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On the Riviera Maya, a coastal region south of Canc ún in the easternmost part of Mexico, there are 70 miles of white beaches and turquoise water. Summer days are torrid with high humidity and clear skies of brilliant scorching sunshine. Winter days are delightfully heated with sun-filled days and tropical breezes. A glass of freshly squeezed fruit punch with rum or Tequila over ice along with repeated dips in the pool or Caribbean offer a quenching, welcome relief year-round.
Modern architectural complexes -- hotels, marinas, sports facilities and restaurants -- have replaced small adobe haciendas and roadside shack-like watering holes. The region has experienced a boom in construction over the past decade, including some upscale luxury developments.
The Iberostar Grand Paraiso Hotel, the hottest new, seaside, adults-only, all-inclusive high-end destination resort, is at the top of its class on Riviera Maya. The beach, pools, shading palapas and cabanas, their towel-covered lounge chairs and nearby attending staff melt away tensions to maximize relaxation and comfort. What's very cool are the air-conditioned, high-ceilinged, glass-walled, indoor spaces -- hotel rooms, bars, lounges, hallways, restaurants and theaters.
The palace structures are reminiscent of Dubai, with spacious interiors and adjacent pools (one saltwater, one freshwater) that add to the resort's grandeur. The interior and exterior architecture and design at the Iberostar Grand are spectacular and display many features that beg to be photographed.
Restaurant dining is located within the expansive confines of the hotel. The roomy breakfast restaurant and an all-day beachside dining area offer buffet and individually prepared á la carte selections sure to satisfy even the most finicky of tastes. Dinner options are available in a variety of well-accented restaurants, each with a unique and specific theme in decor, presenting pleasantly designed architectural accoutrements -- Toni's (surf and turf), Haiku (Japanese), L'Atelier (gourmet), Venecia (Italian), Bella Vista (buffet and á la carte), La Brisa (buffet and á la carte). The quantity, variety and quality of food accessible around the clock was somewhat overwhelming.
The server for dinner at L'Atelier was dressed in a smartly pressed navy waiter's jacket and pant attire with white gloves. He delivered my first choice of fresh cheese layers and a slightly smoked squash cream with morels and duck foie. The combination was delicious and aesthetically pleasing. It was an introduction of more of the same to come.
I was most intrigued by the description of the second appetizer ordered, a pheasant magret blended with white beans and olive oil ice cream served with a dried fresh fruit vinaigrette. The smooth-textured mix and subtle, somewhat courser fruity, pungent vinaigrette created a refreshing intermingling of flavors.
The entrée of lasagna and squash red snapper medallions, shrimp and scallops with garlic aroma, pignoles and almonds proved most enjoyable. I wasn't really sure what to expect, being most familiar with lasagna as wide noodles baked in tomato sauce with meat and cheese. This whimsical version of layered ingredients was both light and filling, tasty and balanced; a nicely seasoned delicacy combining vegetables and sea fare.
The choice of Bohemia Negro Modelo instead of wine was a good one. The body and smoothness of this Mexican dark beer went exceedingly well with each dish.
I passed on dessert and headed to the cigar lovers sanctuary -- a tastefully decorated cigar bar furnished with comfortable lounge chairs, couches, small tables and a bar.
The humidor selections included a range of Cohibas (from the diminutive Exquisito to the Siglo IV), several Montecristos and a few Partagas, including the Serie D. Prices aren't terribly expensive, given the resort setting, and the informed patron can find a few bargains. While the Montecristo No. 2 is a bit steep at 200 pesos ($18.34), the Partagas Serie D No. 4 is a reasonable 150 pesos ($13.75).
I chose an H. Upmann Corona. The smooth-drawing, quality Cuban tobacco imparted a strong taste and great balance. A cool glass of dark rum punch added a refreshing touch.
Before turning in for the night I visited with a gentleman named Crescencio Abraján. Resident cigarmaker Crescencio hand-rolls 50 to 70 cigars each day using the same trimming tool and petrified palm tree stone he's had since learning techniques from Cubans in Vera Cruz, Mexico, more than 30 years ago. The tobacco he uses is grown in the San Andrés Valley near Veracruz. Cresencio's cigars are private labels made exclusively for Iberostar.
There are a number of bars throughout the hotel complex. No additional charge is incurred for drinks, meals, room service or in-room servi-bar. These are covered as part of the daily all-inclusive fee. At the Grand this can range, according to the season, offer or packager, from $280 to $600 per night per person. Cigars, laundry, golf and a few other amenities are extra.
Responsive concierges and butlers, available 24 hours, are located on each floor of the hotel. Along with the 24-hour room service they add to the attentive, personalized guest service that accommodates every need. And don't worry about drinking the water at this resort. All water and ice are purified.
The resort offers many day activities, including a spa, fitness center, sailing, water sports, shopping, indoor and outdoor pools, and golf. Iberostar Playa Paraiso Golf Club, a P. B. Dye design, incorporates intriguing natural features such as cenotes (sinkholes where twisted trees grow). Shot-changing contours in the fairways and undulating terrain add to the challenge. Night entertainment is also part of the package: first-rate shows of music, dance and magic are offered for hotel guests only. Much to do, plenty to eat and drink, and no need to leave the sizable property.
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