On lo­ca­tion in Mex­ico

The Sunday Telegraph - Travel - - Front Page -

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

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