Santa Barbara de Heredia
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The Ark Herb Farm (tel. 506/2239-2111, www.arkherbfarm.com, 8 a.m.–4 p.m. Mon.–Sat. by appointment, $12), 2.5 kilometers above Santa Barbara de Heredia, covers seven hectares of tranquil gardens on the lower slopes of Barva. More than 400 varieties of medicinal herbs, shrubs, and trees from around the world are grown here, mostly for export to North America. Another 600 species are grown in the garden. Owners “Tommy” and Patricia Thomas offer fascinating one-hour tours (by appointment) that will leave you enthralled.
A perfect complement, or alternative, to Café Britt is the Finca Rosa Blanca Organic Coffee Tour, at Finca Rosa Blanca Coffee Plantation & Inn (tel. 506/2269-9392, www.fincarosablanca.com), a 14-hectare sustainable organic coffee estate that produces solely for use at the eponymous hotel. Tours are led by acclaimed barista Leo Vergnani, one of Costa Rica’s most knowledgeable coffee experts. Leo is also a tremendous orator who infuses his presentations with vitality and fascinating lore. You can even participate in the coffee harvest, October–January. The finca has a stable for horseback rides.
In 2010, the luxurious La Catalina Hotel & Suites (tel. 506/2269-7445, www.lacatalinasuites.com, from $264 all-inclusive) became a clothing-optional, adults-only resort for open-minded guests. Located in Birrí, it’s set in beautiful landscaped grounds with ponds and offers rooms, studios, and one- and two-bedroom suites, all elegantly furnished in Edwardian style. The dining room doubles as a bar and library, and there’s a gym, spa, and swimming pool. It offers single women a miserly 10 percent discount, plus free manicures and pedicures. (It also goes under the name Hotel Desire.)
Imagine if Gaudí and Frank Lloyd Wright had combined their talents and visions; the result might be an architectural stunner as eclectic and electrifying as Finca Rosa Blanca Coffee Plantation & Inn (tel. 506/2269-9392, www.fincarosablanca.com, from $240 s/d low season, from $290 s/d high season). Inspired by Gaudí’s architectonics and the Santa Fe style, the family-run Rosa Blanca is one of Costa Rica’s preeminent boutique hotels.
The ecologically sensitive hotel was the first hotel in the nation to earn a perfect 100 percent in the Certification for Sustainable Tourism awards. Its hillside position amid six hectares of coffee and orchards one kilometer northeast of Santa Barbara de Heredia offers romantic vistas. The focal point is a circular atrium lounge with wraparound sofas and an open-hearth fireplace that resembles a mushroom. The whole is contrived by the genius of architect Francisco Rojas in a flurry of voluptuous curves and finely crafted hardwoods.
The place is like a museum, with imaginative and tasteful statuettes, prints, and New Mexican artifacts in every delightful nook and cranny. Tended by owners Glenn and Teri Jampol, who moved from New York in 1985, it has 11 gorgeous junior suites and two master suites in the main house (all with WiFi), and four villas. Each room is individually themed and offers luxurious pillow-top mattresses, down duvets, and a whirlpool tub; most are named for their trompe l’oeil landscapes.
The honeymoon suite has a bathroom with walls painted to resemble a tropical rainforest, with water that tumbles down a rocky cascade into the fathoms-deep tub shaped liked a natural pool; and a hardwood spiral staircase—each step shaped like a petal—twists up to a rotunda bedroom with a canopied bed and wraparound windows.
There is a horizon swimming pool fed by a cascade, plus a hot tub, Internet access, a library, and a stable for guided horseback rides ($45 pp, two-hour minimum). The Jampols’ former home is now the gourmet El Tigre Vestido (11 a.m.–7 p.m. Mon.–Sat. or by reservation) restaurant and a full-service spa. The coffee-estate tour is a must. Rates include full American breakfast.
Restaurante El Tigre Vestido (7 a.m.–10 p.m. daily by reservation only), set above coffee fields at Finca Rosa Blanca Coffee Plantation & Inn, serves superb fare, including gourmet four-course dinners using organic estate-grown produce. Breakfasts include tropical fruit arepas (pancakes, $8) and homemade granola ($5). Lunches such as Central American pupusas are served on a huge banana leaf. Leave room for the homemade ice cream. The Latin fusion menu, prepared by world-famous chef Rodrigo Nuñez, includes squash soup ($8), mountain trout on a ragout of saffron sweet corn ($15), and pork loin with crisp leeks and coffee sauce ($20). Choose to eat in the stylish indoors or on a lovely shaded deck with views over San José. It has a small yet sophisticated lounge-bar with leather seats and flat-screen TV.
It could be the most fun you’ve had at a restaurant in eons, so do plan on dining at La Luna de Valencia (tel. 506/2269-6665, www.lallunadevalencia.com, 7–10 p.m. Thurs., noon–10 p.m. Fri.–Sat., noon–5 p.m. Sun., closed mid-Dec.–mid-Jan.), an informal Spanish restaurant at San Pedro de Barva, between Barva and Santa Barbara de Heredia. It boasts heaps of colorful flavor, much thanks to the ebullient and eccentric Catalan owner, Vicente Aguilar. The setting is a charming centenary building with a rustic thatched extension out back. They serve a killer sangría to accompany flavorful Spanish dishes. For appetizers, try the gazpacho ($6) or octopus in wine ($7.50). For a main course, you simply must try a paella, especially the seafood paella ($9.50). End with a carajillo house café with various liqueurs. Go for the flamenco every first Sunday of the month, and live music every Friday and Saturday nights. And, boy, can Vicente sing!
The Oky Delishop (tel. 506/2263-6633, 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Mon.–Sat.), in Barva, is a delightful deli, whose owner, Oky María Numez, also sells delicious homemade chocolates.
Getting to Santa Barbara de Heredia
Buses depart Heredia for Barva from Calle Central, Avenidas 1/3. A bus for Santa Barbara de Heredia departs Heredia from Avenida 1, Calles 1/3, every 15 minutes Monday–Friday. From Heredia, Calle Central leads north to Barva, where you turn left at the plaza and head straight, westward, for Santa Barbara de Heredia.
© Christopher P. Baker from Moon Costa Rica, 8th Edition