Ca’ d’Zan: an impresario’s palace

Ca' d'Zan
Ca’ d’Zan

John Ringling was the greatest impresario of his day. He created the iconic circus venue of 20th century legends,  and he knew how to make money.

(left) grand hall with original Waldorf Astoria Hotel crystal chandelier, John as cover story in a mid-1920s Time magazine, John's sterling silver office phone at Ca' d'Zan
(left) grand hall with original Waldorf Astoria Hotel crystal chandelier, John as cover story in a mid-1920s Time magazine, John’s sterling silver office phone at Ca’ d’Zan

Commenting on a huge portrait of Ringling in the grand hall of Ca’ d’Zan, the incisive social commentator of the 1920s, Will Rogers, said it was the first time he saw John’s hand in his own pocket…

(left clockwise) dining room, built in electric refrigerator, painted ceiling in the grand hall and pillars in the game room
(left clockwise) dining room, built in electric refrigerator, painted ceiling in the grand hall and pillars in the game room

The love of his life, Mabel, was also a savvy art lover especially of the popular Italian Venetian Renaissance era. With unlimited funds, John and Mabel prodigiously purchased great master artist of the era , furniture and a queen’s entire opera house. They employed top artist to paint original works of art throughout Ca’ d’Zan on ceilings, inside bathroom cabinet doors, on pillars – every square inch of this Venetian palace is art.

interior of every bathroom cabinet was painted with original art
interior of every bathroom cabinet was painted with original art

Ca’ d’Zan was Mabel’s project. It was meant from the outset to be a showplace, just like her husband’s circus. At a cost of $1,500.000 ($20,000,000 in 21st century dollars) the mid 1920s Venetian palace on the shore of Sarasota Bay is a palace.

Ca' d'Zan
Ca’ d’Zan

Although Mabel died nearly a decade before John, he respected her wishes donating Ca’ d’Zan  and its priceless art collection in his will to the state of Florida. Florida State University maintains the mansion, its art museum and the opera house as an integral component of its Sarasota campus.

Final resting place of Mabel, John and his sister at Ca d'Zan
Final resting place of Mabel, John and his sister at Ca d’Zan
original Volcun gas stove in Ca' d'Zan kitchen
original Volcun gas stove in Ca’ d’Zan kitchen
Sarasota Bay from the roof top terrace of Ca' d'Zan
Sarasota Bay from the roof top terrace of Ca’ d’Zan

 

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Louis Comfort Tiffany: reinventing interior design

Garden doors, 1905, August Heckscher house
Garden doors, 1905, August Heckscher house

Tiffany conjures images of ultimate luxury. Diamonds and gleaming silver flood our minds at the sound of that name. Yet Louis Comfort Tiffany, son of Tiffany & Company founder Charles, was an artistic polymath who put his stamp on paintings, shimmering glass, mosaics, architecture, pottery, bronze and objet d’art. He was the genius that reinvented interior design for the generation of the Gilded Age.

Louis Comfort Tiffany glass & lamp, Morse Museum
Louis Comfort Tiffany glass & lamp, Morse Museum

For lovers of Art Nouveau in America as envisioned by Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848 – 1933) mecca is the Morse Museum in Winter Park, Florida. The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art owns the largest and most comprehensive collection of Tiffany art in the world. Like the era that fostered both Louis Comfort Tiffany and affluent Winter Park, the museum is the product of a vast Gilded Age fortune.

Louis Comfort Tiffany at the Morse Museum, Winter Park, FL
Louis Comfort Tiffany at the Morse Museum, Winter Park, FL

Jeannette Genius (1909-1989) was the granddaughter of Chicago industrialist Charles Morse. Charles had a keen appreciation for art and warm Florida winters. First wintering and then retiring to this wealthy suburb of Orlando in the late 19th century, Charles Morse became a major benefactor and real estate baron in Winter Park.

A glimpse at Winter Park, FL
A glimpse at Winter Park, FL

Jeannette’s mother, Elizabeth Morse Genius, was an accomplished artist and patron of the era’s modern art – American impressionism, and Tiffany Studios. Jeannette inherited both wealth and an artistic passion, pursuing her own successful career as an interior designer. After spending much time with her grandfather in Winter Park she chose the town as her permanent residence.

recreation at the Morse Museum of the entrance fountain & display at Laurelton Hall
recreation at the Morse Museum of the entrance fountain & display at Laurelton Hall

Her family’s philanthropy had already made a mark on Winter Park’s Rollins College, and at the age of 27 Jeannette started a decades-long association on the Board of Trustees. More importantly she met and married a dashing Rollins art professor, Hugh McKean (1908-1995) who himself had an intimate connection to Louis Comfort Tiffany.

Tiffany had designed his magnificent Long Island estate, Laurelton Hall, in 1903 as a showcase for everything he loved. He intended that it would eventually become a residential institution to foster young artists. In 1930 a young Hugh McKean spent months at Laurelton Hall as one of Tiffany’s students. Although Hugh’s family was well to do, it was the match of love, art and Jeannette’s vast fortune that allowed the couple to fulfill their dream.

(top) jewel mosaic necklace & detail (lower) Opel mosaic box & detail
(top) jewel mosaic necklace & detail (lower) Opel mosaic box & detail

It’s difficult to believe that even before the death of Louis Comfort Tiffany in 1933, his designs had become passé. During the 1940s and 1950s Jeannette and Hugh amassed a personal collection in every medium of  Tiffany Studios designs. They established the Morse Museum and the Charles Hosmer Morse Foundation, which owns and funds museum operations. More importantly, through their work they revived the keen international interest in Louis Comfort Tiffany that grows stronger as time passes.

Byzantine Chapel, 1893, at the Morse Museum
Byzantine Chapel, 1893, at the Morse Museum

Upon hearing in 1957 of the tragic fire that destroyed Laurelton Hall they set out to salvage and restore everything they could from stained glass windows, architectural artifacts and Tiffany’s masterpiece, the Byzantine Chapel he designed for Chicago’s 1893 Columbian Exposition. The chapel was a creation of love and a marketing tour de force that catapulted Tiffany’s career to international fame. From its hand carved door, shimmering mosaics, stunning blue baptistery window to the revolutionary eight by ten foot, three dimensional Byzantine cross, the Electrolier, electrified with the aid of Thomas Edison, the chapel alone is worth a visit to the Morse Museum.

