by Teresa Bitler
When Italian banker Gian Franco Brignone flew over Costalegre, Mexico, in 1968, the undeveloped jungle coastline south of Puerto Vallarta captivated him. Envisioning an escape for himself and his friends, he purchased roughly 20,000 acres without stepping foot on it, built a brightly-painted ocean castle and invited those friends to visit and even buy plots for their own castles.
Brignone’s vision didn’t end there, though. In 1976, he opened Careyes, giving international jetsetters the opportunity to experience his exclusive community, but for the most part, guests usually ran in the same circles as Brignone and his friends. Over the years, Europe’s elite like Fiat tycoon Gianni Agnelli, renowned creatives like Francis Ford Coppola and household names like Mick Jagger have all stayed.
However, Careyes isn’t just a hideaway for the rich and famous; it’s renowned for its architecture. The club and its residences were designed by architects Alberto Mazzoni and Diego Villaseñor, who were instrumental in developing the estilo de Careyes. More commonly known in America as the Careyes style, their design combines colorful indoor and outdoor living spaces and is distinguished by palm-thatched palapas and cliff-side infinity pools.
Today, the property Brignone originally purchased includes a nature reserve, a polo club with two regulation-sized Bermuda grass fields, a 35-ft. high cement cup for sound bathing, two tennis courts, five community infinity pools and seven al fresco restaurants. Additionally, its vibrantly-colored villas, casitas, bungalows and club residences are available for rent through the still family-owned Careyes.
Club residency rates begin at $350 USD per night for a 932 sq.-ft. studio and range upwards depending on unit occupancy, rental season and availability. Some rentals at the club feature private infinity pools. All come with satellite TV, basic housekeeping but no room service, a fully-equipped kitchen and grocery delivery.
Guests requiring multiple rooms can rent villas, starting at $800 USD per night (ocean castles will be significantly more depending on the individual property). However, villas and ocean castles come with staff, including a chef to prepare meals, in addition to the amenities listed above.
Whether staying in a studio at El Careyes Club & Residences, one of the ocean castles or something in between, guests will be contacted by a concierge to coordinate activities during their stay. The concierge can arrange for massages, Pilates classes, private yoga sessions, boating excursions, horseback riding, sound bathing, guided hikes and whale watching in season as well as make dinner reservations.
Additional activities (some at an additional charge) include scuba diving, snorkeling, surfing, fishing, standup paddle boarding, kayaking, guided jungle hikes and mountain biking. Guests can also visit the nearby Plaza de los Caballeros in the town of Careyes to visit the small art gallery there, shop at a handful of boutiques or watch a movie on select nights.
One of the highlights, though, is the turtle release, which the concierge can book for guests ($110 USD). For 35 years, Careyes has dedicated itself to protecting four local species of endangered sea turtles. Staff collect eggs, transport them to a protected, beachside hatching facility and release the baby turtles, with the help of guests, back into the sea when the time is right.
Filippo Brignone, son of Gian Franco and president of the philanthropic ?! Careyes Foundation, believes Careyes today is actually more authentic than it ever was because people see the destruction of other places and appreciate the conservation efforts going on here. He hopes that instead of being known for its exclusivity, Careyes moving forward will be known for how it preserves the environment and is a place for all to experience nature.