Puerto Vallarta gets reinvigorated with the hotel-ization of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton’s private hideaway, replete with Hollywood lore and now opening as the Casa Kimberly.
Love wasn’t easy for actor Richard Burton and film icon Elizabeth Taylor. The two adulterers made headlines with their infamous fling in 1963, but their affection for each other became scandalous when Taylor followed Burton to Puerto Vallarta — then an off-the-radar fishing village in Mexico’s Pacific coast — where he would star in The Night of the Iguana. Taylor pursued their affair and fell so hard for Puerto Vallarta (and Burton), he bought her a hill-perched home where they set to live normal, paparazzi-free lives. Though Taylor sold the home in 1990, history continues to resonate within the walls of their hideaway, which opened as a luxury hotel on December 22.
Tucked away on an unassuming, cobblestone street, Casa Kimberly, Taylor’s former home, is now an intimate, nine-suite boutique owned by Janice Chatterton, hotelier of nearby celebrity-magnet Hacienda San Angel just two blocks away. Modeled similar to Hacienda, Casa Kimberly is as glamorous as it is palatial and designed to feel timeless with blue-and-white tiled staircases, stone columns, arched doorways, wrap-around terraces and al fresco courtyards with bubbling fountains. All suites and public spaces are adorned with 19th-century antiques, from Italian paintings and horse carriages to a marble statue carved by French sculptor Gustave Deloye. The suites are individually designed, furnished with chandeliers and four-post beds while bathrooms feature high, brick-domed ceilings and claw-foot tubs; two suites — Cleopatra and Velvet — stand out with expansive terraces equipped with jacuzzis that harbor panoramic views of Banderas Bay. The classic, Mexican colonial design details are reimagined from the past home’s interior, though Elizabeth Taylor’s former bedroom — the Elizabeth Taylor suite —is closest to original. The pink marble heart-shaped bathtub Taylor personally commissioned from local artisans is the hotel’s most prized treasure.
Brunson Green, producer of The Help and upcoming A United Kingdom starring Rosamund Pike and David Oyelowo, is among the first guests to check in with partner Jason Collins. “Casa Kimberly is a touch of old Hollywood glamour tucked away in the Old Town of Puerto Vallarta with breathtaking views of the hillside,” Green tells The Hollywood Reporter. “It’s a great retreat.”
Casa Kimberly is split between two adjacent casitas connected by a bridge Taylor and Burton modeled after The Bridge of Sighs in Venice. The smaller casita features an outdoor pool where Taylor and Burton swam and entertained famous friends, while the main casita is home to The Iguana, the signature fine-dining restaurant serving contemporary Mexican cuisine. The al fresco tequila bar with antique mirror barback offers more than 100 tequilas with a resident tequila expert. Suites start at $435; Elizabeth Taylor suite from $825. For reservations and more information, visit: www.casakimberly.com
Interior shots of the Elizabeth Taylor suite at Casa Kimberly
Beyond Burton and Taylor, however, the balmy beach town of Puerto Vallarta has cast a spell on A-listers. It’s now chock-full of luxury resorts and private villas to pander to their whim. Eva Longoria and Mario Lopez vacation at Garza Blanca Preserve Resort (suites from $385, www.garzablancaresort.com), a secluded all-inclusive resort that straddles jungle and beach. The rising number of new boutiques (like Casa Kimberly) have also been drawing attention. Stars like Angelica Huston have shacked up at Rivera del Rio (suites from $359, www.riveradelrio.com), a whimsical, eight-room property in Old Town and decades deep with Hollywood ties. Since the 1970s, the former private home hosted Hollywood actors and crew for films (including Predator, Revenge, Gunmen) before established as a hotel in 2012. Owner Alexander James Andriadis Killen says: “I remember when they were filming Gunmenin our house and watching Mario Van Peebles blow up our kitchen. I also remember when Arnold Schwarzenegger first walked into our home during the filming of Predator. I was scared that the Terminator was in our house that I ran away crying.” Having lived “on set” for 32 years and grandfathered into Hollywood, Alex has become a valuable source in town for the A-list who continue to flock over. “Hollywood still lives on in Puerto Vallarta.”
Rivera del Rio
Most Puerto Vallarta-bound celebrities also vacation in Punta Mita, a tony resort community just 40 minutes from Puerto Vallarta International Airport. Famous faces like Kate Hudson shack up at Four Seasons Punta Mita (which recently debuted a new beach club with beach shack bar). The five-star property is home to private villa residences equipped with infinity pools (with adjustable temperatures), personal chefs and tantalizing views of the sea (www.fourseasons.com/puntamita, three-bedroom, ocean-view residence from $5,100 per night). The five-bedroom, beachfront presidential Coral Suite starts at $23,000 per night. Honeymooners like Kim Kardashian and Kanye West and Lance Bass and Michael Turchin continue to swoon over Casa Aramara ($17,000 per night, www.casaaramara.com), the famed private residence owned by Joe Francis, and Gwyneth Paltrow has checked into Casa China Blanca ($1,700 per night, www.casachinablanca.com), a 10,000-square-foot, five-bedroom and fully staffed sanctuary that has been featured in blockbuster films Limitlessand Elysium. Casa De Mita ($750 per night, www.casademita.com), an intimate, hacienda-style, eight-room boutique right on a virtually deserted unspoiled beach, is Punta Mita’s best-kept secret.
The living area in a private villa at The Four Seasons Punta Mita