Nicolas Malleville, a six-foot-two, sandy-haired model, has shown the world nearly every part of his chiseled physique. For Burberry he posed with Kate Moss, his unbuttoned shirt exposing a sculpted chest. In a Tod’s campaign he flaunted his buff arms and well-manicured nails while tracing model Anja Rubik’s navel. And through his editorial work here and in Europe, the public has been treated to pictures of him in bathing suits and tight trousers. But there’s a part of Malleville’s body that even the most voracious magazine readers haven’t seen—one that casts him in a surprising new light.
No, naughty readers, it’s not what you’re thinking. The area in question is his left ankle, which bears a simple tattoo of a palm tree. “When I was a child, I used to sit in the square of my little town and stare up at the palm trees and dream about the beach,” says Malleville, who grew up in the landlocked Pampas region of Argentina. “Palm trees are the most beautiful trees in the world. They represent paradise to me.” And now, at 32, the model is living out his childhood fantasies, spending most of his time amid the sand and palms of Mexico, where he’s building a mini hotel empire. Just five years in the making, his brainchild, called Coqui Coqui, already includes two chic hotels and spas (with a third on the way), as well as a perfumery, a café and a store. One might call him the André Balazs of the Yucatán Peninsula. Just don’t tell him that.
“The funny part is that I never wanted to be a hotelier,” says Malleville with a laugh. “I just wanted my dream house on the beach.” Wearing a white cotton shirt and seersucker pants, he’s sitting in the breezy wood and stucco lobby of his beachside hotel in Tulum, which he originally built as a getaway for himself in 2001. He started hosting paying guests at the property—his friend Jade Jagger was his first client, in December 2003—because “taking care of a big house is expensive. And I wanted more than just one.”
Like his other hotel and spa—about a 90-minute drive northwest, near the Mayan ruins of Coba—Coqui Coqui Tulum is a tiny, rustic-chic property with only seven rooms and resembles a private residence more than a resort. Malleville’s girlfriend, Francesca, his sister Coni, his cousin Julieta and his childhood nanny, Silvy, are the main staff members, creating an intimate, familial atmosphere. All guest rooms have plush bedding, hand-carved stone bathtubs and traditional Mayan hammocks. It’s the kind of place that feels a million miles away from civilization: The entire operation is run on 12 volts of energy from solar panels on the thatched roofs; cell phone reception is dodgy at best; and guest rooms have no Internet access, air-conditioning or electrical outlets.