(Bloomberg) -- Welcome to Bloomberg Pursuits Amenity Watch, where we look at the exciting (and sometimes ridiculous) perks that luxury hotels are coming up with to entice people back out into the world.
Lisa Harper would like you to know that in a post-pandemic, you-only-live-once world, throwing back mezcalitas and cheladas for the purpose of inducing a hangover and then curing it with barbacoa tacos falls squarely within the definition of holistic wellness.
“When I talk about wellness, I don't talk about deprivation or hard work,” says Harper, the former chief executive officer of retail brands as varied as Gymboree and Hot Topic, and current CEO of Belk, the North Carolina-based department store company with some 300 stores around the US. “I talk about it in terms of experiences that provide that much-needed mental and creative reset,” she says.
Getting drunk in Mexico? That can do it.
Harper first landed in the cluster of fishing towns surrounding Todos Santos in the mid-1990s, determined to cure herself from corporate burnout by setting up temporary residence in a humble palapa (beach hut) while hunting for creative reinvigoration. She was so inspired by the culture and the land—its physical beauty, the food, and yes, the drinks—that she decided to buy a small parcel of land there. She returned home determined to turn it into a sumptuous wellness retreat called Rancho Pescadero, which she’d subsequently design herself. It opened with 12 rooms in 2009 and quickly developed a loyal following.
Now the resort is set to emerge in September from a four-year renovation that makes it effectively a whole new property, with 103 oceanfront suites on 30 acres and an intentionally indulgent approach to wellness, making Harper a sort of anti-Gwyneth Paltrow. Instead of cutting out booze and focusing on detoxifying diets and boot camp classes, the hotel pairs a 25,000-square-foot “wellness pavilion” with activities that connect guests with generations-old local traditions (think cacao ceremonies and apothecary sessions that make personalized use of the sprawling medicinal herb garden).
None is more emblematic of this unique approach to wellness than the Hangover Experience—not something you’d find at a typical spa retreat, but a cornerstone of the resort’s new programming. It will focus not just on drinking, but also on a dish that Mexicans use as a hangover cure, cochinita pibil, and all of the ways that preparing and eating it can have a restorative effect. According to Harper, the ceremonial process of cooking barbacoa, from the wrapping of lamb in banana leaves to the way it’s lowered into an underground hearth for a slow, overnight roast, was considered by ancient Maya as a way to commune with the Earth—and healing to both heart and mind.
But at Rancho Pescadero, learning to make the dish won’t be as simple as signing up for a cooking class. (After all, argues Harper, you can’t exactly replicate that recipe in your own home kitchen—so what’s the point?) While guests will get to participate in the cooking process, they’ll mostly do so by picking chiles and turning them into accompanying salsa and sauces. They’ll also get to prepare tinctures to pair with the next day’s hangover cure using some of those aforementioned medicinal herbs, to make tortillas by hand using a traditional comal oven, and to tell stories or listen to music around a communal fire. All of these activities play with ideas of working with your hands, engaging with Mexican culture, and building community—cornerstones of mental wellness.
“The idea is that you’re engaging with rituals,” says Harper. “We want people to feel like they’re living it up but also taking part in something that carries historical legacy and feels, for lack of a better word, authentic,” she says. “You’re forming community with new people, learning about drinks and foods that you may not have heard of before, and getting taken care of in a whole different way.”
Getting drunk is, of course, baked into the premise, though even that is done purposefully. The open bar portion of the experience includes lesser-known traditional drinks like pulque, which blends agave sap with fermented pineapple rind. A cultural ambassador will be on hand to weave in elements of Indigenous and historical significance—such as why pulque was considered sacred by the ancestors of many locals.
And while the cooking and drinking all takes place in the evening, the eating really happens the next morning—after the boozy damage has been done. “We’ll wake guests up at a considerate hour, somewhere post-nine o’clock,” says Harper. “We’ll kindly come to their room with the very first phase of their cure, which will be one of the tinctures [made the night before], or something that would help them rise to the occasion.” And then, she says, they’ll be escorted to hotel’s restaurant, where a ceremonial unveiling of the cochinita takes place around a bountiful communal table.
“Of course, we plan to bookend the whole thing with more drinking,” Harper laughs, adding that the experience will have strangers bonding—or double as a really effective team-building during corporate retreats. “The bartender is like our hotel doctor, they know just what to serve to make you feel better and not worse.”
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