The Electrolier, Byzantine Chapel, Morse Museum
The Electrolier, Byzantine Chapel, Morse Museum
How Tiffany Studios assembled a lamp shade, Morse Museum
How Tiffany Studios assembled a lamp shade, Morse Museum

A visit to the Morse Museum is more than just gazing at beautifully displayed art. It’s meant to be an educational experience on Tiffany’s life and genius. Free detailed booklets in each gallery meticulously explain the exhibits. The lighting is stunning, illuminating objects in the manner intended for their original owners and eliciting sounds of awe as glass comes alive in shimmering glory. Archival videos and displays demonstrate the actual methods used by Tiffany Studio artists to create these magnificent objects.

The iridescence of Tiffany glass
The iridescence of Tiffany glass

An entire wing of the museum recreates as much as possible the feel of Laurelton Hall as Louis Comfort Tiffany would have wanted his guests to experience from the impressive entrance hall, his very modern dining room and what was salvaged of his beloved Daffodil Terrace. The Daffodil Terrace highlights Tiffany’s love for that flower and his skill in ceramics. In a glass walled enclosure complete with comfortable wicker chairs, the terrace invites museum visitors to relax, read and contemplate beauty. Contemplating beauty is the successful legacy of Tiffany, Jeannette, Hugh and the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art.

Daffodil Terrace installation at the Morse Museum, Winter Park, FL
Daffodil Terrace installation at the Morse Museum, Winter Park, FL

When you go: Winter Park is 15 miles north of Orlando International Airport. The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art is open six days a week, closed on Monday and most major holidays. Parking is free.

Dragon Fly lamp shade, Louis Comfort Tiffany at the Morse Museum, Winter Park, FL
Dragon Fly lamp shade, Louis Comfort Tiffany at the Morse Museum, Winter Park, FL

 

 

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Villa Caletas: luxury with a conscience in Costa Rica

Sunset from Villa Caletas ampitheater
Sunset from Villa Caletas amphitheater

Denis Roy emigrated from France with a dream somewhere in his head that materialized into creating a fantasy in Costa Rica. On over 700 acres of improbable, undeveloped coastal and mountain wilderness, using building methods that hearkened back to the days of the pyramids, the hotel, restaurants and spa complex of Villa Caletas and the Zephyr Palace emerged over time. A fusion of river stone castle and tropical Victorian architecture, the 50 rooms range from stunning to awe inspiring.

Villa Caletas ampitheater
Villa Caletas amphitheater

Sunsets from the amphitheater are legendary and views encompass forested hills and ocean from many angles. Yet those beautiful hills required total reforestation due to cattle overgrazing. The lush peaks of today were barren, rocky and eroding into the clear Pacific below. Fifteen hundred trees were planted from the beach up the mountain, and Villa Caletas continues to spearhead major reforestation projects in the region.

Ten percent of electricity is solar powered and all hot water is provided through a system of air conditioner heat transfer. Each room’s air conditioning system uses smart technology reducing the temperature automatically when no one is present and increasing it to a guest’s pre-set comfort zone when they enter their room.

Villas Caletas ocean front
Villas Caletas ocean front

Twenty-five years ago this lush location had no roads, no water and no electricity. Denis had an initial concept to construct a 25 room hotel on this spectacular site with its panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean’s Herradura Bay on Costa Rica’s Central Coast. But cost and engineering reality limited his first venture to eight rooms. Yet Denis was not deterred.

view from suite 88
view from suite 88

Denis Roy is a dreamer who understands that demanding clients will pay for luxury if unique. Waking in the king size bed of my suite, room 88, a panoramic view unfolded through the expansive glass wall overlooking Herradura Bay. After a quick call to the front desk I was picked up in an electric golf cart to meet General Manager Frederick Nepveu and whisked off in a four-wheel drive car down the mountain to the beach for breakfast.

Villa Caletas room 88
Villa Caletas room 88

The slow drive down the steep hill passed Villa Caletes’ hydroponic farm growing herbs and produce. No contact with soil controls pest infestation of the produce. The lush forest teemed with animals and birds in the cool of the early morning.

El Pelicano Snack Bar on the Beach, Villa Caletas
El Pelicano Snack Bar on the Beach, Villa Caletas

The beach complex offers privacy, the well designed El Pelicano Snack Bar on the Beach and an array of comfortable beach chaise lounges. The shuttle runs every 30 minutes from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Breakfast included fresh extracted organic kale juice, an artful fruit salad and a typical Costa Rican breakfast plate – gallo pinto (black beans and rice) eggs, sautéed sweet plantains, fresh avocado and a wedge of fried white cheese. The gentle lapping of Pacific Ocean waves was the only music necessary.

breakfast at El Pelicano Snack Bar on the Beach, Villa Caletas
breakfast at El Pelicano Snack Bar on the Beach, Villa Caletas
Mirador Restaurant, Villa Caletas
Mirador Restaurant, Villa Caletas

Villa Caletas is a complex of buildings set among the lush restored mountain landscape. Small Distinctive Hotels are not for the budget traveler, but if seeking bang for the buck, Villa Caletas delivers in spades. While river stone buildings dominate most of the complex, a graceful Victorian glass and wood filigree building with the Mirador Restaurant tops a jungle of exotic plants and expansive window walls that bring the outside indoors.

Palapa & Serenity Spa, Villa Caletas
Palapa & Serenity Spa, Villa Caletas

A massive traditional open air palapa with hand carved wood pillars set on the edge of a cliff is dedicated to Denis’ passion for yoga, yet has become popular for events up to 300 guests. The Serenity Spa, tucked behind the palapa, is a haven of calm. Providing all the services one expects from a luxury spa, I nearly drifted off to sleep under relaxing hands, scented oils and the soft sounds of water fountains.

