Chimirol de Rivas, east of San Isidro De El General, Costa Rica
In Costa Rica’s competitive tourism industry defined by ecotourism, it is difficult for newcomers to carve a niche, even for those falling within the luxury market category. Monte Azul Boutique Hotel has achieved a distinct image for itself by adding one key ingredient to the mix: creativity.
At the foothills of Chirripó, Costa Rica’s highest mountain, is the community of Chimirol de Rivas, home to the 125-acre Monte Azul Boutique Hotel preserve. Situated in the canton of Peréz Zeledón, the hotel is three hours from San José along the Pan-American Highway south and just one hour from the Pacific coast. Three rivers provide a musical backdrop and the surrounding hills, thick with primary forest, shift from green to blue in the changing light.
A few hundred meters along a dirt road brings you to a discretely signed wooden gate which opens to a gravel parking area and lush, landscaped grounds. The staff, most of whom have been with the hotel since it broke ground in 2006, provides a warm welcome, and the hotel manager or even the owners may give you a hand with your luggage. And with the kind of welcome your favorite aunt might provide, you receive a welcome platter with homemade chevre cheese, homemade crackers, and organic, garden fresh vegetables with a glass of wine or a fruit drink. The air is sophisticated without losing that personal touch.
There are two types of guest accommodations: four casitas tucked within landscaped gardens along the boulder-strewn Chirripó River, and Casa Palo Alto which commands sweeping views of the Chirripó Valley. All guest quarters are exquisitely decorated in contemporary style and offer all of the expected amenities, from a generous assortment of toiletries to soft cotton sheets to firm pillow–top mattresses. All rooms except the North Suite have kitchenettes (the Palo Alto residence has a full kitchen), and pantry service is offered. Rooms have phones, Wi-Fi and access to typical business services such as faxing and scanning. Special touches include the double-sliding glass doors encased in wood frames; furniture designed and built on site with salvaged, recycled and certified woods; and the hand-sewn decorative pillows and duvets.
Stretching the creative element to new heights and placing the Monte Azul Boutique Hotel in a category of its own is the fact that all spaces are regularly curated with fine art by both national and international artists. Many pieces are produced in Monte Azul’s on-site artist-in-residence program and some travel to the Monte Azul Contemporary Art (MACA) gallery in New York City. Inspired by the natural surroundings and the local community, the artwork adds a new dimension to your experience. In your room, there are halogen lights to illuminate the art and a pricelist with artist biographies.
Because the public and private spaces function as galleries, they are continually changing; you can request that your room be curated with a particular artist, or you may discover new fine art pieces on a return visit. For collectors, this is a meaningful way to expand your fine art collection. For tourists, this is an opportunity to purchase something that not only holds value but speaks intimately to your experience in Costa Rica.
The most exclusive accommodation is Casa Palo Alto, located one kilometer from the hotel’s entrance up a steep dirt road. The 3,300-square-foot (310 m2) home is flanked by a two-bedroom South Suite and a North Suite. Outdoors areas include a 750-square-foot (70 m2) upper terrace lining the open and expansive indoor living area, a 150–square–foot (14 m2) lower terrace in front of the South Suite and a pool area.
Each of Casa Palo Alto’s two suites can be rented individually or with access to the indoor living area housing a fully–equipped and fully–furnished kitchen. The suites have private access when rented independently. The upper terrace is a communal space, unless the living area is reserved. The pool area and the trails around Casa Palo Alto are for hotel guests, unless the entire home is rented.
The largest and most private suite is the two–bedroom South Suite. The master bedroom has a king bed and faces floor–to–ceiling glass windows and a sliding door which opens to a private terrace. The second bedroom has a full bed and a wall–length desk. The spacious bathroom is the best the on the property with his and her sinks, a tiled, glass–enclosed shower and a sunken bathtub. The North Suite has a queen bed which also faces floor–to–ceiling windows, and a bathroom with a tiled, glass–enclosed shower. Sliding doors open up to a standing–room balcony which winds around to the upper terrace.
The four casitas, reminiscent of mid–century architecture in Palm Springs with their butterfly roofs, are accessed along two trails leading from the hotel’s parking area. Between the cool mountain air and the sloped roofs with operable windows, there is no need for air conditioning. You can also enjoy the mountain air while trying to spot some of the property’s 231 identified bird species on your casita’s large patio. Incorporating Costa Rican culture, the casitas have mosaic tiled floors typical of the early 20th century with a contemporary twist. All casitas have queen beds except Casita Naranja which has two twin beds. Casita Naranja, Amarillo and Celeste are grouped together but face different directions with attention paid to sight lines. Casita Verde is the most private and has its own access trail, and Casita Amarilla gets more morning sun.
Walking distance from the casitas is Café Blue, Monte Azul’s open–air fine dining restaurant. The venue also has lounge areas inviting relaxation and the exchange of ideas. Naturally, gastronomy is an art at Café Blue. The restaurant caters to individual preferences and prepares national and international dishes consistent with the attention to detail, the focus on quality and the emphasis on creativity apparent throughout the hotel. Dishes are seasonal and incorporate a mix of familiar and exotic flavors such as roast pork loin in a guava sauce and wax apple sorbet accompanied by chipotle–spiced chocolate balls. Service is impeccable.
Outdoor activities are at your doorstep. You can walk Monte Azul Boutique Hotel’s 125-acre preserve along seven well–maintained trails leading to waterfalls, swimming holes, coffee plantations and panoramic views. The trails are signed, so you can explore on your own or with a guide. Upon your return, you could enjoy an in–room spa treatment. Several tours can be arranged such as whitewater rafting, horseback riding, a visit to the local warm springs or to the Boruca indigenous community, among many others. You can also exercise your own creative talents with workshops on screen printing, etching, soap making and cooking, including a popular cheese making class with a local family. Most of the workshops are held in Monte Azul’s studio.
True to the company’s word, Monte Azul Boutique Hotel demonstrates a commitment to the environment and sustainable business practices. They hire and train local talent (the hotel manager started in construction), support community building events such as the local soccer team, and participate in community initiatives including the province’s fledgling recycling program. Far from isolated, Monte Azul is both part of and in and of itself a living community. This is not only a hotel for artists and writers, but also a hotel for the CEO who wants to comfortably disconnect in search of creative solutions. A microcosm of best practices infused with creativity make Monte Azul Boutique Hotel not simply a place for passive escape, but a place to incite your senses, to shift your perspective and to exercise your creative muscles.
Web Address: www.monteazulcr.com
Total number of rooms: 6
Published Rates: $190 - $1,350
Review and photos by Beverly Gallagher