Tag Archives: Costa Rica

Peace, waterfalls and trout in Costa Rica’s Cloud Forest

Leaving the sprawling modern city of Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose, Maurice Aymerich, director Small Distinctive Hotels and my guide throughout my stay in Costa Rica, deftly maneuvered the Toyota Rav4 on the winding roads as we ascended into the Cloud Forest. I was pleased I didn’t have to drive or else my field of vision would have been narrowed concentrating on the well paved but narrow mountain roads on our way to La Paz Waterfall Gardens. Instead I could marvel at the panorama of the receding Central Valley as we entered the lush landscape for which this bio-diverse Central American nation is justifiably famous.

a Cloud Forest flower
a Cloud Forest flower

Costa Rica is a landmass equal to 0.03% of the Earth, about 20,000 square miles – the size of Vermont – but accounts for over 6% of the globe’s biodiversity. Just one hour from San Jose the emerald green mountain slopes are thick with coffee plants. Costa Rica leads world coffee production per acre because two trees are planted together.

strawberries & white cheese
strawberries & white cheese

Herds of cows and goats graze wrapped in swirls of misty clouds. Vendors selling large plump strawberries and the country’s ubiquitous balls of fresh mozzarella-like white cheese line village roads.

plants at Parc National Volcan Poas
plants at Parc National Volcan Poas
Volcan Poas
Volcan Poas

We stopped first at one of Costa Rica’s 27 national parks, which along with private wildlife and biological reserves encompasses nearly a third of the country – the largest percentage of protected national land on Earth. Central America is a seismically potent part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, and Parc National Volcan Poas encompasses one of Costa Rica’s six active volcanoes. Exacerbated by the temperature differential of the venting volcano, the crater is often shrouded in mist that wafts up the steep walls of the caldera. Yet when the mist parts mineral rich turquoise lakes are visible.

Crafts at the Visitor Center Parc National Volcan Poas
Crafts at the Visitor Center Parc National Volcan Poas

The spacious modern visitor center at Parc National Volcan Poas has fine educational exhibits of the surrounding ecology. The gift shop displays top quality pottery and woodwork from some of Costa Rica’s most famous artists. I was particularly taken with the ingenious creations made from recycled materials such as a life-size toucan crafted from a single automobile tire.

toucan crafted from a single recycled automobile tire with carved wood beak
toucan crafted from a single recycled automobile tire with carved wood beak

Our objective for the day was a visit to the privately owned La Paz Waterfall Gardens and Peace Lodge – one of the Small Distinctive Hotels of Costa Rica. Florida entrepreneur Lee Banks purchased this property with its five spectacular waterfalls with the intention of preserving its pristine biosphere. Visitors take self-guided tours along several miles of well-designed wooden walkways through the hills, along the La Paz River providing numerous vistas of the spectacular falls.

La Paz Waterfall Gardens
La Paz Waterfall Gardens

Within the gardens is a large butterfly house with a colorful collection of over 4,000 butterflies from 40 species native to this mile-high environment – only a small portion of Costa Rica’s over 1,200 species. The butterfly conservatory is part of an educational heritage village of pre-industrial rural life.

In the butterfly conservatory, La Paz Waterfall Gardens
In the butterfly conservatory, La Paz Waterfall Gardens

The visitor center complex is the gateway to the gardens and Peace Lodge. The architectural integration of the structures with their native wood and stone mirrors the surrounding environment. Like all Small Distinctive Hotels, the quality of the cuisine matched the beauty of the surroundings.

(left)Vanessa Gonzalez & (right)Executive Chef Diego Seitour
(left)Vanessa Gonzalez & (right)Executive Chef Diego Seitour

Lunch with Vanessa Gonzalez, restaurant manager, and Executive Chef Diego Seitour highlighted the quality of local ingredients and the creativity of Costa Rican talent. Diego’s French grandfather and Argentine born father were chefs. His Spanish mother added an additional culinary insight to his environment. Diego was born in Costa Rica and studied culinary arts in France and Costa Rica but worked in restaurants since he was a boy. I found this mix of talents and culinary backgrounds common in Costa Rica.

sea bass ceviche
sea bass ceviche

Lunch started with a sea bass ceviche. The paper-thin slices of sea bass were garnished with pajibaye – the iconic steamed bright orange Costa Rican fruit of the Peach Palm tree – and napped with a lime, orange juice and olive oil dressing that was bright and intense. Diego adds meat bones to the broth when simmering the pajibaye to provide a depth of flavor uncommon when the fruit is simply cooked in water.

trout Napoleon
trout Napoleon

Surrounding the base of a waterfall adjacent to the swimming pool at Peace Lodge is a large free form trout pond fed by the La Paz River. Chef Seitour uses the organically farmed trout in his menus. His impressive trout Napoleon is a pair of fillets sandwiched between grilled onions and eggplant resting on risotto cakes that have been pan seared. The accompanying vegetables and rice have a smoky flavor, which gives depth to the trout. The fish is glazed with a red and yellow pepper jam.

Papaya Curry soup
Papaya Curry soup

Papaya and Curry Soup blends the natural sweetness of papaya with the spice of curry creating a warm flavored soup.

Diego has assembled an impressive collection of craft beers for Peace Lodge. A local Escalante brew was dark and strong with a distinct hint of chocolate followed by coffee notes that worked well with the warm tones of the soup. Famed Spanish chef Ferran Adrià created Estrella Damm Inedit for Barcelona based Damm S.A. that had strong citrus overtones with a light and effervescent mouth feel. It paired well with both fish dishes.

Peace Lodge
Peace Lodge

Hugging the hillside, the village-like complex of 18 rooms and suites of Peace Lodge are unique. Each is individually designed to integrate the Cloud Forest into the room while providing maximum privacy. Large log beds, stone gas fireplaces – Peace Lodge is 5,300 feet elevation – plant infused bathrooms with their own waterfalls and hot tubs on private patios and balconies are only a few of the serine elements that make Peace Lodge a sought after refuge and honeymoon haven.

Peace Lodge
Peace Lodge

I found it unique that Peace Lodge suggests no more than a three day stay. The expressed purpose is to encourage guests to explore the rest of Costa Rica. After over a week at five Small Distinctive Hotels I was no longer surprised at this sentiment, which seems to run counter to maximizing profits. What makes the Costa Rican experience memorable is the obvious pride both the owners of these beautiful hotels and ordinary citizens from scientist to street vendors have for their peaceful nation and their eagerness to share it with visitors.

trout pond & the swimming pool at Peace Lodge
trout pond & the swimming pool at Peace Lodge

When you go: Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) is served by many airlines worldwide and is within an easy 20 minute drive to downtown San Jose and an hour to La Paz Waterfall Gardens/Peace Lodge

Disclaimer: The author was a guest of 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.

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
Villa Caletas: luxury with a conscience in Costa Rica
Exquisite Pacific Bisque at the El Faro Hotel, Costa Rica

 

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

Hellenic News of America

Original World Insights

 

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Exquisite Pacific Bisque at the El Faro Hotel, Costa Rica

El Faro Seafood Bisque
El Faro Seafood Bisque

Hotel El Faro’s Executive Chef Ali Garita Fonesta makes the finest seafood bisque that I as a chef journalist has ever tasted in all my international travels. Besides the talent necessary to create such a delectable dish, location to the freshest fish and seafood is essential. Quepos on Costa Rica’s central Pacific Coast is that ideal location.

fish tacos El FaroThe Pacific Ocean coastline of Costa Rica is a veritable super market for some of the freshest sustainable seafood available. Costa Rica has strict laws governing commercial fishing – catch and release only for sports fishing.

Only forty some miles south of Costa Rica’s capital of San Jose, the Central Pacific Coast has been popular with locals and expats for decades. Besides the warm water of Manuel Antonio National Park and the shrikes of the holler monkey, Quepos is a quintessential beach town. Lush vegetation surrounds a jumble of beach houses, B & Bs, hotels, restaurants and bars.

Beach at Manuel Antonio National Park
Beach at Manuel Antonio National Park
El Faro, lighthouse, off Quepos, Costa Rica
El Faro, lighthouse, off Quepos, Costa Rica

From the waterfront the landscape rises dramatically up tropical forested hills. Sitting high up the hills is Costa Rica’s unique shipping container Hotel El Faro. From every balcony is a view of the dramatic swimming pool and its namesake the El Faro (lighthouse) clearly visible on its small rock island in the harbor.

Hotel El Faro
Hotel El Faro

The use of shipping containers as unique modular housing, given the tiny house movement, is in line with Costa Rica’s drive for ecologically sensitive living. The repurposed containers provide all the amenities any guest would desire. Sizes range from compact to suites with efficiency kitchens.

stream at El Faro
stream at El Faro

Although the location is positioned on a dramatically steep location the hotel provides transport from its reception area and parking lot to the hotel rooms. The reception area is at the base of an impressive tropical plant and rock landscaped stream that flows from the hotel high on the hill. It’s a favorite habitat for Costa Rica’s impressive garrobo lizards which are virtual pets of the El Faro.

Yet it’s the restaurant that’s the El Faro’s most impressive feature. Under the talented hands of Chef Ali Garita Fonseca this open air venue at the edge of the hotel’s infinity pool is ideal. The location is perfect and the cuisine equals the view. All the selections I sampled were superb, but the Pacific Seafood Bisque was outstanding.

garrobo lizards at El Faro
garrobo lizards at El Faro

Chef Ali Garita Fonseca’s El Faro Seafood Bisque – 2 to 4 servings depending if it’s a first course or the entrée.

Notes: This is not inexpensive for the average North American but well worth the cost, time and effort. Although a cook can substitute packaged seafood stock, the dish’s unique flavor begins with a home made fish stock. Since it’s best to purchase a whole small red snapper simply ask the fish monger to give you the head and tail after filleting the fish.

Ingredients:

For the fish stock:

  • Head and tail of a filleted red snapper or other firm white  fish
  • medium onion peeled and chopped
  • 2 to 3 stalks of fresh celery
  • small bunch of rinsed cilantro
  • 1 to 2 chopped tomatoes
  • 1 peeled carrot
  • 6 cups cold water
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

  1. Add all the ingredients to a pot and cover with the cold water. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for 40 to 60 minutes. Strain and reserve the stock. Discard the solids.

Soup ingredients:

  • 4 tablespoons sweet butter
  • 1 large sweet bell green pepper chopped
  • 1 large chopped onion
  • 4 chopped celery stalks
  • 4 garlic cloves chopped
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 4 cups fish stock
  • 2 ounces chives chopped
  • 1 ounce of fresh chopped cilantro
  • 4 ounces shrimp in the shell
  • 8 to 12 ounces of red snapper fillets or other firm white fish
  • 4 ounces of cleaned clams in the shell
  • 4 ounces of cleaned mussels.
  • 8 ounces of lump crab meat or 16 ounces of crab legs in the shell
  • 6 ounces of sliced octopus – tubes &/or tenticles
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation

  1. Melt the butter in a large soup pot. Add the peppers, onion, celery and gently cook for 5 to 8 minutes until soft but not browned.
  2. Add the white wine, fish stock and herbs. Bring to a gentle simmer.
  3. Add all the fish and seafood. Cover and gently simmer for 5 to 8 minutes or until the clams and mussels open.

You may want to garnish the bisque with additions of steamed rice, common in Hispanic cuisine, and spritzes of fresh lime.

El Faro restaurant & pool
El Faro restaurant & pool

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.

Disclaimer: The author was a guest of Hotel El Faro,  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.

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
Villa Caletas: luxury with a conscience in Costa Rica

 

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

Hellenic News of America

Original World Insights

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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

 

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

Hellenic News of America

Original World Insights

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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

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Costa Rica and the vision of Pedro Belmar

“We’ve grown smaller,” Pedro Belmar said quietly as we sampled the crisp organic kale with Parmesan tapas. That would not ordinarily be a hotel’s best business plan, but as a Small Distinctive Hotel of Costa Rica, the Hotel Belmar strives to reduce its carbon footprint while at the same time expanding its hospitality. That sentiment has greater resonance coming from a second generation heir to a hotel that has his name on everything.

craft cocktails at Hotel Belmar, Monteverde, Costa Rica
craft cocktails at Hotel Belmar, Monteverde, Costa Rica

A pleasant reminder of Pedro Belmar’s vision for the new look of success is as close as the hotel’s La Chispa cocktail. It’s firmly rooted in the forest and the 21st century cocktail revolution.

  • cedar pine needle smoke
  • premium Sloane’s Gin
  • black tea syrup
  • fresh lime

Crushed ice is swirled in a cocktail glass. Local dry cedar pine needles on a flameproof dish are lit with a torch. Discard the ice and invert the glass over the flame which should extinguish immediately and rest it on the needles capturing the smoke. The gin, syrup and lime are stirred in crushed ice. Upright the glass and strain the cocktail into the captured smoke.

Hotel Belmar (main building), Monteverde, Costa Rica
Hotel Belmar (main building), Monteverde, Costa Rica

Sipping a smoky cedar scented La Chispa ensconced in the all-cedar Hotel Belmar overlooking the cloud forest tumbling down to the Gulf of Nicoya is an expression of “growing smaller.” The black tea syrup was made from ingredients in the Hotel Belmar’s organic garden as well as fresh limes. The cedar pine needles are on site. The gin may be imported, but the new craft cocktail menu anchors the Hotel Belmar’s commitment to sustainable growth and 21st century eco-luxe travel.

Cloud Forest, Costa Rica
Cloud Forest, Costa Rica

When his parents, Pedro and Vera Belmar, opened their home as a bed and breakfast in 1985 in the heart of the country’s fabled Cloud Forest, Monteverde was a remote hamlet among lush subsistence farms. Located 85 miles northwest from the capital at San Jose, backpackers and naturalists exploring the cloud forests were the area’s first tourists. Isolation and climate conditions favorable for a plethora of unique indigenous flora and fauna helped Monteverde develop a mystic for natural wellness.

With nary a paved road to what is recognized today as a biological treasure, travelers to the cloud forest grew from just backpackers to seekers of tranquility with comfort. The 13 room all-cedar Hotel Belmar main building is Pedro and Vera’s homage to a love of alpine architecture. The extensive amount of cedar wood made opening a wood shop on site a logical decision. Handling all the work for hotel maintenance, it made sense for the wood shop to design and craft designated tableware for both the dining room and bar such as the sectional plate for the craft beer and tapas tasting.

Suite the Chalet, Hotel Belmar
Suite the Chalet, Hotel Belmar

Under the second generation the past five years, Pedro, Jr, and his sister have renovated the hotel and transformed the original home into the sleek wood and glass nine room Chalet. The Chalet is the center of the hotel’s wellness program, spa services and organic juice and tea bar. The juices are made from fruits and vegetables grown on site.

Organic garden, Hotel Belmar
Organic garden, Hotel Belmar

On eight cultivated acres at the nearby Belmar family farm and the compact but expanding hotel organic garden, chickens for eggs, coffee, dairy, sugar cane, bananas, avocados, curly endive, lettuces, kale, watercress as well as sunflowers, nasturtiums, fennel, amaranth seeds and dozens more items supply the hotel’s Celajes Restaurant.

Smoke house, Hotel Belmar
Smoke house, Hotel Belmar

A smoke house made from recycled materials smokes cheese, bacon and churresso sausage with the wood shop supplying the cedar chips. Plans are to grow mushrooms using the farm’s coffee hulls and natural compost.

Methane gas is collected for kitchen use through the hotel’s biological water filtration system. The system uses no energy yet produces methane, which is stored in a tank for the kitchen. Clean water is returned to the mountain stream in exchange for energy.

Gulf of Nicoya, Hotel Belmar
Gulf of Nicoya, Hotel Belmar

“My parents had the ideas,” says soft spoken Pedro taking little credit for the Hotel Belmar’s successful transition into a 21st century Small Distinctive Hotels retreat that consistently achieves Costa Rica’s highest awards for sustainable tourism. Knowing that the caché of Monteverde and the Cloud Forest is the region’s draw, Pedro wants to position the Celajes Restaurant and bar as the hotel’s unique attraction. It starts with the view: located on the main lobby floor, the spacious Celajes Restaurant and bar commands a sweeping vista of the forest, mountains and Gulf of Nicoya far below.

Bar ingredients from the organic garden
Bar ingredients from the organic garden

The bar reaches deep into the hotel’s organic garden for unique flavors to combine with premium sprits. Bitters and syrups are house made from reduced stout, coffee, eucuplytos and garden plants such as palo santo, a lemony scented herb that has been burned in South America to cleanse spaces of contrarian spirits – like sage. Room mini bar options include excellent house bottled Hotel Belmar cocktails.

Roberto Saenz is the Hotel Belmar’s brew master. The compact brewery just down the hill from the main hotel building was created using recycled equipment. All bottling is done on site. An inventive beer and food tasting is offered to guests at the bar or after the brewery tour.

Beer & tapas tasting on designated cedar plates
Beer & tapas tasting on designated cedar plates

The Aura Pale Ale was light with a refreshing hint of citrus and paired well with veggie ceviche: chiote, green bananas, cilantro and lime were fresh and tangy on a small tortilla. The dark, earthy hops of Dos Maros IPA melded with the rich meat of house smoked churesso. A creamy Stout had a great vanilla nose and a lingering molasses flavor. Coffee and chocolate notes in the stout blended well with smoky and lightly candied house made bacon. The small batch brews change often so pairing combinations will vary – that’s fun.

The freshness of both the ingredients and artistry of Celajes Restaurant does not disappoint. Breakfast can include a coconut milk and yogurt with chia seeds, fruit, tarragon and basil accompanied by house made granola. A lunch of beef carpaccio was a visually stunning platter of ultra thin slices of raw beef napped with a caper vinaigrette.

Beef carpaccio, Hotel Belmar
Beef carpaccio, Hotel Belmar

At dinner house baked bread is served with chimichuri sauce harkening back to Pedro, Sr, Chilean roots. Roasted beets, micro greens, grilled carrots, fennel flowers, basil, sunflower seeds with a yogurt dijon vinaigrette made a colorful salad. Beef tenderloin was seasoned with soy sauce, lemon juice, cilantro and fennel flowers. Wild sea bass was gently poached in butter. The perfume of a light dessert of verbana water, lavender flowers, tarragon, tropical fruit and guanabanas sorbet linked the dinner to the scents of a Cloud Forest evening.

The ethos of Hotel Belmar and of all Small Distinctive Hotels of Costa Rica is to succeed by taking less from the Earth. What is taken must be sustainable and is often delicious. Pedro Belmar and his diverse staff enhance the guest experience by living the true meaning of less is more.

Verbana water, lavender flowers, tarragon, tropical fruit and guanabanas sorbet
Verbana water, lavender flowers, tarragon, tropical fruit and guanabanas sorbet

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 3 hours to Monteverde. 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 the Hotel Belmar, 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, especially the few unpaved, safe and comfortable.

Hot tub, Hotel Belmar
Hot tub, Hotel Belmar
Additional articles on Costa Rica by Marc d’Entremont:
It begins with scented hand towels
Cream of Pejibaye: a Costa Rican national dish
Cuna del Angel is discretely gluten-free in Costa Rica
Monteverde Biological Reserve is a climate change laboratory
You can read all my articles and subscribe to my Examiner columns at:

Hellenic News of America

Original World Insights

 

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It begins with scented hand towels

La Paz Waterfall Gardens at Peace Lodge
La Paz Waterfall Gardens at Peace Lodge

It begins with refreshing, moist hand towels scented with lemon grass and glasses of chilled passion fruit juice upon entering the lobby. A visitor becomes a connoisseur of this refreshing amusebouche that teases and soothes the senses. Scented hand towels and exotic juice blends transition the visitor from the tropical humidity of Costa Rica’s lush countryside to an enclave of tranquility that is a Small Distinctive Hotel.

Nine boutique hotels, each averaging fewer than 50 rooms, are members of the Small Distinctive Hotels of Costa Rica. Each is privately owned, several in the second generation, unique in architecture and setting, luxurious with fine dinning and backstories as distinctive as the properties. The amusebouche – the tease – is that all this comfort helps others; each property visited touched the human side in unexpected ways.

Hotel Belmar – the burden of a name

Hotel Belmar, Monteverde, Costa Rica
Hotel Belmar, Monteverde, Costa Rica

Craft cocktails are not usually associated with the world famous natural wonders of the Montverde cloud forests of Costa Rica. Quakers, cows, hostels and hikers come to mind first. But when you’re Pedro Belmar, second-generation general manager of a famous family mountain retreat, continued success requires thinking out of the box. Or in this case nothing boxed.

In the Belmar’s La Chispa cocktail the refreshing, earthy aromas of the rain forests are recreated.

  • premium Sloane’s Gin
  • black tea syrup made from the hotel’s organic garden
  • cedar pine needle smoke
  • fresh lime

Crushed ice quickly wets a cocktail glass, as local dry cedar pine needles are lite with a torch. Quickly the glass is inverted over the flame – should extinguish immediately – and rest on the needles capturing the smoke. The cocktail is mixed. Upright the glass and pour into the captured smoke.

bar ingredients from Hotel Belmar organic garden
bar ingredients from Hotel Belmar organic garden

Sipping a smoky cedar scented La Chispa ensconced in the all-cedar Hotel Belmar overlooking forests tumbling down to the Gulf of Nicoya is all a tease – a visual amuse-bouche. It’s the forerunner that everything good for the guest at a Small Distinctive Hotel should be good and sustainable for 21st century Costa Rica. It should be at your fingertips. “We’re growing smaller,” Pedro  Belmar said with a faint smile, expressing a vision for the new look of success.

