April 19 2017

Adios, Tulum: Liz Lambert’s Magical Mexico Hideaway Is Here

When the Texas hotelier and all-around magnetic personality Liz Lambert invites you to come check out her new hotel—her first in Mexico no less—you stop whatever you’re doing and start booking plane tickets. That’s because wherever Liz goes, the surroundings are unparalleled, the aesthetic is pitch perfect, and strangers quickly become like old friends. Invariably there’s an incredible, unfussy feast with otherworldly margaritas, and somehow, a guitar player (or in this case, a full mariachi band) within 50 feet of her at all times. Such is the magic of being enveloped in her world. 

Hotel San Cristóbal in Todos Santos is an hour drive from Cabos Airport along the southwestern coast of the Baja peninsula. Driving along the ocean, massive cardon cacti butt right up to the rocky edge. Upon reaching the town, a dusty dirt road leads out to the San Cristóbal, which is set right on Punta Lobos Beach. Sure enough, we arrived just as the local fisherman were dropping off their daily catch (which goes straight into the kitchen), and we sat down at a table full of new friends, local mezcals, and the freshest ceviche imaginable. Liz tossed me a helmet for the next day’s dirt bike ride, and we were off. We caught up with her to hear about the inspiration that brought her remarkable new creation to fruition. 

Say "Adios, Tulum," and "Hola, Todos Santos."

The Standard
The Standard
The Standard
 
THE STANDARD: What drew you to Todos Santos? It seems like such an inspiring place, but also a very challenging endeavor.
LIZ LAMBERT: What really resonated with me was the desert, the mountains, the vast open space. There’s a little bit of it that's like Marfa on the ocean. This part of Baja has long embraced wellness, yoga, mountain biking, and farm-to-table food, so all it took was one trip here to know that it was really intriguing. It felt right. One of my first trips, somebody offered me a dirt bike ride, and it’s just so awesome to be seeing the ocean, the mountains, the completely desolate desert…but it’s not desolate. You’ll be going back on these dirt roads in the foothills and then suddenly there are people living there.
 
What made you decide to decide to go for it? 
When they got [the architectural firm] Lake Flato involved, it became a no brainer to do the project. We had worked with them for years—they worked on the re-imagining of Hotel San José and I’ve worked with him on various projects ever since I’ve been in this business—I trust them implicitly and I’m always a big fan. 

Liz Lambert dirt biking in Todos Santos.

Liz Lambert dirt biking in Todos Santos.


Each of your properties has an inherent story. How do you start developing that narrative?

It’s super important to me. I’m a big fan of Christopher Alexander [author of A Timeless Way of Building] and building in a way that is appropriate to a place. I’m not a big fan of Tuscan villages and suburbs. I think that you really want to get to know a place, listen to the people, and use building materials that are commonly used there. When we start designing a hotel, we always start with some kind of story of the place, a narrative, that helps us arrange…a narrative of which all the design elements flow. We also start with color, sound, and smell.  

"There’s nothing here that wasn’t created by people of Mexico." —Liz Lambert
One of the first things I did with Todos Santos was go to their cultural museum. Todos Santos got on the map to Americans as kind of a hippie surf destination, but it was hard to get to—there aren’t great roads down here. Originally there were indigenous people, but the way it came to our culture was when a church was put there, the whole missionary outreach. Then it became sugarcane farming and plantations. There are various stories of why the sugarcane died out, but basically, by the ’60s and ’70s, the way Americans knew about it was as a surfing destination—and one that was hard to get to. But you get the whole image of the Baja 1000, the VW bus with surfboards on top, all that kind of stuff. That’s the stuff I latched onto. One of the necessary things was that it had a certain elegance for the development itself, so it’s kind of those two things mixed. 

One of the challenging things about Todos Santos and Baja in general is there are not a lot of local building materials. There are not a lot of trees that grow. I spent a lot of time looking at buildings in town, and how people do floors. I noticed a lot of the buildings in town had patterns pressed into concrete on the floor. I think that was a result of the fact they didn’t have a lot of access to tile in Baja—it’s a long way around and down the peninsula—so people just pressed patterns into the concrete, and it was something that we used throughout the hotel. It was interesting to find local artisans who could remember how to do it. 
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Were there Mexican artisans who helped you work on the build-out?
Everything you see in here was made in Mexico and we designed and created it for the hotel. Every chair, every textile. We had the bedspreads woven in a small village outside of Oaxaca by a mother and son team. These chairs are from a young company in Guadalajara that I really love now. All the palm-woven wood and chairs are from another company in Guadalajara. There’s nothing here that wasn’t created by people of Mexico.
 
Do you have a favorite design element of the hotel?
I really love the tile. We found the woman who had done that original tile design and licensed it from her and changed some colors. It seems so Mexico to me, the green, red, orange, and blue. And then those colors became the colors of the hotel that are repeated everywhere.
The Standard
The Standard
The Standard
The Standard
What are some of your favorite things to do in Todos Santos?
Dirt biking. It’s so much fun to go explore back in those lower foothills where the sand is from the beach and creates this sort of powder that makes riding really loose and unpredictable. We go so fast. If you’re in unstable sand, your impulse would be to slow down or grab the handlebars more tightly, and that’s the completely wrong impulse—you have to do the opposite. Also, going around the corner where there’s the sand and you don’t know what’s on the other side of the corner. Your impulse would be to break or slow down, but if you do, you’re down. So you have to hit the throttle through the turn and go as fast as you can—completely against your instincts.
 
I am not a yoga person, but I love the yoga deck up above the hotel. I love that you can go spend a few hours with a shaman at sunset or sunrise. The food in the town is just amazing. There’s a women named Elizabeth at Agricole who's an organic farmer and does light industrial farming, but she has a shop that’s open in season and it’s insane how much produce is fresh right from the farm. Of course basil and strawberries, but also tomatoes, kales, lettuces, squash blossoms, berries—you name it. And she has home-baked fresh bread, different kinds of local cheeses, and a small selection of wines. Just the food in general—you know the fish came in that morning. I’ve never been to a place where it’s so abundant and so apparently just caught. No middle man, you know? 

Photos and Interview
Jay Carroll