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Hacienda San Angel, one of the best hotels in Puerto Vallarta, overlooks the magnificent Banderas Bay. Here the Sierra Madre mountains meet the azure waters framed by a tangle of frangipani, bougainvillea and yellow trumpet flowers.
You will be whisked back in time to the era of Richard Burton with a stay at Hacienda San Angel. The actor visited this very spot with his latest wife Suzy Hunt following his second divorce from Elizabeth Taylor.
Richard Burton’s Casa Bur-Sus
On Valentine’s Day in 1977, Burton presented his new bride with a three-bedroom home in the hills of Puerto Vallarta. This lovenest was named Casa Bur-Sus, incorporating both of their names to consolidate their bond.
Unfortunately, like Richard Burton’s other marriages, this one had an early expiration date. He and Suzy were divorced in 1982. They would never again share the retreat with the magical views.
However, Casa Bur-Sus continues with a new purpose. It is now totally refurbished and enlivened under the name Hacienda San Angel. The hotel centers around the original building of Casa Bur-Sus and is one of the most beautiful small hotels in the world.
San Angel offers an escape from the busy streets below with serene interiors and landscaped gardens
The Old Gringo Gulch Neighborhood of Puerto Vallarta
Hacienda San Angel is in a neighborhood locally known as “Gringo Gulch”. It was so named for the number of ex-pats it attracted from the US, Canada and the UK. An exclusive neighborhood with “forever” views built into the hills above Puerto Vallarta. Far from the noise of a thriving tourist town below.
Perilously winding cobblestone streets, barely wide enough for two cars to pass, climb up the hillsides of Gringo Gulch. Now more commonly called Centro, Puerto Vallarta.
The climb leaves behind the touristy neighborhood known as the “Romantic Zone”. An area of tourists and street vendors selling inexpensive crafts and T-shirts. It’s up and onwards for more airy sights, including Hacienda San Angel.
Mrs. Chatterton Moves In
Casa Bur-Sus commenced its second life in 1990. This is when Mrs. Janice Chatterton from San Francisco purchased it from Suzy Hunt, who was now remarried.
Mrs. Chatterton enjoyed living in Casa Bur-Sus and used it as her second home, occupying it from May to October. Each year, she would invite her daughter and grandchildren to join her for a couple of weeks at “Grandma’s house.”
But in 1996, Mrs. Chatterton suffered a terrible loss. Her only son passed away tragically from a motorcycle accident. She initially continued living in California, but reminders of her son made her grief overwhelming. Two years later she sold her home and departed for Puerto Vallarta to take up permanent residence.
Once settled, she began renovating her Casa Burs-Sus home. She did this with historical pieces and religious relics from local churches which were closing. She was also simultaneously rescuing dogs.
Subsequently, she was able to subdue her grief with her two biggest loves: shopping for antiques and saving pooches.
The Transformation of Casa Bur-Sus
Mrs. Chatterton’s passion for acquiring antiques and accessories helped to console her. Furthermore, it validated the now totally redecorated Casa Bur-Sus. Whoever saw it raved about the way she had refurbished her home. Many even suggested she rent out the rooms. Tour bus guides approached her with similar suggestions.
In time, her passion turned to the acquisition and renovation of adjacent properties. Casa Bur-Sus became a catalyst for creating an ever-expanding place for visitors to rent and stay. While also providing rooms for her treasures and rescues. Subsequently, it became what it is today; one of the best hotels in Puerto Vallarta.
The B&B opened in 1999. Thus began Janice Chatterton’s first foray into the world of hospitality.
The grandchildren are now grown and they and Mrs. Chatterton’s daughter Paula, have fond memories of these holidays high up in the hills of Puerto Vallarta. It’s an enthusiasm that has helped continue the vision and carry on the legacy of this priceless property.
Following the completion of Casa Bursus, three tiny lots known as San Angel were consolidated. Over three years, three suites, a utility room and a laundry were added. San Angel was followed by La Luna in 2005 and La Joya in 2006. All were properties adjacent to Casa Bur-Sus.
Design by a “Show of the Hands”
Recent searches of the property failed to reveal any leftover architectural drawings. It would seem Mrs. Chatterton did the revivification using an architectural style known as “a show of the hands”.
This consisted of describing how she wanted it to look. Then relying on the workers to interpret and implement her vision. Fortunately for her, Mexico had, and has, excellent builders, craftsmen and stonemasons who are skilled in doing just that.
The collections were an eclectic and diverse mix of Colonial Mexican and Spanish Colonial furniture. This included hand-carved armoires, headboards, dining room tables and chairs.
Also, bells from belfries, candelabras, lights, pottery, porcelains and hand-painted tiles. It became known what was happening at the house and people began offering her antiques.