Hotel Grano de Oro and the House of Light

A private guest room garden Hotel Grano de Oro
A private guest room garden Hotel Grano de Oro

A blend of old, restoration and cutting edge, Hotel and Restaurant Grano de Oro is firmly established as San Jose’s premiere property. Yet it’s very design from the restoration of a classic Victorian colonial early 20th century mansion was to maintain the hospitality extended to houseguests in a spacious urban home. With understated elegance and graceful service, the exquisite cuisine of Executive Chef Francis Canal Bardot, has set the standard for three meals a day for a quarter century at Grano de Oro and San Jose. Hidden gardens, art and the soothing sound of water fountains follow even into the rooms. A quiet private garden patio with fountain in room six was an opportunity to discover Casa Luz.

Nearly 20 years ago Grano de Oro founders 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 Hotel Grano del Oro  knowing a portion of profits help support a house of light.

Peace Lodge – inside the Cloud Forest

Peace LodgeOf course there’s a tropical garden with stone waterfall shower in the skylight ceilinged bath of the guest suite at Peach Lodge. After all it’s nestled within La Paz Waterfall Gardens. In 18 large individually decorated suites, guests luxuriate in river stone hot tubs on plant-bedecked balconies and within private courtyards. Rooms with massive wood honed beds and river stone gas fireplaces open onto views of waterfalls and meandering free-formed trout ponds all designed to make you resign the tensions of the day – the trout may appear on the menu as a real amuse-bouche.

Peace Lodge is an integral component of the privately owned La Paz Waterfall Garden, both the visions of Florida entrepreneur Lee Banks, which protects a plethora of local fauna and animals in this area of the forests and encompasses five stunning waterfalls. Peace Lodge and La Paz Waterfall Gardens are on-going eco-tourism success stories with exciting culinary news forthcoming.

Cuna del Angel – discretely guarding your health

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

It all starts with the bread. It’s gluten free. It tastes good. It’s whole grain bread with quality organic ingredients prepared by someone who understands proper techniques as in all good cooking and baking.

At Hotel Cuna del Angel, besides practicality due to a family member’s celiac disease, Tom York has every reason to prefer that his restaurant serve only organically grown and produced foods 100% gluten, GMO, and hormone free. Tom has been a devotee of healthy living spanning a decades long career. Many ingredients come from Tom’s own farm, and much of everything else is locally sourced.

Yet the tease is that a guest would never know their health is being guarded unless the menu is read in detail. Dishes from the classic continental repertoire such as flambé mango on vanilla sorbet and fresh snook with a creamy basil sauce are all components of a classic up-scale menu nutritionally balanced. The soft ambient lighting in the open walled palapa dining room overlooking the jungle and Pacific Ocean certainly are digestives in themselves. That’s just one part, as readers will discover in upcoming articles, Tom plays in helping to preserve this cradle of the Angel.

infinity pool at Villa Caletas
infinity pool at Villa Caletas

Villa Caletas – gazing into infinity

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 multi building hotel, restaurants and spa complex of Villa Caletas and the Zephyr Palace emerged over a decade. A fusion of river stone castle and tropical Victorian, the 50 rooms range from stunning to awe inspiring.

Sunset at Hotel Villa Caletas
Sunset at Hotel Villa Caletas

Sunsets from the amphitheater are legendary, and views encompass forested hills and the Gulf of Nicoya from many angles. Yet those beautiful hills required total reforestation just a decade ago due to overgrazing. The lush peaks of today were barren, rocky and eroding into the clear Pacific below. Ecological restoration is ongoing and Villa Caletas spearheads major reforestation projects in the region.

That’s why the many infinity pools dotting the complex become a metaphor for the group of Small Distinctive Hotels owners, managers and chefs this journalist interviewed during an eight-day tour. They were all rooted in reality, but liked to tease. My upcoming articles will let you in on some amuse-bouche recipes – the visions they see gazing into infinity.

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 toursit 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 Small Distinctive Hotels, ENroute Communications and Revista Ander de Viaje.

Transportation within Costa Rica provided by Toyota Rent a Car of San Jose. A Rav4 made Costa Rica’s mountain roads, especially the few unpaved, safe and comfortable.

Chef Francis Canal Bardot cream of pejibaye soup, hotel and restaurant Grano de Oro, San Jose
Chef Francis Canal Bardot cream of pejibaye soup, hotel and restaurant Grano de Oro, San Jose

 

Additional articles on Costa Rica by Marc d’Entremont:
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
Villa Caletas: luxury with a conscience in Costa Rica
Exquisite Pacific Bisque at the El Faro Hotel, Costa Rica
Peace, waterfalls and trout in Costa Rica’s Cloud Forest

 

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

Hellenic News of America

Original World Insights

 

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