The ocean views go on forever and the interiors bring out the colors of the Mexican sunset, but Villa Alma is much more than its surroundings. The villa carries Mayan blessings, respects local materials and customs, and reflects the individual and unique talents of Ghislaine Longevial-Taleb’s four adult children.
Like many villa owners, Ghislaine first discovered the place where she would set up her vacation home while she was on holiday. She and her husband Jad were visiting a friend, Stéphane, who owned a home in the Riviera Maya. Ghislaine was taken by its bleached sand beaches, the verdant jungles and the orange and pink sunsets. “I never thought there was a place on earth that was this special.”
A psychologist, she immediately felt a deep connection to the wild surroundings and the people. During that 2005 visit, she happened to sit down on the beach with an old man, a local resident, and their meeting left a lasting impression on her. They didn’t understand each other’s languages very well but she did understand that he gave thanks to the earth for both its beauty and the bounty. It gave him work when he was in need. Ghislaine, who lives in Paris, often thinks of that man during times when she appreciates the beauty around her.
Ghislaine and Jad were still dreaming of Mexico after their return from vacation when they received word that a plot of land was for sale in that same area, just 30 minutes down the coast from Playa del Carmen. In the same immediate way she connected to the land, the couple felt the need to jump right in when they heard of a possible vacation home for them and their four children.
The purchase of the property, in 2009, set off in every member of the family an interest in contributing to the peace and beauty of the house. It was important for the children, now between the ages of 21 and 32, to make sure that the property was not standing on any sacred Mayan ground. Stéphane, the friend of the family who lived there and first invited them down to the area, found a Mayan shaman who assessed the land and gave his blessing for the family to live there peacefully.
The shaman went to the plot of land where the house was to be built and deemed it a fine place to develop, albeit with plenty of mosquitoes at the time. “He said ‘It’s full of love here,’ looking deep into my eyes.”
While the land held no ancient souls, it did however lay claim to some current turtle nesting grounds. The Yucatan Peninsula is known for its sea turtles. From spring until fall, loggerheads and green turtles can be found swimming and nesting along the ocean waters that include Jade Beach, just off their property. The turtles are protected in the areas, as are some of the nearby selva, or jungle, areas that stand on the other side of the property.
The family hired an American architect who lived in the area. He made sure to use local materials such as Crema Maya, which is a rock that resembles marble. The floors’ concrete was mixed with a local tree sap, which has been a longtime waterproofing technique used by the local indigenous population.
A Mayan architectural touch was also employed in the form of a simple geometrical archway found at the entrance of the living room. “The arch cleans you and blesses you,” says Ghislaine, adding that it can be used to psychologically leave all your troubles outside before entering the nurturing space. Its wall is made up of a mosaic of stones, in which you can spot several shells and fossils of ocean creatures such as seahorses.
From the moment the villa was designed, the four offspring sprung into action and each used their talents in making the place a retreat for both family and guests.
Lara, who is a nurse, made sure the place is suitable for people with reduced mobility. There is a first-floor bedroom accessible by wheelchair, along with an adapted bathroom for those who might need assistance. She also made sure there are emergency numbers to the hospital in Playa del Carmen, first-aid kits and local natural products for less serious ailments such as sunburns and hangovers.
Marine, who is a painter, not only adorned the walls with some of her art, but researched all the interior and exterior wall colors. She used those orange, fuchsia and yellow iconic sunset hues, as well as vibrant pinks inspired by the tropical flowers. Those hues pop out in curtains, area rugs and even on an entire exterior wall.
Alexia, a professional makeup artist, who happens to be vegetarian, made sure all the creams, soaps and shampoos are natural and local, and convinced the family that the chef should be well versed in vegetarian and vegan cooking, although fish and meat are not left out of the equation. “We’re spoiled with the fishermen who fish off the coast,” says Ghislaine. Meanwhile, high quality beef is imported from Argentina.
Amir, who has been trained as a hospitality manager, took care of the myriad details that go into making the villa hospitable. The choice of towels, cushions, dishes, even the way staff is attired, went through his rigor. He also helped train staff and set up some of the procedures for the villa. Even their friend Stéphane, the man who first introduced them to the area, took a role in making the house come together, using his furniture making skills to design several original pieces in the house.
When the build was completed a Mayan chief came to bless the place. The blessings the land and the home received have laid a foundation for celebrating family events, including a marriage and the welcoming of a baby.
The family started renting it out to the public in May 2014 and then decided to create another home next door just for themselves. “We built a house next door and decided [in the existing home] to receive people and make them happy just like we have been,” explains Ghislaine.
Alma Rosa means pink soul in Spanish. The family is trying to make sure everyone who stays there comes away in the pink, in a villa whose soul has been imbued with local color, some Mayan spirit and lots of family talent.