Alix Goldsmith Marcaccini, the daughter of Sir James Goldsmith and guardian of Cuixmala, his spectacular Mexican estate, tells the story behind this outstanding residence that is now available to rent.
Across 25,000 acres of the Mexican Pacific coastline there exists an astonishing estate that is as storied as it is remote. Cuixmala was built as a private retreat for the legendary financier Sir James Goldsmith and his very nuclear family - that is, his wife, his ex wife, his mistress, and his children by all of these women. As such, it comprises of several independent villas, spread across a lush site of farmland, lagoons and beaches, two and half hours south of Puerto Vallarta.
The jewel in the Cuixmala crown is La Loma, the spectacular main house with a central courtyard fountain and painted domed roof that was inspired by Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia. It is testament to Sir James’s determination and the planning of his architect, Robert Couturier, as well as 2,000 workers, that this residence, as well as the rest of the estate, was completed in 1991, just four years after the land was purchased.
Cuixmala is the Chatsworth of Mexico. Indeed, just as the English aristocracy have opened the doors of their country estates to paying visitors in order to finance the stratospheric upkeep of such homes, so too has the Goldsmith family. Now managed by Sir James’s daughter Alix Goldsmith Marcaccini, Cuixmala is available for rent either as a whole or in parts. And it’s not only for billionaire budgets (though Bill Gates is said to have taken over La Loma on more than one occasion). The estate’s cluster of casitas, which originally housed staff, have been luxuriously refurbished and rent from just $400 a night.
Though Cuixmala represents much more than just the pinnacle of the luxury travel industry. Environmental and ecological concerns were always integral to the project and Alix Goldsmith Marcaccini has continued her father’s work protecting its natural habitat. Visitors to Cuixmala can literally taste the difference: most of the food served at Cuixmala is grown on site or at the family’s nearby ranch; everything is organic and the product of sustainable farming practices; sundowners on the beach are enlivened by a favorite Cuixmala pastime, returning baby turtles to the sea (hundreds of thousands so far). The estate is proof that ultra luxurious living and an ecologically friendly lifestyle are not mutually exclusive ideals.
As his original vision for Cuixmala is steadfastly protected, one can only assume that even Sir James, known for his perfectionism, would be proud.
As we showcase the astonishing Cuixmala estate, Sir James Goldsmith’s daughter, Alix Goldsmith Marcaccini, tells the story behind this lush corner of Mexico.
What is your definition of luxury?
Refinement within fluidity and simplicity.
If luxury were a place, where would it be?
If luxury were an object, what would it be?
A beautiful maharaja jewel.
If luxury were a moment, when would it be?
Walking past La Loma, down the steps to the pool, discovering the amazing set up for a New Year’s party on the beach.
If luxury were a person, who would it be?
It would have to be my father and Marie-Hélène de Rothschild.
Cuixmala is an astonishing estate. Tell us the story about how Sir James Goldsmith found this part of the world and what his original vision was in terms of its function?
My brother Manes went to work for the Mexican football team in 1983. My father decided to take my mother and me to spend Christmas and New Year’s with him. It is thanks to my brother living in Mexico that the adventure started and changed our lives forever. My father had been searching for a property for a while. He wanted to acquire a property for his family which had natural beauty, clean water, unpolluted land to start organic farming and be as self sufficient as possible, not too far to travel but far away from big towns and their pollution. He was seduced by the amount of indigenous animals such as jaguars and pumas and the vast biodiversity of the area. He used to spend four to five months a year in Mexico and he wanted to be able to host "think tanks" with politicians, businessmen, ecologists and friends. Family was very important to him even though he led an unconventional life. He planned houses for the different women in his life and if he had lived longer, he would have added more houses for all of his children who were too young at the time to have their own.
How does Cuixmala now differ from that – how has it changed?
Cuixmala's philosophy has not changed except that we have now opened its doors for rental. We are trying and hope to give guests the feeling that they are on a big ranch/estate rather than the feeling of being in a hotel or a resort.
The architecture by Robert Courturier is breathtaking. What was the brief in terms of the design and aesthetic? And what inspired such spectacular houses?
My father got the inspiration for his house from Saint Sofia and from India. All the Mouche-à-Rabier stone windows were made in India. My brother’s house and my house already existed and he enlarged and did many changes to them. He was so hands on that he came up to the house the day the painters were there and we spent some time making up different tones of orange and sienna color and he had fun applying them to the walls.
Could Cuixmala have been built anywhere or is there something about Mexico that adds to the experience?
Mexico definitely added to the magic and surrealism of the project. Cuixmala and Careyes were in the middle of nowhere in those days. To give you an idea, there was still no police force in the area and the president insisted on giving my father some guards that we housed and fed and gave cars to and that is how security arrived in the area! The craftsmanship was, and is, amazing in Mexico. So many talented people. What is amazing about Cuixmala is the extremely luxurious houses set in very strong and wild nature. One can hear the waves crashing against the beach from miles away! While walking or riding around the place, one can go through rough, wild landscape to the agricultural land, thousands of coconut palm trees, mango trees, vegetable gardens and the nursery, to crocodile filled lagoons, zebras and elands grazing around, and end up on the wild beach and see turtles hatch.
