On location in Mexico
For Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton it was love at first sight. For each other, of course, but also for the magnificent Bay of Banderas on Mexico’s Pacific coast, where their much-publicised affair began in earnest in the picturesque fishing village of Puerto Vallarta. It started after Taylor joined Burton on the set of John Huston’s The Night of the Iguana in 1963, which was being filmed in the region. They had met in Rome two years previously (while filming Cleopatra) but Mexico is where things heated up. Photographs of the pair from their time in Puerto Vallarta show them with bronzed skin and loved-up smiles, splashing about in the waves, luxuriating on yachts and drinking in thatched-roofed “palapa bars”, an unending round of coco rums on the tables beside them.
The Mexico of those evocative photographs still exists today – and no more so than at Casa Kimberly, the colonial-style former home of the Burtons, which for the past few months has been serving as the ultimate celebrity-chic romantic hotel bolt-hole.
The story goes that Burton bought Taylor a house opposite his own, the two being connected by a pink replica of Venice’s Bridge of Sighs – and that Burton was banished over it to the other side of the house whenever the pair had one of their famously tempestuous rows. Now painted white, the bridge is still there, as is the original heart-shaped bathtub commissioned by Taylor in what was her former bedroom.
The hotel’s nine suites are huge – a fitting homage to the couple who used to book out entire hotel floors on their travels – and come complete with exotic bathrooms with freestanding tubs surrounded by crystal lampshades and ferns; many also have wraparound balconies and views out over the glittering bay. The VIPs, the room in which I stayed, had an open shower backed by hand-painted tiles.
The soul of the Burtons is still very much there: a bronze statue of the pair by the front door can be seen from the street; there’s a painting of Taylor, her violet eyes staring at you as you ascend the stairs; vintage posters of
Puerto Vallarta, where Taylor and Burton set up home, retains an air of Hollywood glamour. Jade Conroy joins the A-listers
the pair adorn the central, fountainfilled courtyard. Manna from moviestar heaven.
Sadly the spell was rudely broken for me a few miles north of Casa Kimberly when I had a decidedly less than camera-cool moment. I was trying to relive the Burton-Taylor dream on my very own private boat trip to the idyllic-sounding Marietas Islands. Here, I had been told, there was a secret beach – aptly named the Playa del Amor – that could be accessed only by swimming through a tunnel.
Our guide Miguel took us successfully through the 80ft waterway, clad in less-than-chic fluoro-orange life-jackets. At the end of it, he said, we should ease our passage on to the sand by taking our fins off at the last moment.
Elizabeth Taylor would of course have managed this with aplomb.
“OK… everybody kick!” shouted Miguel, as the wave arrived. But instead of being deposited gently on the beach, I mistimed things badly and was sucked back by the deceitful wave. Alas, no muscular Burton came to carry me, elegantly, on to the sand – just my GoPro-wielding boyfriend who hauled a spluttering me from the water in front of a collection of bemused onlookers. Liz and Richard vintage, it was not.
If Taylor and Burton made Puerto Vallarta and this part of Mexico sexy, it was the oceanographer Jacques Cousteau who provided the scientific research confirming that it is indeed a region of outstanding natural beauty. Having declared the Sea of Cortez the “aquarium of the world” some years before, he turned his attention in the late Sixties to the Marietas Islands and called for