Of all the places that we stayed in during our 2018 trip to Mexico, Hacienda Defranca has a special place in my heart. Amongst all the luxurious locations in famous cities and resorts like Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta, the surroundings of this boutique residence gave us a taste of the wilderness of rural Mexico. The first clue that this was a unique, isolated getaway was finding ourselves in a car being cautiously guided up an unmade road into the hills bout an hour north of central Guadalajara. A gate at the boundary of the property (with no building yet in sight) was opened by a child who seemed to just be passing – in the middle of nowhere – but who I later realised may have been sent to loiter and expect our arrival.
Pulling up in front of the Hacienda Defranca made me feel as though we had been transported in time. Our driver had a brief chat with the staff and disappeared over the hill again, leaving us without a whiff of technology until we were (mere seconds later) provided with WiFi access. But this isn’t a place where you’ll be looking at your phone; even the most dedicated Instagrammers will snap the requisite pics and then forget that the phone even exists as they gaze on the incredible scenery of the barranca spread before them.
Set in traditional style, with covered porticos around a small courtyard with a fountain, the Hacienda Defranca has a lot of rustic charm, but also provides all the requisite luxury embellishments. In both our rooms, there were double beds and terraces with wide views of the canyon, where one could sit, relax and watch the clouds tumbling down the cliffs in the distance. In the separate bathroom area, there was an enormous jacuzzi tub that had been added in such a way that it looked as though it had always been there! Beds were divinely comfortable but, after quickly freshening up, we passed through some of the communal areas and began to explore the grounds.
I have already mentioned the view twice, and you shouldn’t expect this to be the last time. A small shallow swimming pool within some manicured lawn sits on the cliff-side of the property, with some gentle hills and a couple of secluded locations for sun loungers and hammocks. The ground drops suddenly and the valley stretches ahead of you, with barely a sign of human activity and miles of rolling hills with forests clinging to their steep sides. Right on the edge of this cliff, Hacienda Defranca have placed a small summerhouse structure containing a jacuzzi, so one can draw the curtains towards the property and share the amazing vista with just your lover and some bubbles.
The staff were very attentive, being quick to supply us with drinks and direct us to a couple of hammocks on the far side of the hacienda, with a view of the private chapel where the venue offers wedding ceremonies, a typically colourful Mexican style building standing out against the darkening sky. As a sometime resident of nearby Guadalajara, the contrast with the darkening sky caught my eye and a quick glance at the clock confirmed that – had we been in the city – the evening rain would likely be on its way. I wasn’t sure if we could expect a deviation from the pattern at Hacienda Defranca but, when the wind suddenly began to pick up, we moved inside hastily and were vindicated by the disappearance of the entire valley behind a mist of rain and storm clouds.
The impact of a heavy storm on an isolated location should not be underestimated. Staff frantically brought in parasols and outdoor tables flung paper, cutlery and glassware across the veranda. The surface of the swimming pool turned choppy and the plants in the garden whipped back and forth frenetically. I love a good storm and it took some persuading for me to come away from the sight of nature at its most vital and submit to the peaceful cocoon of my bathroom to prepare for dinner.
Night-time had descended by the time we came to dine, so views of the valley were obscured by darkness, even if we could still hear the wind whipping around the building. We began with some unexpectedly excellent fresh fish – a huge dish of tuna tiradito, each slice lovingly bathed in a rich savoury dressing, and an aguachile of mahi-mahi with sliced radish, mango and a mouth-watering (and mouth-flaming) habanero sauce. We opted for red wine after tasting the El Esteco Malbec 2014, which stood up to the fiery sauce perfectly. We also ordered steak, which was perfectly cooked although, for reasons I shall go into now, I am unable to tell you how it looked…
The dining room was full of curious religious imagery and artefacts, including an enormous statue of St Michael, sword raised, which was immediately behind my chair. I was musing on the Gothic nature of these artworks, combined with the isolated location, the dramatic scenery and the storm, when I caught St Michael’s eye and, suddenly, the lights went out.
Our server was quick to find us a candle for our table and, for us and the other guests in attendance, dinner continued, albeit at a much lower luminosity. Some power was restored by on-site generator after a time (but went out again after we had retired to bed), but not before we had finished our delicious meal and a second bottle of reassuring Malbec and used a flashlight to find the entrance to our rooms across the central courtyard. Throughout the evening, staff were very apologetic and were quick to supply us with whatever they could to make the darkness more bearable! After asking around, it also became clear that this was not an ordinary occurrence, so the staff definitely dealt with it very well!
In the morning, the barranca was once again visible, with the forested slopes rising out of the morning mist. It was a beautiful signt to see from the comfort of my bed, but I had to get up and go outside as soon as possible! Seeing clouds passing below our position on the high clifftop made me think of rainforests and long journeys in places far more remote than this Jalisco hacienda, the many other times when Mexico has captured my heart.
It is quite a testament to the Hacienda Defranca’s hospitality, location and property that, even after eating dinner in the dark and groping my way back to my dark room by flashlight, I still feel that this was one of my favourite experiences on that trip. There was a sense of having experienced something exciting, encountering nature’s impressive force while being quite isolated. I will always remember the smell of petrichor in the mist rising from the valley, as I stood on my private terrace with a cup of locally grown coffee in my hand, watching the clouds drifting past below me. But I’ve already mentioned the view, haven’t I?
Carretera a Colotlán Km 20.2