I didn’t accept an invitation to Wellness Week at Villa del Palmar at The Islands of Loreto for the food; I accepted because I was dying to go to one of the last hidden-treasure beaches in Mexico. Vacationing in Loreto is like vacationing somewhere truly remote – the Maldives, for instance – without spending a whole day flying to the other side of the world (you can fly nonstop LAX to Loreto in two hours). Just 300 or so miles from the uber-touristy Cabo San Lucas, Loreto is home to only two beach resorts, Villa del Palmar being the more upscale option. Serene and tucked away, the region is known for its natural beauty – some of the world’s best snorkeling and scuba diving, sea lions, bright red starfish, and an old rock formation in the middle of the ocean that looks like a giant doorway, which locals refer to as “the door to the other life.” You won’t see McDonald’s. You won’t see Señor Frog’s. You won’t feel as though you’re at a frat party. The setting is magical – I watched dozens of dolphins arc up out of the stained-glass sea. But once I left Loreto, all I wanted to write about was Villa del Palmar’s food.
As “wellness” gains popularity and as wellness retreats, wellness weeks, and wellness coaches and lifestyles proliferate, more and more resorts worldwide are tailoring their dining programs to wellness travelers. Melania Lopez, Sales and Marketing Manager of Tabacon, a five-star hot springs resort in Costa Rica, told me “Our menus have always catered to a diverse, international clientele with gluten-free, vegan, and healthy options, but in 2017, we launched a new and improved healthy menu with lettuce wraps, seared Ahi tuna, fresh salads, and desserts that favor local fruit over heavy chocolates and creams.” As another example, in 2016, vegan chef Miguel Bautista visited luxury resort Grand Velas Nayarit and wrote vegan menus for all of its restaurants. (Try the raw coconut ceviche on the menu at Frida, Velas’s Mexican restaurant, or hit up Piaf, the Italian restaurant, for vegan nut pate with fermented cashew cheese and black pepper crust.) At Beloved Playa Mujeres, a resort in the midst of a wellness makeover, the breakfast and lunch buffets have “vegetarian zones,” and all the dinner menus now offer lactose-free and gluten-free options.
Even when it’s not Wellness Week, Villa del Palmar’s food-and-beverage program takes a wide variety of diets into consideration: They offer gluten-free pasta and pizza at their Italian restaurant, Casa Mia; almond milk lattes at The Market in the morning; and plenty of vegan options. If you come for Wellness Week (the next one will run in December), your package will include three healthy meals a day, in addition to snacks and activities (yoga, fitness classes, aqua-aerobics, and more).
“People are searching for a different type of vacation now,” Claudine Riemer, who designed Villa del Palmar’s Wellness Week, told me over breakfast one morning. “A lot of travelers aren’t huge eaters and drinkers anymore. Vacation isn’t about all-you-can-eat, all-you-can-drink. People want to feel good.”
Nutritional Therapy Practitioner Beth Manos-Brickey of Tasty Yummies, who was teaching wellness and nutrition workshops at Wellness Week, chimed in, “This resort is very aware of various dietary restrictions. There’s a focus on fresh, whole foods. You can get ceviche. Salads. If there’s something you can’t eat, they’re on it. As someone with a gluten intolerance, I can feel comfortable here.”
Even the most health-conscious travelers want to not only feel good, but savor their meals and feel satisfied. “Wellness” doesn’t have to mean juice fasting or a lettuce-leaf dinner. Villa del Palmar’s Wellness Week breakfasts include quinoa omelets, cherry-tomato-panela-cheese kabobs, and kiwi in lime reduction; lunches feature salmon straight from the sea or chicken satay; dinner offerings include eggplant purees, pasta salads with gluten-free croutons, and lettuce wraps with home-made peanut sauce. “Wellness Week” also doesn’t mean skipping dessert; it means grilled pineapple with maguey honey, lemon-mint rice pudding, and gluten-free carrot cake, all prepared in-house with local ingredients. And it is all. So. Delicious.
Gone are the old days when eating on a resort meant hitting the buffet for steamed frozen veggies, white dinner rolls, and heaps of chicken drumsticks. Gone, too, are the more recent days of separating the “healthy” food from the tasty food, so guests had to choose whether they wanted to be “good” or “bad.” Resorts like Villa del Palmar are hosting Wellness Weeks not just as one-offs, but as a way to display their wellness-friendliness and to show off how great their food is.
The meals and resort stay that are the subject of this review were provided at no cost to the contributor.