Not all renditions of Paradise involve that classic trinity of white sand, blue sea and a palm tree waving in the breeze. At least, that’s what the people behind a new Mexican retreat believe. Discerning owners of second homes are looking for a little bit more, and, in this case, it’s a link with a historic civilisation.

The Riviera Maya is the adoptive name of the coastline that runs south from Cancun on the Yucatán peninsula to the Belize border. Inland, the jungle-covered terrain disguises a number of majestic stone ziggurats and other archaeological remains from when the area was ruled by the Mayans. This pre-Columbian civilisation, which ruled most of what is today southern Mexico for a period of 600 years, is remarkable for its fully developed written language, complicated social and political structures and intricate ties with the land.

It is this legacy that has inspired the developers behind Nizuc, a hotel-villa project located just to the south of Cancun (and 15 minutes from the airport).‘The Mayans were one of the few cultures that knew how to live like kings they built beautiful palaces facing the ocean on wonderful sites,’ says Alan Becker of Becker Arquitectos. ‘But the Mayans were also philosophers. They were the first to understand nothingness, the concept of zero, and also the importance of human wellbeing, as well as its links to the land.’

The site is the former Mexican presidential estate, and is staffed by people who’ve worked there for years. The project will consist of 160 one- and two-bedroom apartments, an Adrian Zecha-designed hotel, and three stand-alone villas. The villas are show-stopping, each offering
a spacious 11,000sq ft of living space set in three-quarters of an acre of grounds, surrounding a lap-sized infinity pool and price tags of between $10 million and $13 million. The smaller residences have their own terrace and plunge pool with views overlooking Nizuc’s mangrove lagoon and the Caribbean beyond. Prices start from $1.3 million and go up to $3.5 million, and both these and the villas can be entered into the hotel rental pool at the owner’s discretion.

Much work has been done to protect the coral reef and the mangroves surrounding the property. Regeneration of the mangroves was a priority from the start. Hurricane Wilma devastated the area in 2005, and in the four years since, the team has already regenerated 300,000 of the plants, which are crucial to the ecosystem, to wide acclaim: the Mexican administration liked it so much, it’s considering making it mandatory for all future developers in the area.

Cancun-based tour guides from Alltournative (www.alltournative.com) take expeditions to Tulum, a Mayan ruin overlooking the Caribbean, as well as to countless cenotes or underground caverns filled with water, sacred to the Mayans, which feel like alien worlds when explored with a snorkel. Other, smaller sets of ruins, which remain untouched, also pepper the area. It’s said that the Mayans believed that understanding the past allows one to recognise the cyclical influences that create the present, and the developers of Nizuc hope it will be a place that enables contemporary visitors to learn from the past in order to inform their own lives in the future.

Nizuc is due to open this autumn (00 52 998 885 0144; www.nizuc.com)

* Overseas properties for sale