Casa Silencio (which officially opens its doors tomorrow, 15 September) sits at the base of a mountain within Silent Valley just outside the small town of Xaagá, Oaxaca. The stunning, solar-powered hacienda—from the founders of Mezcal El Silencio, Vicente Cisneros and Fausto Zapata—is full of juxtapositions. Comprising just six suites, a large indoor/outdoor dining room, bar area, library and boutique-meets-lobby, it feels simultaneously opulent and rustic. Inspired by Oaxaca’s natural landscape, legendary architect Alejandro D’Acosta (known for his daring designs and use of eco-friendly materials) built the striking casa using local materials including reclaimed wood, steel, stone and compressed soil—known as “tapial” in Spanish. More than a hotel though, the 16-acre estate also houses El Silencio’s distillery, whose tahona and non-traditional roasting pit are functioning daily—the smoky scent of agave cooking only adding to its mysterious charm.
While created by those at the helm of Mezcal El Silencio, a visit to the Casa Silencio doesn’t feel like a gimmicky, branded experience. Along with Alejandro D’Acosta, Cisneros and Zapata also worked with interior designer Martina D’Acosta worked with to bring the striking and decidedly unique hacienda-meets-distillery to life.
Cisneros—who grew up in CDMX and now splits his time between Mexico and the US—tells us that Casa Silencio is much more than a passion project. “We wanted to expand and sustain our production and the needs that we have for growth. We said, ‘OK, we like to package and present it in a different way.’ So we’re going to create the experience and the distillery that fulfills the necessity, but how do we want that to feel?”
With the idea of creating something special and very Oaxacan, the team decided to work with renowned architect Alejandro D’Acosta. “What he had that is very valuable is this openness to exploration and pushing, a little bit, the envelope,” Cisneros explains. “That was the first thing that we gravitated to and liked about him.”
Cisneros and his team wanted every aspect of the aesthetics (from the angled steel of the exteriors, to the massive stone sculptures to the beading on specific artworks) to be special, but always combining traditional and ancient art and techniques with decidedly contemporary style. “I think it’s about juxtapositions. It’s always like, you have to have something that brings tension, but not too much where it overwhelms the experience,” he explains. “I always get super-excited about really being able to materialize. You start thinking about things that you want, you get some references, things that you see and start finding inspiration. Coming from some idea and then seeing a finished product, that journey is just magical.” The outcome of the journey so far is a property that’s saturated in color, texture and character.
Perhaps the most immediately breathtaking feature of the self-sustaining property is the indoor/outdoor dining room and bar, with its otherworldly views of the valley and 17-ton, 53-foot table made from a single slab of hand-cut basalt. Dining here—using antique cutlery and contemporary artisan-made porcelain cups—means indulging in classic Oaxacan dishes with modern twists (courtesy of the very talented executive chef Daniel Robles Sumano) and cocktails, though there’s also a list of Mexican wines.
Sitting there, overlooking agave plants and the mountains at night, the only light from the moon, stars and scattered bonfire pits, there’s something undeniably magical about this place. No matter where guests roam—from the angular plunge pool to the boardwalks among agave plants—there’s a sense of magic and imagination that’s imbued in the property, and is intrinsic to Cisneros’ understanding of the project. “I want to reinterpret some of the folk stories that I’m hearing, some of the tales that the Mescaleros have told me about their experiences in the night. You know, the brand El Silencio lives in the night. I love discovering little gems inside the emptiness and the darkness.”
At the other end of the dining room, part of El Silencio’s sustainable distillery (or “palenque”) is visible behind a glass wall. The 1,000-pound tahona crushes the roasted piñas thanks to solar power, unlike many traditional distilleries that still rely on using donkeys—which is less humane and sanitary. Upstairs and outdoors in the open air, the ovens have also been designed with both tradition and modernity in mind. The fire pits have been designed so that employees have more control over the process, and use 40% less wood than traditional underground pits. The oven is also located carefully next to the open roof of the palenque‚ where employees throw roasted piñas. The walls of that structure have been built to a height and angle that also reduces physical pressure on staff members. Guests can be as hands-on as desired here: distillery tours are available and can include tossing piñas to the palenque, hacking them up with a machete for the tahona, peeking at the open-air fermentation process, sipping El Silencio at its various stages and more.
Like with every one of El Silencio’s offerings, Cisneros’ fingerprints are all over the hacienda, from the silver and obsidian necklaces that double as room keys to the carefully selected books in the library. Also a designer, creative director and art enthusiast, Cisneros sought out Mexican artisans and artists to help fill the casa with extraordinary artworks and textiles. His approach to the overall project was (and remains) intuitive and malleable. “I’m very visual, I believe in aesthetics. I am really a designer—I should have been an artist, but I wasn’t good enough to be one,” he says. “It’s just things that feel right to me,” he continues. “I guess it’s more a sensibility. There’s no checklist; there are things that I see that click immediately and there are things that don’t… But everything is collaboration, right? I have a bunch of people in the creative team that help with the vision.”
There’s a dopamine effect that takes hold at Casa Silencio, with surprises around every corner. “To me, it’s very theatrical,” Cisneros says. “I like things that are not fully revealed automatically. It is mysterious, you know. I like to keep a lot to imagination. Some things are going to be more powerful for you than other visitors and you might put attention into other things, but it’s a constant thing where you don’t get bored. You’re participating. You’re discovering.”
“We are putting this ancient culture, techniques and customs into a modernized vision,” Cisneros explains. “And sharing this experience is incredible because it’s super-satisfying seeing all the hard work and the effort that we put into every single detail really coming to life and people being able to touch it and experience it. And that, to me, is the most amazing thing.”
Hero image courtesy of Casa Silencio