It is unusually massive. How long did it take to build?
The property was bought in 1987 and finished by 1991. My father was a very impatient person and had no time to waste. There were at one time 2000 workers building the roads and 3 houses and casitas, the stunning stables and remodeling two existing houses. Two brothels were opened in the village next door to calm the workers’ spirits! It was a huge project, totally crazy, with a sense of the Wild West. Robert Couturier [the architect] found it hard to deal with the machismo of certain people involved, who would arrive at the meetings and put their guns on the table and Robert his tape recorder so no one could blame one another for not doing the job.
The ecology, organic farming and sustainability are all integral to the Cuixmala estate, as the Cuixmala Ecological Foundation attests. What initiatives are you most proud of?
I am very proud that my mother, brother Manes and my husband have continued the Foundation’s works and projects and have enlarged it by buying land, thanks to our rentals. I am also proud that we managed to have the Chamela-Cuixmala Biosphere Reserve protected under the RAMSAR convention and biosphere protection by UNESCO, which gives it another level of protection. Also, the Cuixmala Ecological Foundation promoted environmental legislation approved by State and Federal Congress as the first environmental zoning plan for the State of Jalisco and
created the Chamela Bay Islands Sanctuary (first Sanctuary in Mexico). I am proud that the Foundation has managed to block unecological developments in the area such as a marina, golf course and an airport, which was to be built just a few meters away from Careyes.
Since taking over the estate, what changes or additions have you made? What improvements would you like to make in the future?
Since renting out Cuixmala we have remodeled the casitas, as the needs there are now different, and redecorated casa La Loma that actually feels much younger.
Casa Torre used to be the dispensary as there was no clinic in the area and no doctor. With the architect Duccio Ermenengildo, we have since transformed it into a beautiful four-bedroom house with an amazing infinity pool. We finished building the property’s shop this year where we sell lots of Mexican arts and crafts, furniture and clothes, such as bags by Nicolle Aimée, the muse of Guy Bourdin. We have built lovely sitting areas on both Caleta Blanca beach and Playa Escondida. My wish list for Cuixmala is so long: I would like to build a palapa terrace on stilts on the lagoon to watch the animals at sunset; only use solar for all electricity; and build a yoga palapa gym by the beach, among many other things. Don't laugh, but I’d also like to build a fab outdoor disco! Also, we have an amazing ecological master plan made to develop one of the beaches, Playa Escondida.
Do you ever feel burdened by the never-ending responsibility of owning such an incredible place and employing such a large number of local people?
Yes, I do feel a huge burden to upkeep the properties to my father’s standard and make sure we can keep all the staff even in these rather tough times. But Cuixmala has given me a reason to be. I will do all possible to hand it down to the next generation as a business and not as a white elephant.
It must be difficult to find something comparable to Cuixmala when you travel for leisure? Which are your favorite places and hotels around the world?
I love traveling to new places but it seems to get more complicated as I have children ranging from 18 to 3 years old and I go back to Mexico as soon as the children are out of school. I fell in love with Kenya – the space, the blue sky, and the sense of freedom. Loved Shampolee for its sensual architecture. Loved Morocco for its amazing beauty and food. I love to go to places were I can find local art and crafts. I do not compare Cuixmala to other places, as they are all so different from one another. I learn from them.
Please describe a perfect day in Cuixmala, from what to do, to what to eat.
Start with an amazing breakfast made of papaya and mango from the property, huevos a la Mexicana with lots of chilli, and amazing homemade toast. Chilli is fantastic after a long night! Accompany that with an apple, cucumber, celery and nopal juice or an orange juice and aloe vera mix. Nopal is an amazing cactus that eliminates sugar in the blood and is amazing for diabetes.
Set off for an hour-and-a-half long walk through the property back home, jump in the pool and take a yoga session.
Around midday, set off to the beach and for a boat ride to the islands. On our way follow a whale, turtles or dolphins.
Go for a long swim then back for lunch where our amazing staff will have ceviche or grilled fish, catch of the day or grilled meat from the ranch at San Antonio with amazing vegetables and our deadly cheeses and desserts...help!
Then just go and collapse on the comfy beds in the shade or play backgammon. Get back in time to go riding through the coconut plantation to the exotic animal area and gallop along the beach to the river and ride back at dusk.
Back home to a delicious margarita and a bath!
Meet everyone at the foot of a huge bonfire to the sound of a trio playing, a paella cooking, tequila flowing, with the moon up in the sky reflecting on the rolling waves and go and release baby turtles into the sea. Who could ask for anything more?!