A fantasyland for adults, a new spa hotel south of Dominical, on the southern Pacific coast, offers a genuine getaway from both everyday life and predictable hotel design. The best words to describe the decor at Cuna del Angel (“Angel’s Cradle”) are “exuberant” and “entertaining” – think of a heaven in which Liberace would be comfortable.
Angels abound: figurines in flowing robes; ceramic cherubs; gilded, wood angel heads on each room door; putti pouting down from a ceiling dome; golden wings on the staff ’s polo shirts.
Along with the angel kitsch, the eclectic, over-the-top mix of old and new world has delightful and tasteful touches, too: carved Mexican woodwork, ornate wrought-iron balustrades, French armoires, classical pillars, cushioned, lotus-flower chairs. Hanging from the ceiling are fabulous, petal-shaped ceiling fans and strange, whirring copper fans that look like tiny flying machines in a Monty Python cartoon. When was the last time you laughed out loud with delight at the visual feast around you?
Illuminating it all is a spectacular spectrum of lamps from around the world: stained-glass butterfly sconces, multicolored glass-beaded hanging lamps, lacy Middle Eastern metallic lanterns, sparkling crystal chandeliers and huge coppery Byzantine affairs. Colorful, floral-themed stained-glass windows, made by a Costa Rican artist, are sprinkled throughout the spa and the guest accommodations.
The 16 spacious guest rooms, arranged in an arc on two floors, look onto a small, pretty garden, an infinity-edge pool and a classic ocean view framed by forested hills.
They’re cool havens from the blistering Pacific-coast heat, decorated with the same attention to detail as in the public areas.
Duvets, drapes, pillows and shower curtains are all luxurious imports. Bathrooms feature deep tubs with lots of hot water, mounds of fluffy towels, a stained-glass window and delicate wrought-metal paper and toiletry holders. Each room has cable TV, remote control air conditioning, coffeemaker, safe, Wi-Fi, CD and DVD players, modern reading lights, a separate sitting area and either a queen-plus-double-bed arrangement or a queen bed with a sofa.
Each room also has a terrace with a table and wicker chairs. You could spend a day here just taking in the decor and lounging in your spacious, air-conditioned room or by the pool. But the spa, a curvaceous space tucked under the restaurant, awaits you, with sensuous treatments administered in a suitably sybaritic atmosphere.
I opted for the Celestial Energy package ($110), which begins with a grape application in a Turkish bath. I begged for chocolate instead and found myself smeared with a creamy cocoa mixture, sitting in a small round steam bath, an Aladdin’s cave studded with turquoise and blue glass tiles and lit by a bejeweled hanging lamp and votive candles wavering in the swirls of steam.
Basically, my body was transformed into a steaming cup of hot chocolate – endorphin stimulation without the calories. This is a lovely experience. After 20 minutes of steam and an entrancing light show, I showered off the chocolate with a hand-held shower and moved on to one of the treatment rooms.
Spa manager Hilda Soto is from the Central Valley coffee town of Naranjo and trained as both a physiotherapist and aesthetician in San José. Professional, soft-spoken and calm, Soto made me comfortable with music, candles and a blanket. Then she started in on my La Prairie Peel and Lift facial, cleansing, scrubbing, applying cream with a heat wand, then a masque and a peel, which felt like having Band-Aids slowly removed. The final application of Caviar for the Skin cream left me glowing and starting to think about lunch.
But first there was a hand massage and a 30-minute foot-reflexology session, after which I staggered out into the sunlight, feeling soft, limp and beyond relaxed, and climbed the decorative staircase to the restaurant.
In the round restaurant, which has forest and ocean views, there are more decorative treats, with a soaring, circus-like, blue- and gold-striped palenque roof. The entire color scheme here is cobalt blue and orange-gold, with heavy blue glassware and floral ceramic dishes from Mexico. Tables and chairs are modern wrought iron and wicker.
The naturales (fruit drinks) are delicious and dense, and come in huge, freezer-cooled Mexican glasses. (If you add liquor, the price goes up to a whopping $7.) The menus at lunch and dinner are similar and very sensibly priced. As befitting a spa hotel, there are light dishes, such as Avocado Summer Rolls ($6.50), rice-paper rolls stuffed with sun dried tomato, avocado and cilantro, accompanied with a spicy peanut dipping sauce.
The Insalata Fresca ($3.90) was so delicious that I ordered it the next day, too: a meal-size mix of lettuces with tiny cubes of fresh pineapple, orange segments, julienne carrots and shavings of real Parmesan cheese, dressed with a tangy aderezo.
Chef Carlos Meléndez, formerly of White House Hotel in the western San José suburb of Escazú, has come up with some sophisticated main courses, including king prawns in a saffron and chardonnay sauce ($16.90) and beef medallions with an oyster mushroom and Drambuie sauce ($15.90). I ordered the lighter Chicken Florentina ($7.90), savory rolls of ground chicken mixed with almonds and spinach and covered with a Gouda cheese sauce. The side dishes were a pleasant surprise: an artistic arrangement of savory sautéed potatoes and a colorful timbale of steamed vegetables.
There’s a lengthy wine list with modest wines from France, Italy, Spain,New Zealand and the United States ($18-39), as well as the usual South American brands. For dessert, I can recommend the non-dietary slab of key lime cheesecake (well, I did have a salad as my main course!).
Service is still a little on the tentative side, mostly owing to language difficulties. But the young waiters are eager to please and should catch on quickly. The hotel has only been open since Christmas. The reception staff is excellent, and owner Thomas Nagel, from Germany, has reason to be proud of both staff and the uniqueness of his hotel.
Cuna del Angel is not for everyone, though. I couldn’t imagine bringing my significant other here; he would have sniffed at and felt uncomfortable with the rather fussy decor. But I loved it and reveled in the welcome change from the typically safe and tasteful, but boring, school of hotel design.
This hotel is definitely not for kids either. While I was there, young children noisily playing in the pool drove all the adults (even their parents, who left them behind with nannies) back into their rooms. Since all the rooms face the pool, which is quite close to the room patios, it’s hard to ignore squeals and tantrums.
Cuna del Angel is a perfect hotel for ladies seeking a relaxing break on their own, or for girlfriends, moms and daughters intent on pampering themselves.And if you have a significant other who enjoys lying in the lap of luxury, bring him along for a leisurely, romantic weekend. There’s room for two in the Turkish bath.
Location and Information
Cuna del Angel Hotel is in Puertocito, nine kilometers south of Dominical on the Costanera Highway. Rates in the “green season” (May through June 30 and September through November) are $157.13 including tax for a double room. High season rates are $178.10 including tax. All rates include a hearty continental breakfast. For information, call 787-8012 or 222-0704 in San José, or visit www.cunadelangel.com.
Cuna del Angel Spa, open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, offers packages for $110-140, and a full range of facials ($75), massages ($30-60), hydrotherapy baths ($25), body wraps ($50) and scrubs ($30) and reflexology ($35-60), as well as the enchanting Turkish bath ($15 without application, $20 with and $35 for a couple). There’s also a branch of the Escazú beauty salon Eurostyle here, offering reasonably priced manicures, pedicures and hair services.