AS THE WORLD gets increasingly crowded and less green, there is a growing impulse to get back to nature. Consider Indonesia’s recent proposal to move its capital away from overcrowded and sinking Jakarta and perhaps to the rainforest regions of Borneo as one prominent, urgent example.
IN SOUTH INDIA, Nomadic Resorts intends to build tented, light-on-the-land “treehouse” dwellings on stilts in a cove along the Arabian Sea, as part of a permaculture farm-to-table eco-spa/retreat adjoining the rich estuary of the Aghanashini, the last undammed river in the Indian subcontinent.
JUST HOURS AWAY FROM THE BAY AREA, Giants pitcher Mark Melancon has his sights on Mexico’s Riviera Nayarit region, where a 19,000-square-foot hilltop home, in a forested tropical development called Mandarina, is being readied for him. Melancon frequently vacations near there with his wife and three children at a condo in Punta Mita that they have owned since 2013. It overlooks the Pacific and is a place for watching humpback whales, and Sayulita, a popular and vibrant surfer paradise, is just an hour north.
Puerto Vallarta, is very close by. But all that pales beside Melancon’s future hideout, which shares those assets and yet seems a planet away.
Mandarina, where the 34-year-old All-Star player might someday retire, is a 640-acre nature preserve, pieced together over a decade with individual properties that once made up a land cooperative. The preserve is the brainchild of Ricardo Santa Cruz, who teamed up with four other partners and RLH Properties to realize his dream of an enclave where nature could prevail.
Its untouched forests crown several promontories of the Sierra Vallejo range, with views of the ocean and of inland flatlands surrounding an estuarine lagoon. Its hiking and riding trails as well as secluded beaches along a coved, mile-long coastline are enveloped with a silence that allows the sound of waves and the rustle of leaves to waft across the vast terrain.
The pitcher recalls seeing the virgin jungle when he toured the property for the first time two years ago with Santa Cruz. “There were no roads to drive on, or flattened lots to see,” Melancon says. “Just people with machetes clearing the way in front of us.”
“I was still saying ‘picture this’ because nothing was built,” Santa Cruz recalls. But within 24 hours Melancon became the first to buy into Santa Cruz’s vision.
The idea: keep the land as natural as possible. The plan includes only 55 discrete villas — designed by none other than Arizona architect Rick Joy, of Utah’s Amangiri Resort fame — that will be carefully sited on high ground with indoor/outdoor great rooms and, as much as possible, tucked out of view from each other.
The modernist villas and the attendant amenities, such as a cantilevered club pool with sunset views, are to be the first branded private homes run by One & Only Resorts, a company whose near-legendary luxury services the Melancons had enjoyed and appreciated in other parts of the world.
That company was tapped to run a One & Only Mandarina spa and hotel; at the north end of the estate, Rosewood Hotels & Resorts will manage Rosewood Mandarina residences and a future hotel. For the flatlands between the two residential components on higher ground, Santa Cruz plans a polo eld for international tournaments and equestrian events and an animal farm with ponies for children to ride.
“One thing we wanted to stay clear of was golf. It is a dying sport and it takes too long to play. And, in an environmental sense it goes against everything we are vying for,” Santa Cruz says.
So, forget lawns. Landscaping will be kept to the barest minimum — homeowners will only own the footprint of their houses — to let the forest flourish naturally.
While polo fields do have to be maintained, between tournament seasons they can easily become multipurpose playgrounds for social evenings when cowboys can demonstrate lasso tricks around campfires. And even stabled horses can be heard at a distance. “The sound is very soothing and you feel like you are in nature,” Santa Cruz says.
“I grew up riding horses and I felt this adult playground would also be heaven for kids because they would be able to ride and play polo,” Melancon says. “I felt it was a home run. I was in.”
Melancon’s eight-bedroom, $9 million villa will be ready next year and, like the other 20 or so homes that are expected to be underway by the time the One & Only Mandarina hotel opens in 2020, it will echo many of the natural stone and wood features of the lofty hip-roofed model dwellings that have now been constructed for prospective buyers to see. Many details were finetuned for Melancon after visits to Studio Rick Joy in Tucson, Arizona. The kitchen got bigger, the pool got wider.
“It is not a cookie-cutter solution and every home will be slightly different,” Melancon says. His home will include separate lanai- like pavilions, a children’s pool, an infinity pool that will appear to hover above the blu , hot tubs, a media room, a casino, a wine room and of course, a weight room.
“I work out every day,” the athlete says, because to him fitness is paramount. A partnership with Mayo Clinic will ensure that all Mandarina residents will have access to top medical care, and Melancon likes the resort’s energy-efficient building designs with circadian lighting systems and Delos environmental and wellness sensors.
“Air filtration gets neglected in coastal properties,” Santa Cruz notes. “When you are not using the home, humidity becomes a problem, so the Delos system maintains the home’s humidity, which prolongs the life of everything in it.”
Melancon loves all that but, ever the daredevil, he has his eyes on something more important.
“One of the coolest features we’ll have is a hot tub that hangs off the cliff edge,” he says. discovermandarina.com
MEANWHILE, EVEN CLOSER TO HOME, the less adventurous can consider the Four Seasons Resort and Private Residences Napa Valley, off the Silverado Trail in Calistoga. This nearly sold-out turnkey nature retreat — run by Four Seasons as part hotel and part private estate, where homes by Bald Mountain Development have sold for about $4.5 million — promises an oxygenated, agrarian weekend.
Opening later this year, the 85 hotel rooms and 20 relatively small residences arranged around six acres of working vineyards run by winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown were designed by O’Bryan Partnership with interiors by Erin Martin Design. They are at once urban and inspired by the California countryside. A wine cave, a barrel room and a tasting room ensure what the developers call a “grape-to-glass” experience, but hands-on nature a aficionados can take a turn in the kitchen garden or the the grape harvest and try their hand at winemaking as well.
This article originally appeared in Marin Magazine’s print edition with the headline: “Sounds of Silence”.