Driving around the buzzing Mexican beach town of Playa del Carmen is quite a challenge when it’s pitch black outside, you’re wiped out from 17 hours travelling and you haven’t driven a car in years, let alone on the other side of the road. After a few wrong turns and some stern words with the sat nav, we eventually arrived at Hotel La Semilla by accident.
We’d unknowingly parked right outside the enormous front door of this tiny boutique hotel, intending on getting out to look for it. In reality (and in daylight), it really wasn’t that hard to find. Luckily, receptionist Guimeel came to our rescue, with a mega-watt smile and such a warm welcome that, for a moment, I thought a hug might be involved. This geniality was an ongoing theme during our stay – the vibe is one of a family that you’re made to feel a part of.
Hotel La Semilla is a literal labour of love. Swiss owner Alexis Schärer and his Mexican wife, Angie, fell head over heels while living in New York, and when she decided to move back to Mexico, naturally, he packed his bags. Together, they worked for luxury hotel groups such as Raffles and Mandarin Oriental, before taking the plunge to open a small retreat of their own on the Yucatan Peninsula, after finding the perfect spot just off Playa del Carmen’s bustling thoroughfare, 5th Avenue.
Alexis – the face of Hotel La Semilla – has a real passion for what he does. In fact, he works in the hotel himself most days, pottering around the breakfast room, chatting with guests and making sure everyone’s a happy camper. Alexis comes from generations of hoteliers, so whilst this may be his first foray into owning his own (and I hear there are more in the pipeline…), he’s certainly no novice.
There’s no restaurant at Hotel La Semilla, but there’s a ridiculously charming open-air breakfast room – it’s set at the end of a garden that’s jam-packed with lush plants and trees. Breakfasts here might just be the highlight of your day – a different traditional Mexican dish is whipped up every morning by the chef, and served alongside fruit, fresh juices, coffee, homemade granola and the sweetest honey from local Mayan bees. An expensive London brunch has nothing on those breakfast tacos and I’m still dreaming of recreating them one day.
Mismatched tables and chairs are scattered among the trees and, in the evenings, tea lights flicker prettily along the pathways. There’s even a two-person hammock on a terrace above the kitchen, so if you want to flop into that or just hang out in the garden before dinner, let the staff know and they’ll hand you a cold beer or a glass of wine, on the house. The can’t-do-enough-for-you service is enough to bring a grown man to tears!
The decor – Angie’s domain and the reason we chose this hotel – is the stuff of design-mag dreams. Inspired by traditional Mexican crafts, their time in New York and travels to the South of France, all furniture throughout the hotel is vintage and has been painstakingly sourced from fleamarkets. The milky white colour palette offers a light and bright backdrop for the interesting mishmash of secondhand furniture. The laid-back styling here is all at once effortlessly cool and perfectly considered. If you yawn at the Mid-Century look that seems to dominate boutique hotels at the moment, this will be a breath of fresh air.
Most days, we were out working through the list of local recommendations that were thoughtfully placed in our room on arrival (along with homemade cookies!), so we didn’t spend a huge amount of time in there, but when we took the occasional siesta, it was a peaceful cocoon with no TV and no distractions. Just a beautifully designed, minimalist space, scented with incense and bathed in sun-dappled light that danced around the smooth concrete floor.
It’s safe to say that despite several flashy hotel groups occupying prime beachfront spots, this nine-bedroom, adults-only bolthole with no swimming pool and no restaurant, set on a quiet street a short walk from the sea (which can be glimpsed from the pretty rooftop terrace), is the only place I’d stay in Playa del Carmen. The feeling of a true home-from-home is unlike anything else we experienced on our Mexican travels. You can keep your ritzy chain hotels, thanks, because we found something completely unique.
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