The winding scenery of the mountainside drive up to Las Pilas de San Isidro, Alajuela, northwest of San José, is enough to let you know you’re heading someplace out of the restless world’s reach before you even arrive at the peaceful Viña Romántica boutique hotel, 4,200 feet above the Central Valley.
The hotel is hard to notice on the outside, blending in with the small, homey look of the rest of the friendly mountaintop community. Though once you find its hanging yellow street sign, just 25 meters south of Hotel Buena Vista, you’ll soon step into your own piece of home on the mountain.
The building’s shape is shotgun but its theme is certainly romantic. The flowers and wine bottles decorating the almost rustic restaurant is what you first notice upon entering, as sunlight bounces off the mirrors to the left and illuminates the room. A narrow hallway leads you to the patio area by the rooms, with tables covered by an awning where you can pass the time watching the wall garden to the right grow before your eyes.
Viña Romántica has four comfortable rooms with private bathrooms, memoryfoam queen-size beds, ceiling fans and soft lighting. The closets were handmade in the home of a carpenter who lives across the street, as was much of the beautiful metallic art you’ll see in spots around the hotel. Rates are $65 a night during the low season, until Nov. 15, and $85 during the high season, from Nov. 16 to May 15.
This is a place where you wake up in the morning, hear the birds chirp and quickly go back to bed. The upstairs rooms can be bathed in sunlight when morning comes, and you can pull down the shades for that, but as the morning passes you may be woken by the drunken-sounding laughter of the neighbor’s parrot in between its shouts of “¡Comida!”
Rain showers are regular occurrences at Viña Romántica this time of year, adding to the peaceful, sleepy atmosphere couples would hope for in a mountain getaway.
Hotel owners “Turbo” Tim Johnston and Sherry Valentine offer their guests free Internet access and have a flat plasma-screen television, though the best thing to watch is the view from your room’s window.
A second patio in the backyard offers a brilliant view of Poás Volcano, which is only a 25-minute drive from the hotel. The sprawling valley surrounding Poás is full of coffee plantations, and you can know when to seek shelter from the rain by watching it swoop in over the valley right in front of you.
With Viña Romántica just a 12-minute drive from Alajuela’s JuanSantamaríaInternationalAirport, the owners offer a “Hello/ Goodbye Package,” with which couples can spend their first and last night in the country at the hotel for $275. The package includes airport pickup and drop-off, a welcome cocktail and gift basket, gourmet breakfast, two in-room spa services, an “adiós” basket and a five-course dinner.
The restaurant is truly a culinary gem waiting to be discovered. Chef Sarah Salgado, a native of the Philippines, and her Canadian husband Steve Salgado are a welcoming, talkative pair who offer their full attention to guests the moment they walk in to be seated. The good service isn’t even the half of it, though, as Salgado’s cooking is what steals the show.
The diverse menu offers sumptuous dishes such as coconut grilled salmon, pasta primavera and bourbon steak, as well as meals with names like Cran-Apple Pork Béarnaise, Chicken Tropicana and Andalusian Gypsy Chops. The meals cost about $15 each, not including appetizers or dessert, so a trip for two could easily run more than $50 – but a mouthful of exotic flavor will let you know that it’s well worth it.
For information or reservations, call 430-7621, e-mail [email protected] or visit www.vinaromantica.com.
From JuanSantamaríaInternationalAirport in Alajuela, travel seven kilometers on the road toward Poás Volcano. Make a left at Hotel Buena Vista and go 25 meters. Viña Romántica is on the right.