The Zephyr Palace at Villa Caletas
The Zephyr Palace at Villa Caletas

The Zephyr Palace is the crown jewel of this luxe property. Seven massive individually designed and decorated suites provide luxury befitting a palace. Private dining rooms, hand painted ceilings, in room exercise equipment, hand crafted furniture, exotic woods, marble tiles, original art, private infinity pools and televisions that slide into the foot of king size beds at the touch of a button are among just a few of the luxuries in the Zephyr Palace. On the day of my visit the suites were fully booked by a wedding party, not an uncommon occurrence.

Zephyr Palace at Villa Caletas
Zephyr Palace at Villa Caletas

Providing an atmosphere of effortless comfort requires attention to detail from the eyes and hands of dedicated employees. Many of the managers live on site, including Denis Roy and general manager Frederick Nepveu. Over 150 employees, including 20 gardeners, maintain the 50 room Villa Caletes/Zephyr Palace complex.

wine & civiche, Anfiteatro Bar and Restaurant, Villa Caletas
wine & civiche, Anfiteatro Bar and Restaurant, Villa Caletas

For a culinary travel journalist Denis Roy, Frederick Nepveu, Chef Fernando Adaniz and food and beverage manager Pablo Lombardo oversee a cuisine that matches the style of Villa Caletas. Lunch started with a trio of ceviche: mango, sea snails and fish paired with a light and lemony chardonnay. Grilled rare yellow fin tuna was accompanied by a timbal of yucca and napped with pipian sauce – roasted pumpkin seeds. A salad included flor de Itavo (yucca) leaves that taste like artichoke hearts. Dessert was a light and cooling sorbet of nancy mirabelle plum.

Lunch at Anfiteatro Bar and Restaurant, Villa Caletas
Lunch at Anfiteatro Bar and Restaurant, Villa Caletas
Sunset cocktail at Villa Caletas
Sunset cocktail at Villa Caletas

Pre dinner drinks at sunset commenced with an orange martini cocktail created especially for me. A long peel of orange rind twisted around the stem of the glass and dipped into the fragrant drink. Its color mimicked the setting sun’s display. The steep Greek inspired Villa Caletas amphitheater adjacent to the open-air Anfiteatro Bar and Restaurant is a local destination for observing beautiful sunsets for which Costa Rica has a well deserved reputation. Soft ambient music added to the charm.

Segueing to a cliff side table Chef Fernando Adaniz opened dinner with an amuse bouche of avocado and salmon with crème fraîche on toast. Seafood terrine of lobster, shrimp and mussels with chipotle mayonnaise was followed by an entrée of red snapper rolled around lobster. It was napped with a light egg and mustard seed sauce. A smooth pinot grigio with citrus hints tied together this dinner of fresh seafood.

Dinner at Anfiteatro Bar and Restaurant , Villa Caletas
Dinner at Anfiteatro Bar and Restaurant , Villa Caletas

Befitting a luxe hotel dinner, dessert was preceded by a mouth cleansing sorbet of passion fruit. Dessert was an appropriately dense chocolate cake garnished with strawberry and kiwi sauce and cubes of fresh pineapple, papaya and watermelon. Did you know that Costa Rica is the world’s largest grower of pineapples? Villa Caletas, naturally, makes all its breads, pastries and desserts in house. Food and beverage manager Pablo Lombardo’s Mexican roots shined when he presented an after dinner tasting of smooth premium tequilas.

Dinner at Anfiteatro Bar and Restaurant , Villa Caletas
Dinner at Anfiteatro Bar and Restaurant , Villa Caletas

I had to remind myself that with the gentle evening breeze and lush vegetation surrounding all that it was not long ago that this site was a barren wasteland. That’s why the many infinity pools dotting Villa Caletas become a metaphor for the group of Small Distinctive Hotel owners, managers and chefs this travel journalist interviewed during an eight-day tour – the visions they conjure gazing into infinity. Villa Caletas and Small Distinctive Hotels of Costa Rica provide luxury with a conscience transforming what we destroy into what we desire.

Frederick Nepveu, GM, Chef Fernando Adaniz & Denis Roy, owner/founder Villa Caletas & Zephyr Palace
Frederick Nepveu, GM, Chef Fernando Adaniz &
Denis Roy, owner/founder Villa Caletas & Zephyr Palace

When you go: Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) is served by many airlines worldwide and is within an easy 20 minute drive of downtown San Jose. Hotel Villa Caletas on the Central Pacific Coast region of Puntarenas is an hour and fifteen-minute drive from Juan Santamaría International Airport.

Disclaimer: The author was a guest of Hotel Villas Caletas, Small Distinctive Hotels, ENroute Communications and Revista Ander de Viaje. Special thanks to my guide throughout my stay in Costa Rica Mauricio Aymerich, director Small Distinctive Hotels. Transportation within Costa Rica was provided by Toyota Rent a Car of San Jose. A Rav4 made Costa Rica’s mountain roads, especially the few unpaved, safe and comfortable.

An infinity pool view, Villa Caletas
An infinity pool view, Villa Caletas
Additional articles on Costa Rica by Marc d’Entremont:
It begins with scented hand towels
Cuna del Angel is discretely gluten-free in Costa Rica
Monteverde Biological Reserve is a climate change laboratory
Costa Rica and the vision of Pedro Belmar
Cream of Pejibaye: a Costa Rican national dish
Hotel Grano de Oro: ethics and luxury in Costa Rica

 

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Animals find refuge at Florida’s Homosassa Springs

Bald Eagle, Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, Florida
Bald Eagle, Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, Florida

There are many parks in the United States but Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is an animal refuge. It’s also enjoyable to visit.

Great Horned Owl, Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
Great Horned Owl, Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

From the Florida brown bear to iconic bald eagles, these animals were rescued after injury. What may at first seem like a zoo is a haven for these beautiful creatures.

Lucifer, an African hippopotamus at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
Lucifer, an African hippopotamus at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
floating on the Homosassa River at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
floating on the Homosassa River at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

What was once a zoo-like Florida attraction starting in the 1940s became the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park in the ‘80s. The goal was to give refuge to animals indigenous to the tropics of the western hemisphere with one exception. Lucifer, the locally popular African hippopotamus, first purchased by the original developers, was designated a Florida citizen by the state legislature. The 50+ year old hippo enjoys a charmed life at the park.

