LAS BRISAS

Times Travel Editor

This haven for honeymooners nestled into the hills above Mexico's Acapulco Bay isthe top destination choice among newlyweds, according to the National Bridal Service.Here couples find romance in a setting of serenity and privacy that rivals resortsworldwide.

Ifyou're searching for the ultimate love nest, scratch the Poconos, the Mediterranean and those heavenly hideaways in the South Seas.

It turns out that the No. 1 choice among a whole pack of honeymooners is that pink Elysium in Acapulco, Las Brisas. In a poll conducted by the National Bridal Service, Las Brisas won hands down as "the ideal honeymoon resort" over such dreamy destinations as French Polynesia, the romantic haunts of Jamaica and a number of cliffhanging villas along the French/Italian rivieras.

For Las Brisas, the disclosure comes at a most propitious moment, just as the resort is gearing up for its 30th anniversary blowout in December.

Over the years thousands of newlyweds have tuned in to romance at the hillside destination, what with its 300 casitas, 250 swimming pools, 266 Jeeps and half a dozen elegant villas.

There's more.

Those who've seen Rio at night from the top of Sugar Loaf and others who've been mesmerized by the sight of the harbor at Hong Kong insist that the view from Las Brisas of Acapulco Bay wins hands down.

If you will believe the bridal survey, few settings in Mexico (or for that matter in all of Latin America) compare to the nighttime scene at Las Brisas.

The resort has been a phenomenal success from the very beginning, operating with a simple formula by which it features serenity and privacy in a setting that sparks romance.

It is said that if a couple should choose Las Brisas to discuss a divorce, by nightfall they'd be responding like teen-agers on a first date.

That's an exaggeration, perhaps, but close.

There simply is no other resort, the bridal people insist, that compares to this world-renowned honeymooner refuge. For one thing, the terrain sets it apart, the magnificent manicured hillside with its splendid gardens. Service is impeccable. Casitas are spotless. Out of nowhere each morning a lovely girl appears to scatter hibiscus petals across one's private swimming pool.

Score another point for romance.

For the remainder of the day and well into the evening the flowers float like blooms in a giant bowl.

Still earlier, someone steals forth to deliver breakfast that is waiting when couples awaken. Refrigerators are stocked with platters of fresh fruit, soft drinks and Mexican beer, as well as spirits of a stiffer sort. Pink carnations and gladioluses are flown in daily from Mexico City to help hype the image of a true lover's hideaway.

The thought of designing a resort for romantics was no mere accident. It has been choreographed from the very beginning. Every endeavor to foster romance has been played out--from the privacy of the casitas to dining at Bella Vista, Las Brisas' hillside restaurant with its breathtaking view of the bay.

The resort's success is legendary. Couples have slipped away to Las Brisas since its inception. Lynda Bird Johnson played out her honeymoon here. Tom Jones has been a regular. Barbra Streisand chose Las Brisas for its privacy. So did Richard Burton, Placido Domingo, Clint Eastwood, Julio Iglesias, Liza Minnelli, Ringo Starr, Peter Ustinov and dozens of other name entertainers.

Celebrities have made it their private refuge during 30 years of wine and roses.

New arrivals are greeted in a lounge with trays of tequila coolers. In addition to the pink-and-white casitas, the resort's other trademarks include a fleet of pink-striped Jeeps that are skillfully steered over pink-striped streets by bellmen and waiters all gussied up in pink-striped uniforms.

Although he's retired now and occupying an aerie overlooking the world-renowned resort he helped develop, the genius of Frank Brandstetter is as indelible as the bay itself. Brandstetter, an ex-U.S. military officer, arrived in the '50s to guide the destiny of Las Brisas' 600 employees into the '70s.

It was Brandstetter who topped off the mountain for a tennis stadium and opened a hilltop restaurant, La Mexicana. And although Las Brisas was founded as a small cottage colony in 1954, the number of casitas and swimming pools under Brandstetter's direction grew, along with the resort's reputation as a honeymoon hideaway that this year put it in the forefront of the poll that tracks honeymoon retreats.

