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A touch of Greece on an island off Mexico

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January 23, 2005

ISLA MUJERES, Mexico -- Plush white comforters cover soft, comfy beds. Waffle-weave bathrobes and towels hang in sleek, spacious bathrooms. Glass sliders open to private terraces overlooking the pool and the ocean. CD players, flat screen TVs with satellite, safe boxes, and original artwork add to the style and luxury of the rooms in this diminutive, nine-room hotel.

The Hotel Secreto might make you feel you are living in your own little beach house on the Caribbean Sea; in fact, by my second day as a guest, I was walking through the lobby in my cotton robe in search of an early morning cup of coffee. Soon, I'd forgotten all about my last favorite hotel experience on the Greek island of Santorini. Yes, Hotel Secreto is in Mexico, on the sleepy island of Isla Mujeres, five miles off Cancun, but its decor and design are Mediterranean.

And its owner, Scott Boyan, hails from Nahant.

Boyan, 36, came to Isla Mujeres from Boston in the late '90s on assignment for Sport Fishing magazine, where he was an editor.

''I was sent here because I was single and could stay for a few weeks while I researched fishing on Isla Mujeres," he recalled with a smile. ''While I was here, I was set up on a blind date with a local woman named Maria del Mar Lima. We fell in love, got married, and honeymooned on Mykonos and Santorini."

Boyan and his bride so loved the Greek islands they were tempted to stay and live their lives in rhythm with the waves of the Aegean Sea. Instead, they returned to Isla Mujeres, bought land on Punta Norte, a small peninsula at the east end of Playa Norte, and built Secreto in the style of a Greek hotel.

There's a touch of Greece everywhere your eyes fall, inside and outside of the hotel. The exterior is white stucco with massive glass doors and the property is landscaped with sand, cacti, and bougainvillea. In the lobby, white couches invite you to sink right in and pick up one of dozens of magazines lined up along the edge of a glass-top table adorned with a huge vase filled with a magnificent floral arrangement. Upstairs in the dining room, where a complimentary continental breakfast of fresh breads, fruits, cereal, juice, and coffee is served, glass doors and windows reflect shimmering sunlight and an azure sky.

Back to the rooms, the decor is white-on-white with dark wood bed frames, limestone floors, and flowing white curtains that filter the sunlight, keeping the rooms cool all day. Rooms on the first floor each have two double beds ($165 a night). Floors two and three have three guest rooms each, with one king-size canopy bed ($220 a night).

The Caribbean atmosphere is at its best by the hotel's infinity pool (where it looks as if the water is meeting the horizon) and in the outdoor living room and pool bar overlooking the ocean. Soft white cushions and rolled-up spa towels delivered by an observant staff complement inviting chaise lounges around the pool. Beyond is a secluded stretch of beach on a hidden cove where searching for multicolored shells and sea glass became my late afternoon passion.

The hotel's location is both private and accessible -- just two blocks from the downtown cafes and shops -- to all Isla has to offer.

The staff at the Hotel Secreto is attentive and friendly but never intrusive. One perk is that the staff allows guests to use the hotel's Internet to check e-mail or news from back home. The staff can help you arrange fishing or snorkeling trips, moped or golf cart rentals, even a poolside massage. For now, the hotel doesn't have its own restaurant, although Boyan is planning one. Until then, you can order meals from several nearby restaurants that deliver.

On my last day, I asked our maid about the intense fragrance permeating the hotel. She divulged another secret: ''Fabuloso," a locally made product used to wash laundry and keep the hotel spick-and-span. I was thrilled to find a jar of Fabuloso in an island supermarket and tucked it into my carry-on bag to bring home.

Boyan opened Hotel Secreto on Christmas Day, 2001. Since then, ''guests are always telling me I should open Secretos all over the world," he said, holding tight to his and Maria's year-old daughter, Mia. ''I tell them, no, now I have my own little secret to keep me busy."

Word is out. Hotel Secreto (www.hotelsecreto.com) is like having your own private casa by the sea. The only problem: Secreto is almost booked until spring. And why wouldn't it be?

MARIE FRANKLIN

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