Located between Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south, Costa Rica is truly a jewel of Central America. This visit was the second to this amazing country that captivated my mind, body and spirit several years ago. Although I wasn’t sure how, I was certain I was in for another amazing adventure.
WELCOME TO COSTA RICA
After just a short three and a half-hour plane ride from Houston (about five hours from both New York City and Chicago, six hours from Los Angeles and four hours from Atlanta) into San Jose, to the capital and the largest city in the central region, I was met by Walter Ramirez of Walter’s Taxi and Tours, a very friendly, cheerful and genuinely warm native who will welcome you to Costa Rica like family.
During the approximately 45-minute drive from the airport, Walter joyfully pointed out the parks, shops, restaurants and history of the small towns through which we drove, followed by the various trees, fruits, animals and more that we passed as we gently meandered up the mountain.
Along the way, the lightly cascading rain aptly punctuated the beautiful, lush, emerald, lime, pea and olive hued foliage lining both sides of the road that is so typical of the Costa Rican countryside. When it seemed as if we had ascended as high as the mountain would allow, we made a sharp turn past two massive iron gates, then made a steep, winding descent to one of the most beautiful resorts I have ever seen—the Retreat at Altos del Monte.
WELCOME TO HEAVEN
As soon as we stepped out of the van, Heather appeared—a radiant presence with stunning, natural auburn hair whose long, thick tresses had been gracefully drawn to one side and cascaded over her left shoulder.
Dressed from head to foot in a light, flowing, white cotton T-shirt and pants, sans footwear, her only adornment was a striking silver necklace with brightly colored gemstones that punctuated her beautiful, broad smile and vivacious spirit.
There is a difference between greeting someone in such a way because you know you should, or have to (for example, because that is standard hospitality industry practice), and allowing your natural authenticity—which cannot be feigned—to shine through.
As the resort’s general manager, a chef, permaculturalist (someone who maintains and cultivates agriculture by relying on self-sustaining ecosystems with renewable resources) and long-time Costa Rican resident (she is American), Heather truly embodies the Costa Rican “Pura Vida” (“Pure Life”) lifestyle. But it is immediately evident that the rest of the staff (also primarily dressed in white, which gave the retreat a heavenly feeling)—male and female, front desk to kitchen, landscaping, housekeeping, spa personnel, and so forth—embodies it as well.
Opened in March of this year, the Retreat at Altos del Monte is named after its location in Altos del Monte de Atenas, “altos del monte” meaning “the top of the mountain.”
This secluded eight-acre estate features 11 inviting, well-appointed luxury rooms, the Retreat Sanctuary Spa, fitness center, yoga house studio, teaching kitchen, outdoor saline pool with a waterfall and comfortable bench seat underneath and hot tub, an al fresco dining room and a 1,400-square-foot outdoor terrace with a gas fire pit.
Everywhere you look, the attention to detail is impressive, the decor infused with the natural subtropical elements and themes surrounding the property, coupled with eco-friendly materials and practices throughout. For example, all bath amenities and spa products are handcrafted by Raw Botanicals, a company specializing in locally made organic and biodynamic skincare, and all of the rooms have mosquito-free, pillow top mattresses with eco-friendly linens.
The primary focus is on restorative health and wellness, which appeals to a wide variety of travelers visiting from primarily, to date, North and Central America, Latin America, Europe and further afield, who are free to take part in as many, or as few, of the wellness activities here, including daily nature walks, yoga, meditation, spa treatments and cooking demonstrations.
Even though my visit was in July, there was no need for air conditioning, as the weather only reached approximately 80 degrees most days with very low humidity, and into the high 60s at night, necessitating only a pashmina to cover my shoulders. The moderate temperatures allowed me to just utilize the ceiling fan and the fresh air wafting through the six-foot wide, screened sliding glass windows nearly 24/7 in my room, which opened onto a private stone walkway.
When I awoke each morning, I instantly gazed beyond the main house and pool to take in the incredible views of the surrounding mountainous landscape and glimpses of the Pacific Ocean, located approximately 50 miles away in the distance.
The resort’s boutique size guarantees that the maximum 26 guests—individuals, couples and small family reunions and groups—will experience an intimate ambiance for pure relaxation. Oh, and by the way, ladies, leave your bras, Spanx, makeup, jewelry and anything else besides a pair of tennis shoes and flip-flops at home. Gents, drop your machismo pretenses and preconceived notions of a “girlie place.” I promise that your visit here will be the first step toward the best, rest of your life.
A CLOSER LOOK AT HEAVEN
In part two of this feature series, we’ll learn more about the resort’s complete health and wellness focus, its amazing culinary delights and how I found a literal “heaven on Earth.”
Lysa Allman Baldwin is a freelance writer and the publisher and editor of Amazing Escapades, featuring “adventures for the mind, bod and belly” (www.amazingescapades.com).