I am traveling to the exclusive enclave built in the seventies. Giorgio Brignone, heir to the founder, shares the secrets of his circular houses with me. I recall a dinner, at four in the morning, sitting in a restaurant across from Stevie Wonder, holding hands, as we thanked God for this beautiful moment. Giorgio Brignone (Paris, 1953) fondly remembers this visit from the American singer over 15 years ago, as he teaches me, through his computer screen, what a confinement with a view of the sea entails. From coastal fortresses to sea caves reminiscent of Capri, and annual festivities honoring Mexico’s Indigenous artist communities and burgeoning talent. Undoubtedly a haven for the jet-set crowd, attracting affluent free spirits, designers, and luminaries such as Tom Ford, Cindy Crawford, and Mick Jagger, Careyes reveals a unique charm upon arrival. Amidst the palapa-style architecture doubling as art installations and venues for sound healing ceremonies, the 36,000-acre expanse is overwhelmingly dominated by nature.
Careyes’ true story
The Frenchman is the son of Gian Franco Brignone (Turin, 1926), the man who, in the late sixties, built on the Mexican Pacific coast one of the most unknown and exclusive destinations in the world: Costa Careyes. “After the protests of the students in May 1968, my father felt that Europe was already too communist and wanted to distance himself from that infernal bureaucracy,” Giorgio tells me via video call.
The owner of a bank in Paris, which later expanded into the luxury housing industry, arrived in Mexico seduced by the stories of his friend, the wealthy Bolivarian businessman Antenor Patiño – son of Simón Patiño, the tin king. Patiño told him about the land, 12 kilometers of coastline to be exact, that Brignone acquired after falling in love with the views during a plane flight.
Among the first buyers were Italian Count Gregorio Rossi di Montelera, heir to the Martini & Rossi fortune; the Firmenich family, owners of the famous Swiss perfume company; or Paul Matisse, grandson of the painter Henri Matisse. This restricted community would later be joined by entrepreneur James Goldsmith and designer Egon Von Fürstenberg, husband of Diane and deceased in 2004. “His children, Alexander and Tatiana, came a lot as kids, but after the father’s death, the house was sold. Yet, the family continues to come. Diane, in fact, was recently here with her [second] husband, Barry Diller.” The link between the Brignones and the Von Fürstenbergs has transcended Careyes, as Giorgio’s nephew, Rocco Brignone, is dating Talita von Fürstenberg, the designer’s granddaughter.
Among all its constructions, the Palace of the East and the Palace of the West are perhaps two of the most attractive and iconic, with 360-degree infinity pools. However, undoubtedly, the first time one visits this place, nothing has as much impact as La Copa, a monument that Gian Franco built for his 80th birthday, with the intention of being contemplated from the cave where he plans to be buried. Today, your destination is more linked to well-being and family celebrations. “My brother Filippo [Rocco’s father] got married there — for the second time — in 2018,” recalls Giorgio.From Mi Ojo, the first house Gian Franco built in Careyes in 1975, the heir to this Mexican paradise details some of the basic points of the original manifesto. “The houses don’t even have corners, everything is round.
They have European sensuality but incorporate all elements of Mexican architecture, such as palm ceilings, colors, and all the hammered craftsmanship found on the floors. It’s architecture that integrates perfectly with nature, harnessing crosswinds to ventilate the building, so you don’t need air conditioning or glass in the windows. We have building regulations and an architecture committee that reviews the plans for each new construction and checks, during the process, that these are respected.
Costa Careyes is an oasis located in Costalegre and protected by the Cuitzmala jungle, with the nearest airport more than an hour away. Perhaps this secrecy is what makes this destination one of the favorites of celebrities, who choose to blend in with the residents of this corner for rest. “Luis Miguel, who comes once or twice a year, is a very cute person. She started coming when she was 20, and we’ve all followed her growth. She loves it a lot because she feels at peace here,” comments Brignone, who also confesses to having made very good crumbs with actor Richard Gere. “Celebrities love Careyes because they stay in the house and go out little,” she adds about an enclave visited, among others, by singer Barbra Streisand, actor Robert De Niro, models like Cindy Crawford or Naomi Campbell, actress Salma Hayek, or Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton.
“Giovanni Agnelli, Fiat founder, was one of the potential investors. But the first time an animal came, it bit his little niece, he got scared and ultimately didn’t buy. My father was completely desperate because partnering with Agnelli was like doing it with Rockefeller. Agnelli wanted to build 20 hotels, three golf courses, and two marinas. If we had done that, Careyes would not be what it is now,” continues Brignone. Unlike other tourist resorts, Careyes lacks classic all-inclusive hotels. In fact, the only opportunity to stay in this paradise is to rent one of the homeowners’ houses when they are away. With a total of 700 rooms, the Brignone family completes its mission with strict density regulations: “If we had everything in Careyes full and the entire master plan filled, the land occupancy would be seven percent. The rest is, and will always be, vegetation.”
