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Featured in Vallarta Lifestyles Magazine, Summer/Fall 2010 issue.

They are called “zimmer” (German for “room”) in Israel, “petite hotel de charme” in France and “casa particular,” or “private home,” in Cuba. Sometimes they go by “inn,” “cottage” or “guesthouse.” Regardless, a quick online search for the seemingly universal term “B&B,” plus the town of your choice, will put you in touch with a broad variety of intimate lodging options that offer two things in common: a bed and a breakfast—even here in Mexico, where the Spanish vocabulary doesn’t include a word that does justice to the concept. But beyond the two Bs, every proprietor strives to complement their offering with unique touches, not to mention a completely immersive experience into their country and culture, often becoming resourceful spokespersons to their guests.

Compared to the number of hotels, villas, condos and timeshare options available locally, the number of B&Bs in Puerto Vallarta and surrounding areas is small. Nevertheless, the B&B world is well represented here. Whether you are interested in trying a new and unique vacation experience or, perhaps, considering a new chapter in your life as a B&B owner, you may find the commonalities and differences among the following four hoteliers enlightening.

Located in different areas of Banderas Bay, they are originally from four different countries, thus offering four unique experiences. Plus, these four proprietors, who we’ve singled out for no reason other than their outstanding word-of-mouth reputations and online travel reviews, live in town year round, guaranteeing every guest some quality time with the owner. And along with the rest of their kind, they all share a common trait: the steadfast desire to offer their guests an up close and personal experience.

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Rita Love: The Pioneer

A world traveler since her teenage years, Rita Love visited Puerto Vallarta for the first time as a friend’s guest, not knowing much about the destination. In that first visit, which took place during the less desirable hot and humid months, she was invited to offer a lecture on relocating to another country. Little did she imagine then that she’d end up building a B&B in Puerto Vallarta some 15 years ago and relocating permanently herself. Prior to that, she had a successful career in the northeast United States, working for Fortune 500 companies in Wall Street, Philadelphia and surrounding areas as a client-server architecture marketing consultant, frequently entertaining weekend guests in her countryside New Jersey home. She was personally involved in the design and construction of her Casa Amorita, a playful take on her own name, located in picturesque Gringo Gulch, just behind the Guadalupe Church in Puerto Vallarta’s El Centro.

Being a morning person, a good cook and of strong Italian descent, she’s right at home in the kitchen, from which she oversees a tight-running machine that is loose and casual at the same time, creating a fun environment for her guests, many of whom are repeat customers from the USA and Canada and as far away as New Zealand, Australia and Russia.

While Love is quite fulfilled with the outcome, she acknowledges that building a B&B from scratch was a trying undertaking at the time, the project marred by labor strikes and financial hardships during the construction process. “It was a rough road, although I’ve never regretted it or felt like I was going to fail,” she comments, acknowledging that the commitment is 24/7. “Everybody thinks it’s romantic, but it’s a lot of hard work, and you have to truly love what you’re doing.”

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Elsa Alba de Hernández: Love Is in the Air

When Elsa Alba married her husband, hotelier Guillermo Hernández, and moved into his La Cruz de Huanacaxtle home back in 1998, she quickly found herself restless, due to her hotel food and beverage background. After all, there wasn’t much of anything to do in La Cruz at the time. The original Hernández construction, in a privileged hilltop location overlooking Banderas Bay, consisted of a large three-bedroom house that was rented through 1999 to a group responsible for the construction of Palladium Vallarta Resort & Spa in Punta de Mita. Once their contract was over, the Hernández found themselves challenged to rent such a large property, but an unscheduled road trip through Mexico that included overnight stays at several small hotels provided the necessary inspiration to repurpose their home into the very successful Villa Bella.

Villa Bella opened its doors in January 2000 with a modest brochure, website and a toll-free number, welcoming their first guests shortly thereafter. Since then, they have been a preferred choice for honeymooners and couples, gay and straight, looking for laidback R&R while enjoying authentic Mexican hospitality. Despite being Mexican herself, Alba has been puzzled from the get-go about her inability to seduce nationals into her peaceful hideaway, most of her guests traveling from the USA and Canada. Undeterred, she—along with a staff of four—provides guests with a thorough, personalized experience, offering touches such as airport pick-ups, welcome cocktails and tours around town. “I can’t picture myself doing anything else,” she glows, striving to always exceed her guests’ expectations.