Abundant varieties of fish at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
Abundant varieties of fish at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
some of Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park's animals, such as this squirrel, simply enjoy living at the park
some of Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park’s animals, such as this squirrel, simply enjoy living at the park

The Homosassa springs bubble up from the depths of the Earth at a constant 72° F. This warm water attracts an abundant variety of fish and aquatic animals. The Fish Bowl underwater observatory provides a unique experience to view life under sea level.

In some cases the animals heal enough to be released back into the wild. A park ranger told a story of one owl they thought would not be able to fly after its injury. To their surprise, it was gone one day. Yet the owl seems to miss this refuge. She returns frequently and sometimes stays the night.

A manatee through the underwater observatory at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
A manatee through the underwater observatory at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

Of great importance is Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park’s manatee program. The endangered manatee, the object of many fatal encounters with Florida pleasure boats, receive expert health care in a state of the art facility. The park is one of the finest locations to view this massive gentle mammal.

Your visit to Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park starts with a slow and picturesque barge trip from the visitor’s center on the Homosassa River. Thickly lined with vegetation the fifteen minute trip is visually beautiful with sunlight creating mirror reflections in the slow moving water. The barge docks at the entrance to the mile-long path that meanders through the various wildlife habitats.

Barge from visitor's center to animal park at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
Barge from visitor’s center to animal park at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
Homosassa River at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
Homosassa River at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

The park is well designed for disabled visitors, and given the reality that Florida summers are hot and humid, there are sitting areas and concessions selling items from bottled water to ice cream. The air conditioned reptile house is a quiet place to cool down. Knowledgeable rangers are eager to share their stories.

A day at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is an enjoyable education of what our Earth can be like when humans live in harmony with nature.

flamingos at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
flamingos at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

When you go:

Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is located 85 miles north of the Tampa Bay area  or 100 miles west of Orlando – both easy 90 min to 2 hour drives.

There are admission fees and the park is well equipped and accessible to accommodate visitors with a wide range of disabilities.

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Nature creates

Nature creates a “cubist painting” – reflection in the Homosassa River, Florida

Homosassa River, Florida
Homosassa River, Florida

 

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Edison’s Jungle in Fort Myers, Florida

Edison's "jungle" at Seminole Lodge
Edison’s “jungle” at Seminole Lodge – Indian rubber trees frame the photo
Caloosahatchee River shoreline of Seminole Lodge
Caloosahatchee River shoreline of Seminole Lodge

Thomas Edison called the overgrown property his jungle when he laid eyes on it in 1885. It was overgrown with bamboo, a plant Edison was using as filament in his light bulbs. He bought the property along the Caloosahatchee River as a family winter retreat in the remote and dusty farming hamlet of Fort Myers. Yet his original hand drawn plans for the 14 acre estate included a research laboratory, experimental botanic gardens as well as his house.

(clockwise top left) Mina Edison, Thomas Edison & Henry Ford
(clockwise top left) Mina Edison, Thomas Edison & Henry Ford

Thomas and Mina Edison were soul mates. Mina,  university educated and the daughter of a successful inventor, caught the eye of Thomas when she was an employee at his Menlo Park, NJ, invention laboratory. When they married in 1886 Thomas Edison was already one of the world’s most famous men. He holds the record for most USA patents in a single lifetime – over 1,000.

Giant banyon tree at Seminole Lodge
Giant banyon tree at Seminole Lodge

Their fascination with plants is a major feature of Seminole Lodge. The gardens include over 1,700 plants covering 400 species including 50 varieties of palms. A banyon tree planted in the 1920s now covers over 3/4th of an acre and is the largest in the United States. Orchids are among the dozens of air plants hanging off giant ficus and palm trees.

A climbing night blooming cereus, Seminole Lodge
A night blooming cereus climbing a cabbage palm, Seminole Lodge

Thomas and Mina, along with best friends Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone – national icons of the automotive age – were all concerned with United States foreign dependence on rubber – sound familiar? From the late 1800s through the 1930s Brazil, British India and Dutch Indonesia controlled the world’s rubber supplies.

A giant Morton Fig tree
A giant Morton Fig tree

Besides creating gardens at Seminole Lodge  for their beauty, shade and privacy, they planted hundreds of varieties of the ficus plant whose latex sap was an important component for modern rubber. Thomas even experimented and succeeded in growing a variety of golden rod that would produce copious amounts of latex.

beautiful root system of the Morton Fig tree
beautiful root system of the Morton Fig tree

In the 1920s Edison, Firestone and Ford created the Edison Botanical Research Corporation laboratory on the Seminole Lodge estate. Henry Ford had already purchased an adjacent house as one of his winter homes. Thomas died in 1931 shortly before the DuPont Corporation successfully invented synthetic latex, which led to synthetic rubber. DuPont’s success was fortuitous since World War II shut down natural rubber imports. The Edison Botanical Research Corporation laboratory closed in the late 1930s.

(clockwise from top left) one of many mango trees, dwarf red poinciana, orchids, bougainvillea
(clockwise from top left) one of many mango trees, dwarf red poinciana, orchids, bougainvillea

Shortly before her death in 1947 Mina sold the estate to the City of Fort Myers for $1.00 with the stipulation it would be preserved and open to the public.  Today the Edison and Ford Winter Estates is the leading tourist attraction in Fort Myers. It’s well worth spending hours and returning more than once to enjoy the beautiful gardens, artistic Seminole Lodge and the fascinating museum dedicated to two of America’s genius entrepreneurs – Thomas Edison and Henry Ford.

(clockwise from top left) Crape jasmine (often confused for gardenia) cycads, crape myrtle, allamanda
(clockwise from top left) Crape jasmine (often confused for gardenia) cycads, crape myrtle, allamanda
Peach palm & its fruit – the fruit is edible when cooked
Peach palm & its fruit – the fruit is edible when cooked: for recipes see:

Cream of Pejibaye: a Costa Rican national dish

(clockwise from top left) double peach hibiscus, bromeliad, orchid, Japanese double dogwood
(clockwise from top left) double peach hibiscus, bromeliad, orchid, Japanese double dogwood
You can read more on Seminole Lodge at Waiting to Invent: Thomas Edison in Florida

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Hotel Grano de Oro: ethics and luxury in Costa Rica

(left) Marco Montoya, GM, (right) Executive Chef Francis Canal Bardot
(left) Marco Montoya, GM, (right) Executive Chef Francis Canal Bardot

Executive Chef Francis Canal Bardot is also a farmer. He not only grows many of the organic produce used in the dining room of the Hotel Grano de Oro but also raises the geese for his exquisite foie gras. Yes I’m well aware that will immediately raise controversy, yet that’s due to a common misconception.

Force-feeding geese to grow plump livers is never necessary. Allowing the geese to roam free-range eating healthy food produces the tender succulent livers Chef Bardot uses in creating such imaginative taste bites as his amuse bouche of foie gras topping a scallop. This sensitivity is at the core of Hotel Grano de Oro and tourism in Costa Rica.

Hotel Grano de Oro
Hotel Grano de Oro

The Small Distinctive Hotels of Costa Rica of which Hotel Grano de Oro is a member commit themselves to leaving the smallest possible negative environmental impact on the planet – nothing we humans do is devoid of all negative impacts. From the point of view of creating a luxurious boutique hotel, Canadians Eldon and Lori Cooke used methods well established in that sector of economic development. They became enamored with the beauty and life style of Costa Rica in the 1980s, but disappointed in hotel offerings in its capital San Jose.

Private fountain courtyard for room #6
Private fountain courtyard for room #6

Eldon and Lori Cooke transformed an early 20th century Victorian mansion into a 21 room boutique hotel. Several years later they added the adjacent house owned by the same family expanding to today’s 34 rooms. Each room has a unique interior including number 6 with its own private courtyard garden complete with a fountain.

Connecting the two structures by a modern lobby, original interior courtyard gardens and maintaining many original features such as a second floor hallway of windows overlooking the dining courtyard melds the two structures while adding 21st century conveniences. A rooftop garden in the newer house overlooking downtown San Jose is complete with hot tubs. Discrete signage remind guests to keep noise at a minimum to maintain the Grano de Oro’s atmosphere of being a house guest in a grand home.

Grano de Oro interior gardens
Grano de Oro interior gardens

That’s the luxury side of Hotel Grano de Oro, but this is a Small Distinctive Hotel and, besides the culinary excellence of Chef Bardot, there’s another dimension. Eldon and Lori Cooke became concerned with a social problem that plagues many areas of the world, not just Costa Rica, the sexual abuse of young women. Beyond the abuse were the issues of abandonment, especially of the children that often resulted from abuse, and life long psychological scars.

Eldon and Lori Cooke were instrumental in creating the Asociacion Reaccion en Cadena por Nuestra Ninez and opened Casa Luz (“House of Light”) in San Jose. Casa Luz provides multi-year residential programs for abused teenage mothers and their children and a safe home. The program includes all necessary monetary, emotional and psychological support victims need. Just ask and the front desk will be pleased to discuss this significant humanitarian project while you enjoy the elegance of Grano de Oro, knowing a portion of the hotel’s profits help support this house of light.

(far left) Mauricio Aymerich, director Small Distinctive Hotels, (top left) Michelle Cooke , (top right) Ciro DeAngles, (far right) Marc d'Entremont
(far left) Mauricio Aymerich, director Small Distinctive Hotels, (top left) Michelle Cooke , (top right) Ciro DeAngles, (far right) Marc d’Entremont

I had the great pleasure over several breakfasts, lunches and dinners in conversations with Marco Montoya, Michelle Cooke and Ciro DeAngles to learn about Eldon and Lori Cooke’s vision for Grano de Oro. In an age when employee loyalty in the hospitality industry is measured in months, the hotel’s staff are lifers. Marco Montoya, general manager, started his career 25 years ago when the hotel opened.  Chef Francis Canal Bardot has been in charge of the restaurant for 23 years and many of the chambermaids will eventually retire after life long careers.

Eldon and Lori now concentrate on Casa Luz while their daughter Michelle and her Italian husband Ciro DeAngles, a certified sommelier, continue to improve Grano de Oro maintaining the hotel as San Jose premier accommodation. That takes work in Costa Rica, which is blessed with a vibrant tourist industry. Success is in the details and remembering that nothing should be taken for granted. For myself as a chef and culinary travel writer the details are discovered in the dining room.

Grano de Oro restaurant & dining courtyard
Grano de Oro restaurant & dining courtyard

A relaxed yet elegant atmosphere with a staff well trained in the best of European service is the setting for extraordinary cuisine. Chef Bardot misses nothing in creating an international menu that utilizes Costa Rica’s abundance of superb products prepared with classic precision and presented for perfect photo opps. Menu items satisfy all from omnivores such as myself to the most committed vegan.

Not only does Chef Bardot maintain his own small farm, but also most items undergo their fabrication from the foie gras to the smoked salmon in house. The pastry chef – she’s also a lifer at the hotel – makes all the breads and desserts in a dedicated air conditioned pastry kitchen.

Grano de Oro wine celler & grappa in a dedicated glass
Grano de Oro wine celler & grappa in a dedicated glass

Ciro DeAngles personally oversees the Grano de Oro’s select wine cellar. Selections range from Le Garde Malbeck 2014, an Argentine full bodied wine with distinctive cherry notes, Spain’s La Atalaya del Camino, a garnacha tintorera and Monastrell old vine red blend to smooth and fiery grappas that pair well with desserts such as an excellent cheese selection or artistically arranged frozen orange soufflé.

Dinners begin with an amuse bouche, daily special mini dishes created from the chef’s fertile imagination served on spoons. Papaya with salmon and herbs and salmon tartar encasing hard boiled egg at another dinner are meant to make a diner smile.

from top left: papaya with salmon and herbs, foie gras topping a scallop, country pate, timbal of smoked salmon salmon
from top left: papaya with salmon and herbs, foie gras topping a scallop, country pate, timbal of smoked salmon

As a chef I love appetizers. The imagination and artistry in creating a small plate that satisfies both the eyes and the taste buds is the true test of a skilled chef. Chef Bardot exceeds with the selections I enjoyed: mini empanadas with buffalo mozzarella and balsamic reduction, suckling pig rillettes wrapped in homemade brioche with Nubosa Costa Rican craft beer sauce, in house smoked salmon, fennel salad and a creamy tarragon vinaigrette and house made country pate with pistachios accompanied by pickled red cabbage, mushrooms, gherkins and red grain mustard.

from top left: stuffed saddle of rabbit, quinoa cake w/octopus, Duck breasts w/caramelized fig, prosciutto & porcini mushroom mousse chicken breast
from top left: stuffed saddle of rabbit, quinoa cake w/octopus, Duck breasts w/caramelized fig, prosciutto & porcini mushroom mousse chicken breast

Locally raised braised saddle of rabbit stuffed with a mousseline, red wine reduction and potatoes dauphinoise was but one choice in a select entrée menu. A prosciutto and porcini mushroom mousse was encased by a chicken breast. Perfectly grilled rare duck breasts were accompanied by caramelized fig, grilled butternut squash and a pate crostini.

Cream of Pejibaye
Cream of Pejibaye

There are an abundance of fish dishes and some vegetarian options on both the lunch and dinner menus. The lunch menu tantalized with that most iconic of Costa Rican soups, cream of pejibaye. Nearly impossible to have outside of Costa Rica this smooth, tasty palm fruit is a must have when visiting the country. Fortunately, good latino markets in the United States carry preserved palm fruit, and you can follow my recipe for this classic.

A quinoa cake on the lunch entrée menu shined with imagination and taste. Tender chunks of grilled octopus, peas, scallions and herbs blended with the ancient South American grain of quinoa accompanied by a tomato relish was light yet filling but most of all perfectly executed.

from top left: Eggs Benedict, omelet w/spinach & mushrooms, poached eggs in truffle cream, fresh local fruit
from top left: Eggs Benedict, omelet w/spinach & mushrooms, poached eggs in truffle cream, fresh local fruit

Breakfast receives the same attention to detail. Freshly squeezed organic juices, plates of glistening fruit and homemade sweet breads certainly provide energy for a day of exploring. Yet poached eggs in truffle cream with oyster mushrooms and asparagus or eggs benedict with a white hollandaise may make you question whether you should just remain at Grano de Oro and eat all day.

When you go: Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) is served by many airlines worldwide and is within an easy 20 minute drive of downtown San Jose and Hotel Grano de Oro

Disclaimer: The author was a guest of  Hotel Grano de Oro, Small Distinctive Hotels, ENroute Communications and Revista Ander de Viaje. Special thanks to my guide throughout my stay in Costa Rica Mauricio Aymerich, director Small Distinctive Hotels. Transportation within Costa Rica was provided by Toyota Rent a Car of San Jose. A Rav4 made Costa Rica’s mountain roads, especially the few unpaved, safe and comfortable.

Cheese tray
Cheese tray
Additional articles on Costa Rica by Marc d’Entremont:
It begins with scented hand towels
Cuna del Angel is discretely gluten-free in Costa Rica
Monteverde Biological Reserve is a climate change laboratory
Costa Rica and the vision of Pedro Belmar
Cream of Pejibaye: a Costa Rican national dish
You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Original World Insights

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Easy lentil and prosciutto stuffed peppers

Pepper with lentils – before baking
Pepper with lentils – before baking

 

As I often do, I created a recipe with ingredients I had on hand. In this case it became a baked stuffed pepper recipe using lentils instead of rice. The nutritional difference between rice and lentils is negligible. I simply like the taste of lentils and figured it was a good alternative. The prosciutto and feta cheese adds all the salt this dish requires.

Ingredients for 2 to 3 servings:

  • 3 bell peppers – note: I prefer to mix bell pepper colors: red, yellow, green, and orange
  • ½ cup lentils
  • 1 ½ – 2 cups water
  • 1/3rd of a sweet onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 celery stalks with leaves from the center of the bunch
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 slices prosciutto
  • 1/3rd cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 6 leaves fresh basil
  • 3 sundried tomatoes
  • 1 cup chicken or vegetable stock

Procedure:

  1. Bring 1 & ½ cups (12 ounces) water to a boil. Add the lentils and reduce heat. Cover when the lentils are gently simmering. Simmer for 30 to 40 minutes checking half way through to add additional boiling water if necessary. The lentils should be tender and all water evaporated.
  2. While lentils are simmering, slice the tops of the peppers off and set aside. Place the peppers into an oven proof baking dish that will provide a snug fit for the peppers.
  3. Dice the onion, celery and garlic.
  4. Heat the olive oil in a medium sauté pan and gently cook the onion, celery and garlic until soft but not browned. Turn the heat off.
  5. Dice the prosciutto, basil leaves and sundried tomatoes.
  6. Preheat the oven to 400° F.
  7. In a small sauce pan heat the chicken or vegetable stock just to the boiling point.
  8. When the lentils are tender combine with the onion, celery and garlic. Add the prosciutto, basil leaves, feta cheese and sundried tomatoes. Gently combine – do not mash the lentils.
  9. Spoon into the peppers and replace the tops. Pour the stock into the baking dish around, not over, the peppers.
  10. Place the dish into the preheated oven and bake for 45 minutes until the peppers are soft.

A crisp dry white wine goes well with this dish. Try an Assyrtiko from the Greek island of Santorini.

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Waiting to Invent: Thomas Edison in Florida

This photo at Seminole Lodge is titled "Waiting for another invention" – T. Edison (on ground), H. Firestone (left) & Pres. W. G. Harding 1921 in Florida
This photo at Seminole Lodge is titled “Waiting for another invention” – T. Edison (on ground), H. Firestone (left) & Pres. W. G. Harding 1921 in Florida

Much is written in the media today concerning the inability to disconnect while on vacation – professionals glued to email and cell phones around the pool. Yet that’s hardly unique to the 21st century. In 1885 when Thomas Edison purchased 14 acres along the Caloosahatchee River as a winter retreat in the remote southwestern Florida farming hamlet of Fort Myers he had no intention of turning his mind off.

The guest house of Seminole Lodge, Fort Myers, FL
The guest house of Seminole Lodge, Fort Myers, FL
Edison's office in the Moonlight Garden
Edison’s office in the Moonlight Garden

Although Thomas (1847-1931) Mina (1865-1947) and their children spent most winters at their Seminole Lodge estate, his office provides ample evidence he was still connected by correspondence to his invention laboratory at Menlo Park, NJ. Along with good friends Harvey Firestone and Henry Ford the Edison Botanical Research Corporation was established and a laboratory constructed on the estate in the 1920s. The goal was to make America independent of foreign rubber.

Edison Botanical Research Corporation laboratory at Seminole Lodge
Edison Botanical Research Corporation laboratory at Seminole Lodge

Edison dubbed Seminole Lodge his jungle. He and Mina surrounded their home with lush gardens. But first, they had to construct the houses.

Seminole Lodge
Seminole Lodge
Entrance & pilings remain of the 1,500' pier at Seminole Lodge
Entrance & pilings remain of the 1,500′ pier at Seminole Lodge

The railroad was not extended to Fort Myers until 1904, which meant convenient travel was by ship. A 1,500 foot pier was built as a landing for family, guests and the materials necessary for Seminole Lodge. Prefab houses were also not new to the 21st century. The lumber for the two identical mirror-image houses that are Seminole Lodge was fabricated in Maine, shipped to Fort Myers and assembled on site.

Seminole Lodge, Edison & Ford Winter Estates, Ft. Myers, FL
Seminole Lodge, Edison & Ford Winter Estates, Ft. Myers, FL
Dining room at Seminole Lodge
Dining room at Seminole Lodge

The adjacent second house was originally the winter home of business partner Ezra Gulliland, but was bought back by Edison after a serious split with Gulliland. The spacious, airy wood structures were connected with a pergola and the second house turned into combination guest quarters, dining room and kitchen for Seminole Lodge. Both houses were electrified, of course, with power from both generators and batteries – all the product of Edison’s fertile mind.

Henry Ford house, Edison & Ford Winter Estates, Ft. Myers, FL
Henry Ford house, Edison & Ford Winter Estates, Ft. Myers, FL
Ford Model T, Edison & Ford Winter Estates, Ft. Myers, FL
Ford Model T, Edison & Ford Winter Estates, Ft. Myers, FL

Children of America’s great industrial age, Thomas and Mina were friends with other magnates of the day, especially Henry Ford. A frequent guest of the Edisons at Seminole Lodge, Ford purchased the beautiful yet modest Craftsman house in 1916 adjacent to Seminole Lodge. Although the Fords only used the home for two weeks each winter to celebrate Edison’s birthday, their friendship and business partnerships were life-long.

(clockwise left) motion picture projectors, water powered cylinder phonograph c.1890, early record players, electric industrial tractor c.1917, Edison Manufacturing Co. electric fan c. 1900
(clockwise left) motion picture projectors, water powered cylinder phonograph c.1890, early record players, electric industrial tractor c.1917, Edison Manufacturing Co. electric fan c. 1900

After Thomas Edison’s death at age 84 in 1931 Mina continued to winter at Seminole Lodge. Mina was Edison’s second wife having been widowed in the early 1880s when only in his 30s. The daughter of an inventor, university educated and an employee at the Menlo Park lab, Mina was as much an intellectual equal to her husband as a wife.

Fountain of natural coral at Seminole Lodge
Fountain of natural coral at Seminole Lodge
At Seminole Lodge: the 1st private swimming pool built in S.W. Florida, 1911. The above ground pool constructed of Portland cement – Edison held the patent
At Seminole Lodge: the 1st private swimming pool built in S.W. Florida, 1911. The above ground pool constructed of Portland cement – Edison held the patent

Mina was active managing their households, the botanical gardens and the Edison business ventures. Edison was said to greatly appreciate Mina’s intellect and input in discussing his many theories for everything from the phonograph, electric batteries to motion picture cameras. In 1947 Mina deeded the estate to the City of Fort Myers on condition that it be preserved as a public memorial to her husband’s genius.

Edison's "jungle" at Seminole Lodge
Edison’s “jungle” at Seminole Lodge

Henry Ford sold his house in 1947, and it remained a private home until the city purchased it in 1988. The Edison & Ford Winter Estates is operated and maintained as a non-profit offering a plethora of tours and activities including an extensive museum dedicated to the genius of these two men. A visit to Edison’s jungle is to step back to an age where great ideas were conjured in the mind rather than by an electronic device – although Thomas probably would have invented the computer if he’d had time.

Sunset over the Caloosahatchee River at Seminole Lodge
Sunset over the Caloosahatchee River at Seminole Lodge

You can read part 2 on Seminole Lodge:  Edison’s Jungle in Fort Myers, Florida

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Original World Insights

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Cuna del Angel is discretely gluten-free in Costa Rica

Tom Nagel, founder & owner, Hotel Cuna del Angel
Tom Nagel, founder & owner, Hotel Cuna del Angel

The fresh butter spread easily onto whole grain bread. Rich in chia seeds, the tender yet appropriately dense bread was yet another tasty creation of Tina, Hotel Cuna del Angel’s pastry chef. If gluten intolerant, everything served at Cuna del Angel is safe to eat and to all other guests it’s simply delicious.

A quick read of the classic European inspired menu at the La Palapa restaurant gives guests not a clue their dining health is being guarded. An array of breads vies with such classics as spinach tagliatelle with artichokes, beef tenderloin accented by porcini mushrooms, and a presentation of greens in the Jungle Salad that’s an evocation of the surrounding forest. Deeper reading reveals the pastas are made from cassava, lentil and garbanzo bean flours and many of the salad’s greens are sustainably harvested.

Gluten free spinach tagliatelle with artichokes
Gluten free spinach tagliatelle with artichokes

German by birth, Tom Nagel’s passion for natural healthy eating developed over time and was accelerated by organic farm ventures in Spain. Drawn over a decade ago to the climate, business potential and progressive farming methods practiced in Costa Rica, Tom’s vision for Cuna del Angel’s La Palapa dining room was to be a discrete haven of healthy eating. Second hand experience with celiac disease made the 100% gluten-free decision easy.

