MATAGALPA – Tucked into the misty forested mountaintops of Matagalpa is a friendly eco-hotel that feels like taking a step back in time to the way life was more than 100 years ago … in Schwarzwald, Germany.
The Selva Negra Mountain Hotel, named after the Black Forest in Germany, was built in 1975 by Eddy Kühl and wife Mausi Hayn, two third-generation German immigrants whose grandparents migrated to the mountains of Nicaragua in the 19th Century to cultivate the country’s first coffee farms.
The wooded, cloud-forest surroundings are reminiscent of Schwarzwald, or the Black Forest region where Hayn’s grandfather was born. The hotel’s famous lakeside restaurant, home to the best German sausages and sauerkraut in Nicaragua, was built to look like the Nagold train station in the original Black Forest.
Selva Negra Mountain Hotel, where guests can stay in cozy red-brick cabins that were built to blend with the surrounding forest, was the first hotel of its kind in Central America. It has since become a favorite for Nicaraguans who want to escape to the mountains for some weekend horseback riding, as well as nostalgic German travelers looking for a familiar place to hang their bollenhut.
Despite its local and regional popularity, Selva Negra’s international fame is about to receive an important boost next week after almost 32 years in business. Kühl and Hayn will travel to the United States May 5 to accept the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s (SCAA) top international award for sustainability.
The 2007 SCAA Sustainability Award, according to the award committee, is being given to Selva Negra for its “innovative projects to expand sustainability within the coffee world, while inspiring others to initiate similar endeavors.”
The specialty coffee association said in a release, “Selva Negra is receiving this award for the preservation of its forests, fauna and flora, and its efforts in ensuring the proper usage of its by-products. One of its accomplishments is the generation of methane gas from the coffee wastewater, a project dating back to 1989. From its solid waste, Selva Negra produces more than 4 million pounds of compost.”
In the spirit of sustainability, Selva Negra is dedicating the award to its workers. “We are very proud of this (award),” said Kühl, a prolific writer and recognized historian.
“Mausi has dedicated it to the workers of Selva Negra who have made this possible, especially the female workers. We are going to finish the library for the workers; they already have a school, medical clinic, a new kitchen and good homes with water, electricity and indoor toilets.”
Nature, Sausage and Coffee
Though Selva Negra is a fully functioning coffee farm, an important part of its sustainability is related to tourism.
The rustic yet relaxing lodge is located 1,290 meters up in the mountains of Matagalpa, where it serves as an oasis of temperate cloud forest in a part of the country that is hot and dusty.
In what seems fitting for a retreat that’s supposed to be a slice of Germany in Nicaragua, entering the Selva Negra reserve is like going from one world to another. After turning off the blistering and parched Matagalpa-Jinotega highway at kilometer 140, the temperature immediately drops upon entering the forested Selva Negra estate (You can’t miss the entrance – it’s marked by an old tank from Nicaragua’s revolution).
Two kilometers into the farm the air becomes misty and cool and – although it seems impossible – you might wish you had brought something warmer than a T-shirt you were sweating through in the car 20 minutes earlier.
Selva Negra’s famous restaurant has seating inside the wooden lodge as well as outdoors
on the porch overlooking the man-made lake and God-made mountains.
Ducks from the pond will jump up on the porch and sniff around the table like dogs, as guests wash down the homemade sausage or thick pork chops with a cold beer. All the food products are produced locally on the farm.
The cabins, at $50 a night per couple, are simple but comfortable, with hot water (one of the only places in Nicaragua where you need a hot shower), cable TV and a porch to greet the morning sun through the trees. There are also lakeside hotel rooms for $35.
Stretching up above the cabinas are 14 nature trails of various lengths and levels of difficulty, where tourists can hike for 30 minutes or several hours, exploring the mountains looking for birds or following the barks of the howler monkeys.
Six of the trails are designed for horses, which can be rented for several dollars an hour for a guided tour.
Tourists can also take an informative, guided coffee tour or spend 20 minutes poking around the small hotel museum, which offers a brief glimpse into the history of the farm.
Or, if the weather is clear, tourists can just relax by the lake in the stone gazebo or sit by on one of the wooden swings tied to tree branches facing the lake.
In 1999, Kühl and Hayn built a quaint stone chapel at Selva Negra for the wedding of their daughter, Karn, who will soon put her Masters in Tourism from the University of New York to use by taking over the management of the hotel, according to Kühl.
For more information on Selva Negra visit www.selvanegra.com, or call 772-3883.