Gone for a Burton in Puerto Vallarta

Once home to Hollywood's most famous couple, Casa Kimberley hasn't changed since `The Night of the Iguana'. Simon Calder contemplates the Taylor/Burton taste in interiors

"LIZ AND Dick have popped out for a while, but it looks as if they'll be back soon. Meanwhile, you're welcome to make yourself at home and poke about. And would you like a drink?"

When you visit the former home of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Nina Diebold says only the last sentence of that paragraph. But, given the astonishing state of Casa Kimberley, you would not be at all surprised if the actors, so united and divided by passion, were to walk up the stone stairs and into the huge lounge/verandah/bar that looks out over Puerto Vallarta.

The beaches hereabouts comprise regulation pristine hectares of white sand, brushed but not beaten by the Pacific. So only a few visitors haul themselves up the sharply sloping cobbles to a hacienda by the name of Casa Kimberley. You can't miss the bright pink footbridge placed as daintily as possible across Calle Zaragoza. This was a later addition, when Burton decided they needed a swimming-pool and promptly bought the house across the road.

The couple first came to this point on Mexico's Pacific coast before they were married, and before it had become a popular resort. The director John Huston summoned Burton here (Taylor accompanying him) to make The Night of the Iguana - a love quadrangle including Burton, Ava Gardner, Deborah Kerr and Sue Lyon. If you don't know the film before you come to Puerto Vallarta, you will by the time you've been here a day.

Hollywood created the resort at the same time as it made the film. When Huston's raft of talent drifted 1,000 miles down the Pacific coast from California, the paparazzi followed in its wake - not least because Liz and Dick were on the brink of becoming an item.

On slow days, of which there are many in the languid, sultry summer this far south, those involved in making the movie and those who merely snapped at the coat tails and costumes could look out around the Bahia de Banderas (seventh-largest bay in the world, as you're sure to be told) and wonder at their good fortune. It's a jolly, if back-of-beyond, port protected in a relaxed sort of way by a fine arc of sand, with some monumental mountains in the background.

Richard Burton was hooked. It's fair to assume that he set out, when the cloying humidity of summer had eased, to find the villa with the finest view in Vallarta. That, at any rate, is what he bought in October 1964. And that is the place which, after two marriages, two divorces and the funeral of her former husband, Miss Taylor sold lock, stock and photograph album. So you get an intensely personal insight into the life of a British couple who commuted between glamorous Hollywood and prosaic Puerto Vallarta, where their house stood close to the Mercado Municipal.

A poster publicising the screen version of Tennessee Williams's short story proclaims they "devour life". Part of this feast was the conspicuous consumption of some truly tacky furnishings, with violently purple cushions covering most soft surfaces. "Suggested for Mature Audiences", continues the billing.

The watershed of your $5 tour around the house is in the bathroom of the penthouse - a veritable crater of a bath, in a puce amalgam of marble and plaster. If you're wondering where the makers of the ill-fated serial Eldorado got their ideas, look no further. But instead of sneering at the Burtons' taste, you can live it: the house is a strange combination of tourist attraction and working apartment complex. You can rent the penthouse, including bath and rather too many faded monochrome prints of the former owners, for pounds 90 a night in high season.

Budget travellers can choose from rooms ranged around the pool or the courtyard. No numbers: each is named after a film in which one or both of them starred. The Taming of the Shrew is next-door to The Comedians and opposite Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Each is fitted with a professional make-up mirror and lighting arrangement for prospective stars. Coming to stay entitles you also to play pool and table tennis where the Burtons did, and read their junk novels, which line the shelves in every room. This attention to humdrum detail sums the place up, but also touches a romantic nerve in even the cynical visitor: off-screen love just cannot match the real, steamy thing, but here's how Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton tried. This is a hacienda de amor if ever I saw one.

Casa Kimberley, Calle Zaragoza 445, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco 48300, Mexico; tel/fax 00 52 322 21336. Tours $5 (pounds 3). Bed and breakfast rates depend on season - November-May is high, June-October low - and the accommodation. A poolside suite costs $75 (pounds 45) per night per room, low season; the penthouse suite costs $150 (pounds 90) per night in high season.

Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Arts and Entertainment
U2's Songs of Innocence album sleeve

tvU2’s latest record has been accused of promoting sex between men

Arts and Entertainment
Alison Steadman in Inside No.9
tvReview: Alison Steadman stars in Inside No.9's brilliant series finale Spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk