By Ann Antkiw
Special to The Tico Times | firstname.lastname@example.org
Take an artist’s palette. Mix the verdant greens of the forest, the vivid colors of the tropical flora and the blue of the mountains beyond. Then add comfort, tranquility, compatibility with nature, culture and fine art. Now name your canvas “Monte Azul.”
This unique owner-operated getaway for lovers of nature is located in the Southern Zone, 30 minutes’ drive from San Isidro de El General, in the small village of Chimirol de Rivas. Costa Rican Carlos Rojas, a native of Cartago, east of San José, and his partner Randall Langendorfer from the U.S. city of San Francisco, purchased the 48-hectare property two years ago. Since then they have set aside 90% of the mid-elevation forest, originally a dairy farm, as a nature preserve.
“Monte Azul is a lifelong dream come true,” Rojas said. “Our many-faceted project opened last year and is committed to promoting sustainability through environmentally friendly practices, while providing guests an opportunity to relax in the utmost comfort, surrounded by nature.”
“We also offer a retreat for artists and writers (see separate story) and collaborate with the local community through educational and economic enterprises,” Langendorfer added.
The hotel’s accommodations consist of four private, spacious cottages painted in tones of terracotta, orange, yellow, green and sky-blue. The outdoor terraces overlook a stunningly landscaped garden replete with a profusion of tropical plants, including gloriously scented ylang-ylang trees. Accessed by rustic bridges spanning a gurgling stream, each cottage enjoys its own private garden area, which ends on the bank overlooking the magnificent, crystal-clear Río Chirripó. The sound of its turbulent water reverberates throughout the property as it thunders down the valley.
Each cottage offers 515 square feet of beautifully tiled living space.
“I laid every tile myself. It was extremely hard on the knees,” Langendorfer said with a chuckle.
He also designed the cottages and cedar furnishings, which were made locally. Imported deluxe mattresses, crisp linens, down-filled tropical-weight comforters, distinctive lighting, floral arrangements, a spacious bathroom and a fully equipped, modern kitchen contribute to the comfort of an elegant home.
But that’s not all; each cottage is a private gallery space, and the walls are covered with original works of art by Costa Rican artists. Many of the works were inspired by the surroundings at Monte Azul, and some were painted onsite. A catalog in the room provides information about the artists and prices of the works.
Monte Azul offers two options: accommodation including breakfast, which gives you the opportunity to cook for yourself or try the area eateries; and a full package including three meals served on the terrace of Café Blue, or you can request room service and dine in the privacy of your cottage.
Chef Donald Segura concocts some delicious, attractively presented meals using local and organic produce. On the menu are an exceptional fresh tomato soup, locally farmed tilapia, appetizers made from neighbors Katia and Wilber’s goat cheese, and Swiss-style cheeses by Tatiana and Evan. You can visit these cheese makers and take some home with you.
Lunches are a simple affair and include pasta, salads and jumbo shrimp. Breakfast is accompanied by homegrown, fresh organic coffee, and special dietary needs can be catered to. The house wine, South African Two Oceans, is available by the glass or bottle. Hotel manager Adrián Alvarado and Heidy Martínez, who waits at table, are both from the area. They speak English and have been trained to make your stay a pleasurable experience.
For those who wish to do more than relax with a good book, Monte Azul offers many options. The ideal climate means cool nights for sleeping and lovely days for hiking on the property’s private trails. Guests can also enjoy birdwatching, horseback riding, soaking in the nearby hot springs, exploring Chirripó National Park and, for the physically fit, scaling Mt. Chirripó, Costa Rica’s highest mountain at 3,820 meters (12,530 feet). Art, paper-making and culinary classes are offered, and avid birdwatchers can visit the late Alexander Skutch’s homestead, where he lived and wrote “A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica.”
All yearnings are attended to at this delightful retreat for lovers of art and nature.
Getting There, Rates, Info
By car, take the Inter-American Highway south from San José to San Isidro de El General, about three hours. Just south of town, after the bridge, take the steep uphill turnoff on the left marked by a small sign for San Gerardo and Talari Mountain Lodge. Continue 10 km to Rivas.
At the end of the paved road in Rivas, 100 meters beyond the church, follow the sign to Chirripó National Park on the right. Continue 5 km along the dirt road to Chimirol de Rivas School on your right. Pass the church on the left and the Bar Las Palmas. Approximately 1 km after the bar, turn right at the second bus shelter. There’s a sign with a “MA” logo. Cross the bridge and the main entrance is on your left. The dirt road after Rivas is rough and bumpy, but four-wheel drive isn’t necessary.
Buses leave San José for San Isidro every hour from 5:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. (MUSOC, 222-2422). A local bus connects to Rivas, or you can take a taxi.
The rate for double occupancy, including taxes and breakfast, is $192. The package rate for double occupancy, including taxes, breakfast, lunch and dinner, is $279. Smoking is prohibited on the property, as it has been designated a totally smoke-free environment.