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Claus Sendlinger heads up the Design Hotels group and is one of travel’s most provocative thought leaders. He’s made his home in the Mexican seaside town of Tulum, where he’s found the essence of barefoot luxury

I first came to Tulum in 1989, and was instantly attracted by its laid-back, barefoot approach to life. I was drawn back again and again and finally moving here permanently three years ago. For me, everything about Tulum epitomises my idea of luxury, offering an authentic, emotional experience instead of unnecessary excess – for example, fish freshly caught that morning rather than oysters flown in from halfway around the world.

I often ride my bicycle along the 10km stretch of road that runs parallel to the Tulum coastline. As well as some welcome exercise, the ride also allows me to see what developments are being undertaken on that piece of pristine beachfront. If I was cycling down an esplanade in, say, India or Thailand, my ride would take me past a long line of chain hotels and restaurants, carbon copies of each other lacking a soul. In Tulum, the building process is a slow one. But when there is a new development, the result is one that is so in keeping with the spirit of the place it actually enhances the locale rather than diminishing its substance and unique vibe.

Many people, I suspect, are now seeking that different kind of luxury, in destinations that can offer them a sense of discovery and connection, and therefore bestow an intellectual and emotional attachment to the area. And that is what Tulum provides.

The essence of Tulum, from the historical relevance of the area to the Mayan culture to its natural beauty – including several UNESCO world heritage sites – gives it a unique energy that attracts individuals from all around the world with that same sense of spirituality. It is becoming a hub for a creative community of nomads, yogis and conscious ‘gypsetters’.

When there are new developments along this stretch of coastline they are all different, offering a unique experience and radiating the personalities of the people behind them. They grow to fit into the community, not the other way round, and they provide a place for locals and travellers alike to blend together and connect. Take Papaya Playa as an example. What started out as a temporary Design Hotels™ project offering pared-down luxury with the emphasis on the experiential is now part of the wider community in Tulum, and is here to stay. Preservation of Mayan culture and the environment is at the heart of the resort, from working with local conservationists to ensure the annual turtle egg-laying and hatching process has no interference, to the treatments that the spa offers including traditional Mayan ceremonies carried out by the resident shaman.

As consumers become more conscientious about their choices, it’s up to hoteliers to cater for the ‘mindful traveller’. Next to come is Maria Santa Teresa, our new project in Rio de Janeiro. Opening in January 2014, it will be inspired by the bohemian flair of the neighbourhood’s residents. The setting of each project determines what the experience will be, yet all are designed as places for like-minded people to connect.

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