Spring Break for the Whoooole Family

Updated: Jul 13, 2020

By Brigid Schulte

Washington Post Staff Writer Sunday, March 9, 2008

I have to be honest. When my younger sister, Claire, called one dreary winter day last year and said that my mother’s dearest wish was to take the whole family on a trip to celebrate her 75th birthday, I thought: bad idea.

Let’s face it: My mom was pretty spry, but she said she wanted to go someplace hot even though she burns to a crisp in the sun even in full-body zinc. My dad, at nearly 79, well, let’s just say he likes his familiar routine of going to church in the morning and hanging out in his den in the afternoon. My mother loves to sit and talk; my husband is only happy on the move. There would be 12 of us. My older sister had two teenagers, and my youngest was 5. Where on Earth could we go that wasn’t already long booked, wouldn’t cost a fortune and wouldn’t make us want to kill each other? I figured I would bite my tongue and just nod sympathetically when Claire came up empty-handed and we decided to just go out to dinner.

Instead, there was a snowstorm in Portland, Ore., where my extended family lives. And for three solid days, my tenacious younger sister surfed the Internet and called hundreds of places until she found what we would all much, much later agree was about as close to perfection as you could get: a cliff-side villa overlooking a sky-blue ocean bay in Zihuatanejo, Mexico, for a week in March.

Pacific Vacation Villa Encantada & Villa Bahia

Zihuatanejo is an old fishing village on Mexico’s Pacific coast, about 150 miles north of glitzy, touristy Acapulco and just south of lower-key but still touristy Ixtapa. (Ixtapa was built by the government in the 1970s on an old coconut plantation just to draw visitors from El Norte.) I’d never heard of Zihuatanejo. Claire assured me that it was the place that the inmates of “The Shawshank Redemption” dreamed of going once they broke out of jail. Once we landed, I could quickly see why.

The winding, narrow streets of Zihuatanejo lead past the tree-lined Zocalo (town square), right on the ocean, up an impossibly steep cobblestone hill to the cliff-side part of the town called El Almacen. Our destination was toward the end of the cliff-side road: Villa Bahia, owned by a colorful European-Israeli expat named Andre Chen, who was to become a regular visitor and teller of tall tales.

The first thing we noticed when we walked into the tile- and thatch-roofed villa was the breeze. Zihuatanejo is hot, no matter what time of year. But local architect Enrique Zozaya, who carefully studies the direction of the wind and the way the tropical light plays on a piece of land, had designed the villa to take maximum advantage of the ocean breezes. The living room upstairs was completely open to the winds, and three of the four bedrooms had open terraces. Downstairs, the open-air kitchen led to a spacious patio, where cushy white couches were nestled under a palapa roof. There was an infinity pool, a teak dining table under a broad umbrella, and a stunning view of the bay. This was where we were to do most of our living in the next week.