BEHIND THE LENS
BAJA CALIFORNIA SUR, MEXICO BY CARLOS COUTURIER
A consummate citrus farmer and hotelier, Carlos Couturier was born and raised in San Rafael, Mexico. He is a founding partner and Director of New Projects at Grupo Habita, and is known for revolutionizing the boutique hotel industry in Mexico together with his partners Moisés and Rafael Micha.
As the grandson of French immigrants, Couturier credits his childhood growing up on the farm for cultivating his knack for hospitality, as well as his frequent travels with the citrus business, which made him somewhat of a connoisseur in hotel stays.
To date, through Grupo Habita, he owns 14 hotels in Mexico, including the famous CondesaDF in Mexico City, as well as The Robey in the United States.
In 2019 he was recognized by the French Legion of Honor for his work in associating his projects with the fields of architecture, heritage preservation, art and culture, and bringing together the French and Mexican cultures. This year he inaugurated the newest addition to the group’s portfolio, Baja Club, a boutique hotel in La Paz, Baja California Sur. He invited us along to discover the paradisiacal destination through the eyes of a visionary hotelier.
Can you briefly tell us about Baja Club?
Baja Club is Grupo Habita’s most recent opening. An original and intimate hotel located in front of the bay in La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico. It’s a historic building with a total of 32 rooms, 27 of which have private terraces and five inside the original 1910 mansion. There is a Greek restaurant inside, as well as a spa, a rooftop bar and a very special pool.
Why did you choose La Paz as a new destination?
Because it was the perfect destination, it’s not on the radar of the global traveler yet. Virgin and crystalline beaches, history, dry and pleasant climate all year round, a unique community, different activities just a stone’s throw away (diving, mountain biking, kite surfing, trekking). It’s an oasis in the Baja desert, but with the charm of Havana and Tel Aviv.
Do you remember your first trip there?
Yes, it was as a teenager. It was still a territory, since to be a state more than 500,000 inhabitants were required. I arrived by ferry from Mazatlán on a trip with my parents and my brothers. It was a stop on the way to Cabo San Lucas. We spent New Years in the first hotel that opened there. It was 1976.
La Paz was a free port. There were many Chinese stores and a very different energy from the rest of Mexico. Like a Mexican ‘far west’. Today the entire state of Baja California Sur has only 900,000 inhabitants in an area of 75,675 square km. An earthly paradise!
What was your first impression of the region?
Amplitude and freedom. Driving for hours without seeing anything but cacti, desert and empty beaches. It was almost like going to the moon.
What does Baja California Sur smell like?
Purity. Clean breeze. Saltpetre. Seafood. Peace.
What does it taste like?
Like Mexico. Like Pacifico beer, fresh clams, freshly baked bread, grilled fish, mezcal.
Your best discovery of the destination?
Its people. They are kind, caring and peaceful. They are lovers and protectors of the environment. La Paz is the safest city in Mexico. You can breathe well-being.
If you had to choose your favorite thing in Baja, what would it be?
The Playa Escondida. I go by mountain bike from the hotel (20 minutes). Then I do a bit of hiking (10 minutes) to arrive at the most beautiful beach in Mexico, and I have it all to myself.
If La Paz had a soundtrack, what songs would be included?
My soundtrack to La Paz would start with Latin jazz, with Henri Salvador. During the day it would have smooth soul and bossa nova, and it would end with Bad Bunny and grupera music.
When you travel to Baja, you cannot miss _________.
When you travel to La Paz you can’t miss… your flight! And then don’t miss staying at Baja Club.
A typical food or drink?
Aguachile of ax callus (callo de hacha) accompanied by an ice cold beer.
Describe a perfect day in La Paz?
Go cycling around the boardwalk first thing in the morning. Have breakfast at Baja Club, then take a boat ride and spend the day on the island of Espiritu Santo. Head back to Baja Club, go to the spa and request a deep tissue massage. Watch the sunset from the rooftop and later enjoy creative Mexican food for dinner at Hambrusia.
Something everyone should know before arriving?
That the desert sun is strong. Sun protection and a hat are musts in Baja.
What is the most unique thing about La Paz, something you haven’t seen anywhere else?
Its marine fauna. It is really unique. Jacques Cousteau was not exaggerating when he said that the Sea of Cortez is the aquarium of the world.
Any words or local slang?
You’ve always been a visionary in detecting a destination with potential and creating a community through your hotels. In your opinion, what are the characteristics of a good city or destination?
A destination, or a city, to appeal to global travelers today needs:
To not be gentrified. That is it continues to maintain its authenticity. Everything that differentiates it from others.
Have an intelligent and jovial community.
Offer culture, gastronomy, history and tranquility.
What is the first thing you look for when building a hotel?
The first thing we look for at Grupo Habita is that the hotel belongs to its environment. That it be nourished by the spirit of what surrounds it, and at the same time, innovative and purposeful. It should be the grandfather and, at the same time, the grandson.
What makes some hotels successful and others less so?
I believe that a successful hotel is one that maintains its identity throughout the years.
What is beauty to you?
Beauty, for me, is balance.
Images courtesy of Carlos Couturier and Grupo Habita.