Hotel Cuna del Angel, Costa Rica
Hotel Cuna del Angel, Costa Rica

The Small Distinctive Hotels of Costa Rica, of which Cuna del Angel’s a member, take pride in living sustainable tourism. Hotel Cuna del Ángel has the highest recognition – five leaves – by the Costa Rica Tourism Board through its Certificate for Sustainable Tourism program. To Tom, caring for the cradle (cuna) of the angels is a reciprocal arrangement with the guardians of human life.

Demonstrating this commitment to local, organic and sustainable foods and sources is as close as Tom Nagel’s own farm. Many of Cuna del Angel’s vegetables, greens, herbs, legumes – and eggs – are grown using hydroponics or permaculture agricultural methods. The farm produces its own natural fertilizer utilizing a bio digester with its methane gas byproduct channeled to other uses. A natural wood vinegar herbicide is made through a distillation process that condenses a smoldering fire of wood and banana leaves.

Tom's organic chocolate, Cuna del Angel
Tom’s organic chocolate, Cuna del Angel

Honey for Cuna del Angel’s kitchen is harvested from the farm’s hives but only from the upper layers so as to minimize disturbance to the colony. Four hundred cocoa trees discovered on the farm produce the dense, smooth dark Tom’s Chocolate Bar, but they’re not for sale. Tom donates the bars for charity fundraisers and uses them as a delicious business card.

La Palapa dining room
La Palapa dining room

All of these techniques take time, but to Tom the alternatives are not debatable. Even the hotel’s design is an expression of a vision that it is possible to find balance in life and space. La Palapa dining room is homage to the traditional indigenous culture’s sense of orienting life according to energy points – the web site has a complete explanation. The soft ambient lighting in the open walled dining room that overlooks the jungle and Pacific Ocean is certainly conducive to calmly enjoying fine cuisine.

Gluten free bread at Hotel Cuna del Angel
Gluten free bread at Hotel Cuna del Angel

Meals usually start with bread and a gluten-free menu easily complies. Cultures worldwide have been making bread products from non-gluten flours for millenniums. Chef Tina at Cuna del Angel uses corn, rice and yucca flour blends. All baked items, ice creams and other desserts are made in house. Gluten-free hors d’oeuvre bread with a chewy cracker texture was served with a seasoned butter of capers and olives. Whole grain bread speckled with chia seeds was indistinguishable from its wheat flour compatriots. It was simply an excellent slice of bread.

Jungle Salad, Cuna del Angel
Jungle Salad, Cuna del Angel

The aforementioned Jungle Salad featured kutuk leaf, Jamaica leaf, organic spinach and watercress with oil and balsamic. The variations in texture and color are as interesting as their source. All grow as bushes so harvesting is by trimming as the plant continues to produce.

Fillet of snook in basil sauce
Fillet of snook in basil sauce

Soups included an earthy cream of porcini and truffle that tasted like the forest after a summer rain. Bright reddish orange cream of pajibaye is a true Central American treat. The fruit of the Peach Palm, cooked pajibaye has a dense butternut squash texture and color. Its flavor has notes of pumpkin with a touch of lemon juice. Classic entrees of baked fillet of local snook was bathed in a bright green basil sauce, while the flavor of pork tenderloin – only prepared well done – was sparked by tangy tamarind sauce.

flambé mangoes Cuna del Angel
flambé mangoes Cuna del Angel

The imaginative dessert creations are impressive especially given that they are prepared as a component to a balanced meal and not just an extravagant indulgence – but don’t remind your endorphins. Nothing is more iconic of formal dining than French table service and Roberto Bonilla Campos did appropriate justice with flourishes to table side flambé mangoes in brown sugar butter sauce with Grand Marnier and Courvoisier. Gluten-free crepes are available, but the rich mango was terrific with house made vanilla bean ice cream.

Sorbets at Cuna del Angel
Sorbets at Cuna del Angel

Fortunately it was possible to taste the desserts over several meals, so the chocolate, pistachio, passion fruit and honey ice creams are as luscious as the vanilla. Tart Tartin had as flakey and buttery a crust as any Parisian patisserie, and passion fruit pie had a firm but creamy chiffon-like texture with a zing of citrus to compliment its natural perfume.

Hotel Cuna del Angel has sixteen spacious rooms with balconies facing the ocean in the main building and seven in the Jungle Villa. The Jungle Villa has a tree house vibe as the balconied rooms are built into the forest. Wellness at the hotel extends beyond gluten-free foods to the attractive spa and the extensive list of outdoor activities in the southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica.

Guest room, Cuna del Angel
Guest room, Cuna del Angel

Located in the hills above a quiet and secluded stretch south of Playa Dominical, the hotel is ideally situated for half and full day excursions for a plethora of activities including Corcovado National Park, Manuel Antonio National Park, forest hiking and canopy tours, sport fishing, snorkeling, scuba diving, horseback riding, whale and dolphin watching as well as ten nearby beaches. The front desk will help with any arrangements. Or relaxing at the hotel’s infinity pool surrounded by the jungle with the chirping of birds might be the best prescription for wellness. Active or passive, a guest will be cradled at Hotel Cuna del Angel.

View of the Pacific from Hotel Cuna del Angel
View of the Pacific from Hotel Cuna del Angel


When you go: Juan Santamaría International Airport (
SJO) is served by many airlines worldwide and within an easy 20 minute drive of downtown San Jose. Getting around: Costa Rica has an extensive inter city bus system and many tourist van options. The easiest transportation is renting a car. Costa Rica’s road system is generally in good condition.

Disclaimer: The author was a guest of Hotel Cuna del Angel, Small Distinctive Hotels, ENroute Communications and Revista Ander de Viaje. Transportation within Costa Rica was provided by Toyota Rent a Car of San Jose. A Rav4 made Costa Rica’s mountain roads safe and comfortable.

DSC_5783

 

Additional articles on Costa Rica by Marc d’Entremont:
It begins with scented hand towels
Monteverde Biological Reserve is a climate change laboratory
Cream of Pejibaye: a Costa Rican national dish
Costa Rica and the vision of Pedro Belmar
You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Original World Insights

 

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