A Zoo Installed

At one period Brandstetter installed a zoo (the animals have long since been relocated) and created a fortress after learning that Las Brisas had been the site of one 500 years ago. With 1,200 men he blasted his way up the mountain, rebuilding the former fortress walls and installing cannons that remain to this day. Afterward he dressed sentries like Spanish conquistadors and sent them off on patrols while torches flamed from the crenelated battlements. Although the sentries have disappeared, the ramparts remain.

Brandstetter completed his fortress in 1970. Still not satisfied, he gathered together his work force to conquer the remaining 100 yards of mountaintop. On the very peak, just above the colossal mansion in which he resides behind fortress-like walls and 12-foot steel doors, rises a chapel whose lighted cross is visible for miles at sea.

It is here that Mass is said and starry-eyed couples take their vows. Below the chapel, Brandstetter built magnificent villas that rent for $700 to $1,100 a day, including the services of a maid. While none of this is cheap, the idea is tempting when one considers gathering together three or four couples to pool their pesos. A number of pleased guests insist that the villa rentals represent one of Acapulco's better buys.

Meanwhile, the little casitas that got the big raves in the recent honeymoon poll continue to attract lovers, honeymooners and old marrieds to this lotus land, the rates starting at $105 a night plus $16 service and a 15% tax. (Winter rates go into effect beginning Dec. 19.)

A tough no-tipping rule guarantees that no one will reach for a handout at Las Brisas. Instead, an extra charge that's tacked onto one's bill is divided among employees after the guest returns to the real world. There are no exceptions to the tipping rule. Management didn't bend, even the time a guest was was swept to sea and rescued by employees. Her request to reward her rescuers was refused. Management politely but firmly said no.

By day, guests of Las Brisas sunbathe beside private swimming pools or else Jeep down to La Concha, Las Brisas' secluded club on the ocean with its palm-lined pool. The pool is fed by waters flushing in from the open sea, so that vacationers snorkel with rainbow-colored fish riding the incoming tides.

At La Concha, a bartender circles the sun deck, just as he has for years. He steers a pink-striped Jeep, delivering pink drinks to guests turning pink on mats that are--what else?--pink.

Old traditions live on at Las Brisas. On Thursdays, guests board Jeeps for a safari to a coconut plantation at Cayaco. Later the group motors off to picnic on the beach and to join burro races and to paddle canoes up a jungle river. Finally, back at Las Brisas, couples study the lights that rim Acapulco Bay, hibiscus blooms continue to float in lighted swimming pools and a soft breeze sweeps in from the ocean.

Remains in Pink

It goes without saying that Las Brisas remains in the pink.

Of late, the resort is pitching a special honeymoon package. Las Brisas calls it "Love Story, Mexican Style" and tells how "romance becomes a legend for two from $583." That's the rate for a casita with a private pool for four days/three nights, welcome cocktails, a basket of fruit, a Jeep with unlimited mileage, a bottle of wine and membership in the La Concha private beach club.

While on the subject of romantic lairs, Acapulco's Villa Vera Hotel & Racquet Club rates a mention in this guide for honeymooners. Its suites and villas with their private swimming pools have attracted the likes of Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Dustin Hoffman, Engelbert Humperdinck, George Hamilton, Joey Heatherton, Lana Turner and Brigitte Bardot.

Liz Taylor exchanged vows with Mike Todd at the Villa Vera, and scores of other celebrities slip off to this hillside hideaway to escape the stresses associated with Hollywood.

In the beginning, Villa Vera was a private home whose owner added bungalows until one day he found himself in the resort business. A few years ago it passed on to a daughter, Lisa Renstrom Mangimelli, who keeps a vigil over the villas, the saunas and the retreat's lush gardens and lighted tennis courts.

Acapulco's first swim-up bar faces an outdoor restaurant. Gardens grace the 10-acre setting and a statue of Neptune rises beside a waterfall.

Honeymooners insist that the Villa Vera is Cupid's hideaway as well.

Note: Rates at the Villa Vera start at $105 a day, plus a 15% tax and a 10% service charge.

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