The real windfall came when Museo Munoz Acosta, Puerto Vallarta’s only art museum, closed in 2003. Janice acquired large oil paintings, armoires and even a 16th Century French Gothic steeple. The steeple was built into the Francisco Suite.
As interesting as the collections were, more fascinating was the way Janice masterfully incorporated these antiques into the rooms. I suspect this was also done with “a show of the hands”. She placed each piece of furniture, hung each artwork and knew exactly where each collection of tiles would go.
Although untrained as an interior designer, Mrs. Chatterton had a gift for it. It’s a profession that usually requires years of training but it seems she was able to do it with an automatic reflex. She just knew.
One of the Best Hotels in Puerto Vallarta
There are many features that set Hacienda San Angel apart from other hotels. It really is the epitome of a boutique hotel. This level of furnishings would never be possible in most hotels. They just would not have a budget for such a collection.
As an amateur designer and architect, it was Janice’s cultivated taste that raised the bar. However, she was also the accountant. Meaning she was free to spend whatever she wanted in the pursuit of her dream.
When the Hacienda was completed, it had twelve guest suites. These suites surround the large open-air atrium, connected by bricked staircases and colorful flowerbeds.
Because many of the original features were kept or restored, the entire property has the appearance that it has been there for generations. Furthermore, mature trees and shrubs were included in the new landscaping. This helped to seamlessly blend the old and the new.
My First Introduction to Hacienda San Angel
I drove up the narrow winding cobblestone streets of Centro and arrived at Calle Miramar 336. The hotel logo was discretely painted on the wall surrounded by antique tiles. On either side of a double wooden door were black iron lamps. There was also a heavy rope with an instruction to “pull”, which I did.
The rope rang a bell which brought a uniformed member of staff to the door and I was expediently welcomed inside. I sank into a relaxing chair in the covered atrium that connects all the suites and enjoyed a refreshing iced drink.
Inside is calm and tranquility encapsulated in a magnificent setting with mature trees, rambling bougainvillea and perfumed gardenias.
Steps lead to different levels and each level opened up to another vista. Views looked out over rooftops, the iconic Guadalupe Church and across the Bay of Banderas. Everything is harmonious and feels like a stage-set that has been here forever.
Mrs Chatterton’s Dog Rescue Legacy
I already knew that Mrs. Chatterton had passed away in 2019 because I had seen an obituary in the press. In this obituary, she was praised for the work she had accomplished in opening the SPCA in Puerto Vallarta.
Hence saving the lives of thousands of animals. She created a no-kill sanctuary to care for and rehabilitate wounded, sick dogs and abandoned dogs. By the time of her passing it had been expanded to accommodate up to 80 dogs and a therapy spa.
She also built a network of people in Canada that worked with her to adopt and foster dogs flown in from Mexico. It seems that creating the sanctuary was a healing therapy after the loss of her son.
Meeting Mrs. Chatterton’s Daughter
My appointment to view the Hacienda was with Paula Castaneda, Janice’s daughter. Sitting in the atrium, she related how her mother’s sudden and unexpected passing in 2019 affected the family. They were all in shock and overcome with terrible grief at not being able to say goodbye.
Under the circumstances, Paula had to make a quick decision. Did she upend her life in San Francisco and take over running the Hacienda? Or did she let the property go? With no experience in hospitality — much like her mom — she faced a quick learning curve as she settled into her new role.
Paula kindly offered to walk me through the Hacienda. It is staggeringly beautiful, with views in every direction. If it isn’t a view of the ocean or the mountains then it’s a view over the rooftops of the lush, interior gardens.
A Tour of the Stunning Hacienda San Angel
A series of outdoor staircases, their bricks worn with age, connect the different levels to the suites. The levels are interspersed with tropical flowers and leafy climbers that grow along the walls.
Deep burgundy bougainvillea in full bloom had been trimmed to make it manageable. An ancient white magnolia with a thickened trunk grows near a two-tiered trickling fountain against an old brick wall. Its intoxicating perfume filled the air.
Each bedroom leads into a living room that opens to a veranda with lounging furniture to relax and enjoy the views. There is a common thread running through the decoration of the bedrooms.
Each has a handsome hand-carved headboard, a large antique armoire and an oversize original oil painting. Old Persian rugs, their colors mellowed by age, lay casually on the red clay tile floors.
The beds are covered with fine, white cotton linens. The linens mirror the see-through white gauze drapes hung on the windows or from the corners of a four-poster bed. They billowed in the breeze.
No two suites were identical, but each one was artfully curated. I marveled at the talent of the person who had created this masterpiece of decoration. I felt I was visiting a friend’s home, rather than a hotel.