And love may, indeed, be in the air at Villa Bella. According to Alba, a handful of couples determined to conceive have done so successfully during their stays. Can you explain that? Neither can we, but it may very well be part of the Villa Bella magic.

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Laurence Georges and Alain Gaillard: The French Connection

When this French agronomist/artist couple decided to leave Paris and relocate, their research itinerary included stops in India, Indonesia, Malasia, Costa Rica, Honduras and Mexico, making the latter their choice just three years ago. And of all places, it was in El Tuito, one hour south of Puerto Vallarta, where in April 2007 they were so smitten with one house in particular, it took them just five minutes to make an offer on the property, returning three months later to formalize the purchase of what would become Hotelito Jardín del Tuito.

With no hospitality experience under their belts, Georges and Gaillard thoroughly immersed themselves in the local culture, learning Spanish from scratch, sending their youngest daughter to local school—the first French student in El Tuito—even sponsoring a local soccer team, all while undergoing the initial process of transforming the original property into a cozy three-room haven that seamlessly blends touches of France and Mexico throughout. “There is a noticeable and unexpected contrast between the town and the hotel,” they remark, “and visitors are constantly surprised by it when they come in for the first time.”

The present lack in El Tuito of amenities commonly found in larger towns—such as shopping, restaurants and nightlife—makes the focus on local culture, typical eateries, nature and the beautiful surrounding mountains absolutely inevitable. And the joy of meeting some of the locals, sharing stories and sharing culture, goes hand in hand for guests at Jardín del Tuito. “The key word is sharing,” emphasizes Gaillard, recounting a recent visit by a young couple from Australia. They were traveling through Mexico on their honeymoon and decided to overnight at Jardin del Tuito after seeing signs for the hotel on the highway. Their experience at the hotel was so memorable, they couldn’t help sharing a precious wedding gift with the hosts: a valuable Château Margaux 1950 vintage. “It was a magical moment. People always walk in as guests and leave as friends.”

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Debra Old: O, Canadá, ¡Ay, México!

Debra Old’s husband passed away in 1998, two weeks after they had enjoyed their last holiday together in Puerto Vallarta, a city they had visited frequently and where they had, in fact, planned to retire someday. One year later, Old returned to her Sheraton timeshare and, without ever having spent more than two consecutive weeks in Puerto Vallarta, decided to relocate. “The best thing for me about Mexico is the energy in the air,” she enthuses. “There is life in it.”

Soon enough after relocating, however, she began missing the country life she was used to back home. “I grew up on a farm on the Canada prairies, where your nearest neighbor is four miles away.” Following advice from a friend, she visited San Sebastian in 2000 and instantly fell in love with the town, a peaceful mountain hideaway only an hour and a half from Puerto Vallarta. Three years ago, she learned that a 200-year-old former mining and tannery hacienda was up for sale and purchased the property. One year later, the serene Hacienda Esperanza opened its doors to the public.

In contrast to Villa Bella, Old takes pride in the fact that, without any strategic planning of her own, a surprising 80 percent of Hacienda Esperanza guests are Mexican, primarily from Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey. “For many of my Mexican guests, it’s like going to Canada without going Canada,” she explains. Some things were lost in translation, however, particularly in the early days of learning to speak Spanish and conveying the B&B concept to locals unfamiliar with it. A memorable anecdote involved a Mexican couple. “I explained as best as I could that breakfast was served between 8:30 and 10 am,” she recalls. Other guests dutifully showed up for breakfast, but the Mexican couple was still missing at 9:55. “As I was putting things away, the very nice man came down and said, ‘Well, señora, we’ve been in bed waiting for breakfast!’ We all laughed very hard about the misunderstanding.”

The nice thing about visiting Puerto Vallarta is the broad variety of lodging options available. Here are some key points to consider, should you be looking to experience our destination as a vacation destination in the future. (Other options were covered in detail in “Experiencing Vallarta: Where to Stay,”)

Hotel

Boutique Hotel

Bed & Breakfast

Villa