I wouldn't have believed it if I didn't see it for myself. To be honest? I'm still not entirely sure it's real. But last April I found myself staying at a hidden European enclave on a stretch of deserted Mexican coastline.
It's called Careyes, and it's almost too wild to believe.
Allow me to backtrack: I live in Puerto Vallarta for four months out of the year and have done so for the past four years. I've traveled the majority of Mexico. Nothing has surprised me quite like Careyes.
Here's what it's like.
I live in Puerto Vallarta four months out of the year, and have done so for the past four years. I've also traveled through the majority of Mexico.
But last April, I found myself staying at a hidden European enclave on a stretch of deserted Mexican coastline. It's called Careyes, and nothing has ever surprised me quite like it.
There is a stretch of coast that runs from Puerto Vallarta in the state of Jalisco down to the city of Manzanillo in the state of Colima.
This 200-mile stretch of rugged, untamed, raw coastline is called the Costalegre, or the "Happy Coast."
So it isn't all that surprising that this is where an Italian banker would decide to build a private hideaway for artists, celebrities, and high-end hippies.
I arrived from the Manzanillo airport, about two hours south of Careyes.
You can't see it from the road. A frankly unimpressive turnoff from the highway leads away from the mountains and moves toward the ocean.
To arrive at Careyes is to stumble upon a secret world. The sprawling coastal estate is a haven for a creative, international community.
Once inducted into the exclusive fold (rates to stay there begin at $350 per night), Careyes becomes a playground for the glitterati who want to tuck their stilettos away in exchange for caftans and green juice.
All of the accommodations, whether it's a room at the Residences or one of the palatial villas, are owned or for sale, but they are also available as vacation rentals.
I was able to snag an architectural tour led by Brignone's son, Giorgio, who now essentially holds the keys to Paradise while his father acts as more of a figurehead. Giorgio's private residence, Casa Azul, is a work of art on its own. The multi-level villa, painted in Frida Kahlo Blue, sits over the churning Pacific.
Other villas were equally impressive. Remember the mirror-image castles that sat perched on cliffs? They are also villas that are available for rent: Sol De Oriente and Sol De Occidente.
So anyway, as I was saying: polo. It turns out that Careyes is the host for the annual Agua Alta polo tournament, and has been for the last 20 years.
Polo season isn't the only time the Careyes elite don their boho best. Each year, the compound hosts what is essentially an elevated Burning Man. It's called Ondalinda.
The difference between Ondalinda and Burning Man is that the former comes with five-star accommodations — and it's invitation only.
Ultimately, though, Careyes is more than an architectural marvel and a stop on the social circuit for wealthy bohemians. It's a community with a devoted following.
And a big part of what makes Careyes so magical is its respect for nature. The environment comes first, and the compound bows to the land.
There is no denying that Careyes is luxurious. You will encounter more models and millionaires than most other places in the world. The difference is you will have no idea who they are, and they like it that way.