Tacacori, five km north of Alajuela, Costa Rica
Stylishly contemporary, Xandari Resort and Spa combines an impressive ridgetop location with colorful, artistic décor and a satisfyingly sophisticated full–service spa. (And it's close to the San Jose airport!)
When California entrepreneur couple Sheryl and Charlene Brody bought themselves a coffee estate on the slopes of Poás volcano, a few kilometers north of Alajuela, they selected a ridgetop site tailor–made for a splashy hotel. Barely a 15–minute drive from San Jose's international airport, with fabulous views over the Central Valley to the distant Escazú hills, the setting is sublime. Unlike with some other hotels with such a panorama though, this one adds delight after delight to your experience.
A steep and potholed lane through coffee country deposits you at the gate, beyond which a lush Fantasia world of ferns, palms, and colorful plants slope up to a circular, stone–lined arena with a broad shallow staircase channeling up to the entrance. The arching facade is a statement to the lovely architectural simplicity that owner Sheryl — professional architect — brought to designing his own hotel. It is giddy throughout with a combination of ice–cream pastels and primary colors, the mosaic tilework and stained–glass windows combining with mango, peach and pistachio walls. Much of the vibrant modernist artwork is co–owner Charlene's; other pieces are by locals who she trained into art.
The lobby lounge is a veritable gallery of exquisite sculptures and craft pieces spilling out of the adjoining gift store. To one side, a sinuous bar with gleaming hardwood counter mirrors the curvaceous vaulted hardwood ceiling — a Xandari motif that plays throughout the property. A gift shop is stocked with quality crafts and souvenirs, and a small TV and music room proves convenient on rainy days. Open along one wall, the mezzanine lounge steps down onto a shaded and curving dining terrace offering vast views over the valley beyond a forested canyon: The setting is sublime, with mosaics and bright colors on the inside, the valley and mountains in the distance past the open terrace. Delicious health–conscious meals produced by a versatile chef make the most of fresh ingredients from the hotel's own orchard, garden and on-site farm, which includes goats.
Charlene offers art classes and yoga in a dedicated studio reached by pathways that snake downhill through the landscaped grounds. Much of the original coffee plantation has given way to newly forested areas where nature has been allowed to take over again. A staff of one dozen gardeners keeps it all in check and walking paths thread through all the vegetation, including a long steep hike to a waterfall and natural pool. You can go on your own with provided maps or go on a reasonably–priced guided walk.
Two heated lap pools are next to the original buildings, while a stunning new infinity pool has been laid out on the open ridgetop past the newer villas and proves perfect for soaking in sunsets. You can reach it via a pleasant walk through the gardens or summon a golf cart to take you. The full–service spa is a soul–soothing temptation that's staffed full–time and offers a wide range of treatments alfresco beneath thatch, many making use of local fruits and herbs. Couples can also rent a private open–air hot tub for two by the hour here.
The smallest rooms are the Primas, which are studios, and are less private than the others. They'll do, but only take one of these if everything else is booked. The rest are spacious, free-standing villas that come in various contemporary architectural styles. With their sensual rooflines and contoured sofas or two daybeds, each is a visual stunner steeped in sunlight and flooded with primary colors. Décor includes original artwork, native craft pieces, and quality Guatemalan tapestries and fabrics. All villas are positioned to maximize great views through walls of glass opening onto broad furnished verandas with lounge chairs. Each villa additionally boasts an enclosed garden, also with lounge chairs. Bathrooms beckon with their capacious circular showers enclosed by arcing mosaic-clad walls, while some also offer outdoor showers or large tubs, either looking out at a private garden through walls of glass. Sizes range from 500 to 735 square feet, with numbers 15 and 16 being the largest.
There are purposely no TVs, but units that don't share a wall with anyone have a CD player. Other amenities are extensive: robes, wet bars, fridges, coffee makers, electronic safes, complimentary snacks, and quality natural toiletries in the double-vanity baths. Other thoughtful extras include flashlights and umbrellas. The newest unit, the sprawling two-bedroom Star Villa, will certainly make you feel like a rock star. It has a living room with a huge sectional sofa, a dining area that will seat eight, a full kitchen, and a stunning view through a floor-to-ceiling wall of glass. Hand–carved wooden bedroom doors and custom artwork make this one of the most attractive city suites in the country. Thankfully WiFi was recently added to all villas. Guests who travel without a laptop of iPad and who need to check their e-mail can do so in the lobby, either using the provided computer or the wireless signal.
At 3,900 feet altitude, this resort stays temperate all year long and rooms don't require air conditioning. It is hard to imagine anyone not falling head over heels for Xandari Resort and Spa and harder still to believe how downright convenient it is to the international airport. The guest book is filled with regrets of guests who only booked one night here on the way in or out of the country, not knowing they would long for two or three more after arrival.
Note that the previous Xandari by the Pacific, by the shore at Esterillos Oeste, has been sold to new owners and changed names, but it remains a near copycat version, with the same delightful design touches and attention to detail.
Web Address: www.xandari.com
Total Number of Rooms: 24
Published rates: $220 to $655 BB with taxes