Varablanca, Costa Rica
Taking its architectural theme from its natural surrounds, this Tolkensian inspiration is the crowing glory of a waterfall–based nature theme park whose cascades and montane forests are replicated inside the walls.
Occupying a steep hillside in a valley cleaving Poás and Barva volcanoes, a one–hour drive north of San José, the Peace Lodge opened in 2003 as the second stage of La Paz Waterfall Gardens, an immensely popular man–made attraction conceived by Floridian owner Lee Banks. Centered on a series of dramatic natural cascades plunging through a forested canyon, the park features hiking trails, walk–through bird and butterfly enclosures, frog and snake exhibits, a trout–filled lake (fishing is offered), and traditional farmstead––all enfolded by velveteen jungle.
The park's success as a tour destination invited addition of a hotel, whose every element reflects the natural beauty of its surrounds. The roadside reception hall overlooks the villas built into the hillside below and accessed via stone pathways lined with Disneyesque faux–rock walls and rails. The two–story units, with their orange exteriors and tiled roofs are rather garish against the lush green surrounds. Push open the heavy wooden doors, however, and their quirky charm is overwhelming. Riverstone walls basted in tangerine stucco, plus bottle–green fabrics, and glistening hardwood floors combine to invoke the colors of tropical soil and jungle. Timber–beamed ceilings of unpolished hardwoods and huge hearths and chimneys of natural riverstone echo the theme, as do king–size four–poster beds of roughhewn timber graced by gauzy canopy drapes––a lovely romantic touch. Settle onto a raised chaise or in the two–seat rocker in front of the hearth, perhaps with a cocktail from the well–stocked minibar.
The rooms are chilly at times and the purely decorative fire and dehumidifier are merely milquetoast against the occasional chills. Fortunately, fluffy down comforters do the job once guests tuck into bed. The cable TVs are awkwardly placed at neck–craning height, but we appreciate the music CDs (and surround–sound speakers) with CDs for guests' listening pleasure. The cavernous bathrooms induce a broad smile. Clad in glazed stone underfoot, and lush with bromeliads and ferns, these skylit grottoes are a study in whimsy. Faucets resembling tiny rocks bear colored frogs––red for hot, blue for cold––while a cascade tumbles down the rock wall at the flick of a switch. You could host a party in the huge stone–lined walk–in shower in the whirlpool tub designed as a natural rock pool (deluxe rooms feature two showers and a second whirlpool tub on the balcony).
The buffet restaurant offering adequate breakfasts and lunch often fills with noisy tour groups, and the bamboo seats are back–breakers. A guests–only upstairs restaurant opens for dinner and offers a more elegant ambience for three–course prix fixe dinners, with entrees ranging from New York strip steak to a superb breaded tilapia sautéed with garlic and lime. Wines are served in generous portions.
The romantic whimsy of this hotel is best suited to couples, especially honeymooners, although conservative–minded travelers might find the faux element rather gauche. Regardless, the attractions come free to guests and provide a magnificent and educational entrée to Costa Rica's natural treasures.
Web Address: www.peacelodge.com
Total Number of Rooms: 25
Published rates: $195 to $335
Review and photos by Christopher Baker
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