings, and on Tuesday nights, a beach barbeque is featured.

Cocktails and snacks are available for purchase at two cozy, open-air bars.

One of Villa del Sol's most relaxing venues is its private beach area, where guests can be found suntanning, napping in the shade, sipping cocktails or having a leisurely lunch.

Massage service is available on the beach.

Recreational options include tennis on the property's two courts, which are lighted for night play, or swimming in two pools.

Arrangements also can be made for water sports such as windsurfing, parasailing, jet skiing, snorkeling and scuba diving as well as deep-sea fishing and horseback riding excursions.

For golfers, two 18-hole courses are within 10-minute drives from the property.

Guests also can venture into the quaint village of Zihuatanejo, which is minutes away by taxi.

Here, visitors can explore a large handicraft market stocked with everything from handmade pottery to silver jewelry from Taxco or sample the local catch at restaurants along the marina.

The more developed resort area of Ixtapa, with its full complement of tourist offerings, also is a short cab ride from the property.

Rounding out the offerings at Villa del Sol are a beauty salon, massage services, a gift shop and gallery, a travel agency, car rental, a library, fax service and 24-hour security as well as a meeting room for small group functions accommodating up to 24 people.

Receptions also can be arranged on the beach for up to 150 people as well as sunset weddings.

With its full array of excellent facilities and services, there seems to be nothing else a guest would need at Villa del Sol, but Leins constantly works to upgrade the property's offerings to maintain its high level of repeat clientele as well as attract new business.

"We always have a surprise for people who have been coming here for the past 15 or 16 years," Leins said, citing one example: the property's bakery now begins operations at 5 a.m. so guests can wake up to a basket of fresh croissants and coffee, which are delivered to their terrace each morning.

On a larger scale, Leins augmented the property's accommodations offerings with a new pool suite and three new beach suites with spectacular views of La Ropa Beach.

Each beach suite is different in configuration and design, incorporating features such as marble floors inlaid with pebbles, handcarved woodwork, an open-air living area or an outdoor plunge pool with an ocean view.

The new units range in size from 1,000 to 1,800 square feet.

Nightly rates at Villa del Sol range from $180 to $500 through March 31 and $150 to $450 from April 1 through Nov. 14.

During winter season (from Nov. 15 through March 31), the purchase of the Modified American Plan (MAP), which includes breakfast and dinner, is mandatory.

The MAP rate is $50 per person, per day.

For more details on Villa del Sol or to make reservations, agents can call the property direct at (888) 389-2645; Small Luxury Hotels at (800) 525-4800; Relais & Chateaux at (800) 860-4930, or Robert Reid Associates at (800) 223-6510.

Villa del Sol also is a featured property of U.S. wholesalers, such as Runaway Tours, Creative Leisure and Friendly Holidays.

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