Eclectic Perfection and Serene Settings
Throughout there are little vistas and private nooks to read a book or sit quietly with one’s thoughts, surrounded by nature. The property has three swimming pools on different levels.
Each one has comfortable chaise lounges, fountains, statuary and vegetation clinging to the wall. Room service is available all day both to the guestrooms as well as the outdoor areas.
As for the rest of Mrs. Chatterton’s collection of interesting antiques, they are distributed throughout the Hacienda. These include wooden horses that are slightly comical and very “country” and outdoor dining room tables and chairs.
Additionally, large church bells are suspended from the roofline and several oversized candelabras sit in the gardens.
At the end of the day, as the sun is setting, it’s as if a switch is flipped and the atmosphere becomes magical. Each tall candelabra is lit by hand and twinkling candles line the walkways and steps.
Each evening, about two hundred and fifty candles are hand lit, turning the gardens into a magical wonderland.
Hacienda San Angel Gourmet
That evening I accepted an invitation to join Paula for dinner. It was to be at the top-tier Hacienda San Angel Gourmet, the in-house restaurant. It was an exquisite experience.
We walked through the candle-lit courtyard, to one of the outdoor staircases with leafy climbers clinging to the walls. Upon arrival at the rooftop level, an expansive open-air dining area was revealed.
Our table had views to one side across the Bay of Banderas. To the other, the iconic Church of our Lady of Guadalupe. The ambiance was perfection with the sun setting and the moon rising on the opposite horizon.
The service was impeccable. Mexican and imported wines were poured by a sommelier who shared his knowledge and recommendations of wine to accompany our meals.
We went with a Chenin Blanc from Baja California, Mexico. It was served in a chilled glass, frosty on the outside to keep it at its recommended temperature. The color was of golden corn and it was smooth on the palate with a long finish.
A Creative Menu and a Magical Ambience
The menu was well-balanced. International and Mexican dishes were creatively plated on a table set with fine white and gold-crested china and handblown stemware. The wine paired perfectly with Chilean Sea Bass adorned with baby vegetables and a complementary sauce.
In season, on Sundays, it’s also a very popular brunch spot with an extensive menu. Non-hotel guests are welcomed at both dinner and brunch.
As we ate, a band of twelve mariachis arrived to serenade the diners. They were dressed impeccably in white traditional Mexican outfits and were immaculately groomed from head to the tip of their shining boots. Each one was a study in concentration as they lifted their musical instruments in unison to begin playing.
This then was my experience of a few hours at Hacienda San Angel. A setting tucked away from place and time, yet perfectly in tune with itself and its surroundings.
Who Will Love Hacienda San Angel?
Hacienda San Angel is for the sophisticated traveler seeking a unique experience in luxury accommodations. A place to escape the commonplace. The hotel is a romantic and serene spot.
It’s ideal for couples or singles of almost any age although it is not suitable for children. There are 12 luxuriously appointed suites offering five-star service 24 hours a day.
The luxury hotel market is proliferating to keep pace with the demand from people who can afford and expect the best. However, many luxury hotels belong to conglomerates, or global brands, that are turning out carbon copies of luxury hotels.
Hacienda San Angel stands out as a maverick in a sea of chain hotels and repetitive design. With a one-of-a-kind design that melds with the surroundings, it has arrived at its own unique aesthetic appealing to the discerning traveler.
The Hacienda San Angel Family
Hacienda San Angel was established and developed in 1999 by Janice Chatterton. Following her death in 2019, the reigns were taken over by her daughter, Paula Castaneda. She has maintained the high standards of hospitality set by her late mother.
The transition appears to be seamless as new and returning guests continue to find their way to Hacienda San Angel, nestled in the hills above Puerto Vallarta. The legacy of Hacienda San Angel has been handed to a new generation to be carried forward catering to a select clientele.
If you go:
Hacienda San Angel
All major US Cities connect to Puerto Vallarta, including, United, Delta, American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Jet Blue, and Aero Mexico. Take a taxi from the airport to Hacienda San Angel or request a personal driver to meet you at the airport.
There are several tour companies operating in Puerto Vallarta, covering a selection of interesting tours, especially through GetYourGuide. Find more information on these activities in Puerto Vallarta and book your dates in advance here.
There are also some very helpful English speaking publications on Puerto Vallarta:
Author Bio: Phyl Doppelt is a travel writer, blogger and photographer living in California. Her writing niche is “adaptive re-use of space.” This has made possible the regeneration and refurbishment of older buildings, breathing new life into dying neighborhoods, turning them into revitalized destinations that attract a new and vibrant generation. She is a member of the Bay Area Travel Writers, International Food Wine and Travel Writers Association, and TravMedia. Website: www.phylonthego.com