IF you’re looking to experience the mystical serenity of the cloud forest without the long haul up rough roads to Monteverde, in north-central Costa Rica, Villa Blanca Cloud Forest Hotel may be the getaway spot for you. Nestled in the Los Angeles Cloud Forest private biological reserve, 18 kilometers from the coffee town of San Ramón and about two hours from San José, Villa Blanca delivers luxury alongside nature, while maintaining traditional Tico touches.In its brochure, the hotel promises: “You’ll find yourself unwinding. Slowing down. Slipping back to another time.” It’s true that the cloud forest’s quietness and misty gray skies have a calming effect on visitors.Villa Blanca’s ambience is more reminiscent of a retreat center than a hotel. You won’t find a rowdy bar or dance floor; what you will find are guests sipping coffee on rocking chairs, gazing out at the mountains, reading on the lobby’s inviting leather couches or exploring the trails that wind around the 300-acre property.THIRTY-four luxury bungalows are dotted around the well-landscaped hillside grounds, each with its own private trail leading up to the entrance. Designed in the style of traditional casitas, the bungalows appear simple from the outside, with their blue and white stucco and shingle roofs.Once inside, you see that although the bungalows are in the midst of the forest, a stay at Villa Blanca is by no means roughing it. Each bungalow is accented with tile, plush bedding, a fireplace and a ceiling made of sugarcane stalks.Several large windows create the feeling of being engulfed by the cloud forest’s flora and fauna, and you may even hear a creature run across the roof during the night. Closing the shutters is optional, as hotel managers promise the rooms have total privacy – you can even take in the scenery from the shower.Rooms range from superior bungalows with either one king-size bed or two full-size beds, to deluxe bungalows with a small living area, to honeymoon suites complete with Jacuzzi. Rooms range from $157-204 per night including taxes during the high season (Nov. 15-April 30) and $140-180 during the low season (May 1-Nov. 14).HAVING opened in December, Villa Blanca is the newest addition to the Green Hotels of Costa Rica company and the little sister of the popular Sí Como No hotel in Manuel Antonio, on the central Pacific coast. “I was looking for a sister property to Sí Como No, a complement for clients to experience the best of both worlds: the beach and the cloud forest,” said Green Hotels owner Jim Damalas.Like Sí Como No, Villa Blanca adheres to the Green Hotels philosophy of environmentally sustainable tourism. Signs in the bungalows remind guests to turn off lights when they leave, and only biodegradable products are used for laundry and cleaning. The property was originally owned by former President Rodrigo Carazo (1978- 82) and his wife Estrella. Remnants of their time here include the Mariana wedding chapel, a gift from Carazo to his wife on their 50th wedding anniversary. Guests can walk up the trail leading to the chapel and check out the ceiling, made from 840 tiles hand-painted with images from Costa Rica’s Catholic tradition and folklore.TO educate themselves about the cloud forest’s diverse species of plants and animals, guests can take one of Villa Blanca’s several guided nature walks down a one-kilometer path through the forest. A nocturnal walk is timed so guests can see frogs, snakes, insects and owls as they come out to play, and a quetzal tour goes to nearby Azahar Peak for a chance at a glimpse of these colorful birds in flight.Those looking for a more adventurous way to see nature can zip-line through the clouds from tree to tree on a canopy tour, or go horseback riding through the surrounding pasturelands.To encourage the unwinding and relaxing that is the premise behind Villa Blanca, the full-service Serenity Spa offers various types of massages, facials and aromatherapy and specialty treatments. A gym and pool are also in the works, expected to be constructed next year.The hotel’s restaurant, El Sendero, serves up fancy versions of traditional Costa Rican fare, as well as fresh seafood with eccentric accents and samplings from Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Panama. Breakfast, which is included in the price of the room, is a spread of fruits, breads and cheeses, with specialties such as omelets and gallo pinto made to order.THOUGH the surrounding scenery will entertain your eyes and a range of activities is available to pass the time, spending more than a couple of days on this remote hilltop could leave you a bit bored and longing to see the outside world.Fortunately, many of Costa Rica’s prime attractions, including Arenal and Poás volcanoes, La Paz Waterfall Gardens and the coffee towns of Sarchí and Grecia, are nearby. Villa Blanca can arrange day trips to these spots.For more information, check out www.villablanca-costarica.com or call 461-0300 or 461-0301.