In contrast to Mexico’s rapidly expanding and ostentatious locales, a mere three percent of Careyes’ total land will be developed, leaving the majority of the untouched jungle preserved as a biosphere. The visitors here seek connection, whether with nature or the growing community of visionaries transforming this Pacific coastal stretch into one of Mexico’s most captivating art havens.
What to do in Careyes?
Embark on a three-hour drive from Puerto Vallarta International Airport, or a 90-minute journey from the smaller Playa de Oro International Airport in Manzanillo, to reach Careyes. Private charter flights operate between Puerto Vallarta and a grass landing strip in Chamela, just 20 minutes outside Careyes. Explore the coastline or embark on a boat excursion to discover sea caves and secluded white-sand beaches, such as the one near Casa Tauro, where you can indulge in a Bedouin-style picnic of shrimp ceviche or octopus aquachile. Alternatively, savor a candlelit dinner and bonfire on the sandy shores at sunset.
The heart of Careyes’s events beats during the high season (late November through mid-April), commencing with the annual Ondalinda festival—a four-day extravaganza combining art installations, music, DJs, and wellness activities. Highlights include seaside temazcal rituals, cacao ceremonies, and an Indigenous craft market, along with a fashion pop-up shop championing Mexican craftsmanship. In January, Careyes celebrates Chinese New Year with a grand fireworks display, mezcal tastings, themed dinners, and art blending Mexican traditions with Chinese astrology.
To immerse yourself in Careyes’ wellness offerings, partake in a yoga retreat led by esteemed instructors like Alo Moves’ Ashley Galvin, or attend a sound healing ceremony in La Copa del Sol—a 35-foot-high concrete, saucer-shaped structure perched on a cliff overlooking the sea.
Polo enthusiasts will appreciate the Careyes Polo Club, boasting two regulation-size Bermuda grass fields—one of Mexico’s largest—and stables for up to 150 horses. The polo season runs from late November through the end of April, culminating in the Agua Alta tournament during Easter week, attracting players from around the globe.
Where to eat in Careyes
Dining in Careyes is a delightful experience, with the open-air, palapa-shielded Playa Rosa Beach Club at the center of social gatherings. Indulge in morning coffee, midday margaritas with a volcanic-salt rim, or Mediterranean-meets-Mexican cuisine at the hibiscus-pink cocktail and juice bar. For a different dining experience, visit La Duna at El Careyes Club & Residences or savor sushi at Shiō’s intimate nine-seat sushi bar, featuring a menu crafted from the week’s local catch by a cooperative of over 60 fishers.
Careyes, with its seven restaurants, offers diverse culinary options. Favorites include the hippie-chic Casa de Nada on Playa Teopa, known for sunset cocktails on hammocks and tapas like fish al pastor taquitos. For breakfast, La Coscolina in Plaza de los Caballeros del Sol offers classics like chilaquiles, superfood smoothies, and fresh juices. Don’t miss the adjacent Careyes Art Space, showcasing the latest works of Mexican artists in residence.
During high season, Pueblo25, an open-kitchen fine-dining establishment, serves locally sourced organic dishes and hosts private wine-fueled dinners and themed events. The upcoming Lilo Beach Club on Playa Careyitos is set to open a Mediterranean-influenced Mexican restaurant, adding to the allure of sunset dining.
Where to stay
Accommodations in Careyes are equally enchanting, with 65 home-rental villas seamlessly integrated into the cliffs. Each villa follows a design style that harmonizes with the natural surroundings, featuring palapa-covered patios and root-wrapped palm trunks serving as columns. Noteworthy options include the six-suite Casa La Huerta, blending ancient Mexican craftsmanship with contemporary design elements, and Casa Parasol, boasting a dusty rose hue, five bedrooms, private pools, and a walking path to Playa Rosa Beach Club. Additionally, Sol de Occidente, a six-suite residence, appears to float above the jungle, offering a 360-degree infinity pool and a funicular descending to a private beach.
For optimal exploration of Careyes, a rental car is recommended, except for those staying near Playa Rosa Beach Club. Accommodations such as El Careyes Club & Residences and Casitas de las Flores offer Mexican-style homes, mimicking the vibrant, jewel box-colored buildings of Italy’s Cinque Terre.
If beachfront living is preferred, consider one of the three thatched-roof oceanfront bungalows at Playa Rosa Beach Club, each providing a spacious retreat with a private terrace overlooking the sea, adhering to Careyes’s strict light pollution rules to protect nesting turtles on the beach.