Nearly 20 years since building their pioneering boutique hotel on a bare motocross field in the middle of coffee country in Santa Bárbara de Heredia, north of San José, Glenn and Teri Jampol of Finca Rosa Blanca Country Inn have received the country’s highest sustainabletourism award, five “green leaves,” with an unprecedented 100 percent score.
The green leaves are awarded by the Costa Rican Tourism Institute’s Certification for Sustainable Tourism program. Only four hotels in the country boast five, and Finca Rosa Blanca is the first to have earned a 100 percent score, meaning it fully complies with every aspect of the program (see sidebar).
That’s not all that’s new here. Last December, the inn quietly opened a newer version of itself, complete with a spa and a restaurant open to the public – previously for guests only – and has just started offering a tour of its certified organic coffee plantation.
The Jampols came to Costa Rica from New York in 1985 and, with Glenn’s late mother, Sylvia, described by her son as the “spark plug and motor” of the project, opened Finca Rosa Blanca in 1989, despite naysayers’ warnings that “you can’t open a hotel in the middle of the coffee fields,” Glenn says.
Self-described ex-hippies and concerned citizens, the Jampols claim they never had a master plan.
“We were very naive, but our hearts were in a good place,” Glenn says.
That naïveté gave birth to what Glenn, now president of the National Ecotourism Chamber’s board of directors, claims was the first boutique-style hotel in the country, a pioneer and model for the country’s now established sustainable tourism industry.
Surrounded by green forest and coffee fields, the white inn with its unique architecture – a blend of Spanish Gaudí and U.S. Santa Fe styles – gives a somewhat incongruous yet appealing first impression. Locally crafted wood and iron work and murals by Tico artist Oscar Salazar feature prominently throughout the rooms, restaurant and inviting common areas, accented by an eclectic assortment of art that speaks to the hand and soul of an artist: Glenn, 58, studied art at Berkeley in California in the late 1960s, and some of his pieces adorn parts of the inn.
The two master suites and 11 junior suites are works of art in themselves, all unique and mostly named for their predominant motifs.
The El Cafetal junior suite, with its coffeeplantation views and mural above the kingsize bed, has a Jacuzzi bathtub big enough for two with a view of the valley, while the two-level Rosa Blanca master suite features a natural-wood spiral staircase leading up to a canopied four-poster bed with a 360-degree view of the lush countryside. All rooms come with king or queen beds with down comforters and heavenly-soft bamboo-fiber sheets – the product of Teri’s search for alternative, sustainable materials – as well as a minibar, safe, robes and slippers, hair drier and locally made bath products.
Built in the Jampols’ former home, El Tigre Vestido Restaurant and Bar Buho have been open since December, allowing Finca Rosa Blanca’s long culinary tradition to be enjoyed by guests and the public alike. The restaurant features one long table for the inn’s traditional family-style meals, as well as a few smaller indoor tables and a large outdoor dining area with a view of the valley.
Adjoining the restaurant is a conference room that can accommodate meetings of up to 12 people, a nice setting for executive board meetings, with lunch and coffee breaks provided by the restaurant.
Teri, 56, an accomplished chef, uses fresh seafood, organic meats and poultry, and seasonal fruits and vegetables, some grown at the finca, to create innovative menus that change daily. A sample dinner menu might include pumpkin, corn and coconut soup, cucumber, tomato and pineapple salad with mint, lime and cilantro vinaigrette, and grilled filet mignon in tamarind sauce or roasted red peppers stuffed with goat cheese.
Highlights from the lunch menu include gourmet sandwiches, jerk-seasoned pork loin or chicken salad, a casado of the day and a traditional Costa Rican tamale plate. Breakfast, included in the room rate, starts with fresh coffee from the plantation, followed by a variety of tempting options, from homemade granola to gallo pinto (rice and beans) or chorreados (corn pancakes) to huevos a caballo: eggs, tomatoes, onions and cheese sandwiched by tortillas and served with refried beans, chorizo and fresh salsa.
And guests can eat with a good conscience: In keeping with Finca Rosa Blanca’s sustainability efforts, 5 percent of the profits from the restaurant and bar go to support area schools and to the nearby Barva Volcano sector of BraulioCarrilloNational Park, a popular excursion among the inn’s guests.
Also open since December is the El Targua Spa, offering massages, body wraps and treatments, manicures, pedicures and facials.
The warm coconut cream massage is a hot, slippery affair combining heated coconut milk with a relaxing massage, while the deeptissue, full-body massage is reported to leave subjects in a contented Jell-O-like state.
But the most interesting part of a stay at Finca Rosa Blanca is behind the scenes – or would be if not for the tours offered to explain some of the inn’s sustainable practices.
The sustainability tour, led by knowledgeable naturalist guide Manolo Muñoz, takes guests around the inn’s eight acres, beautifully landscaped with native and tropical plants, including 300 fruit trees and a stately 300-year-old higuerón, or strangler fig, whose branches spread out over a station of recycling bins where guests may deposit paper, plastic, glass and aluminum (bins are also placed in all guest rooms).
The tour includes stops at the laundry, which uses biodegradable soap; the solar panels that heat water for most of the guest rooms; the spring-fed, solar-heated swimming pool, featuring chemical-free water kept clean through an ionization system; the recycling center, with its neat stacks of aluminum, bottles and milk cartons collected from the homes of employees and participating community members, as well as the inn; and the compost shed, where kitchen waste and manure from the stables are used to make rich compost for the coffee plantations and for the produce grown in the greenhouse. (“You might be eating the same salad as last year,” Glenn tells return guests.)
The informative coffee tour, led by Italian-born barista and El Tigre Vestido manager Leo Vergnani, is a new addition, well worth the tramp through the coffee fields.
Here, guests can learn how an organic coffee plantation yields 35 percent less than a conventional one, but will be productive for 100 years, compared to a conventional plantation’s 25, and how sacrificial companion plants are used instead of chemicals to deter pests. A stop at the aromatic roasting facility lets guests roast their own coffee, and the tour ends with a “coffee cupping” session, the caffeinated equivalent of a wine tasting.
With two decades of experience and five green leaves under their belts, the Jampols can speak with authority when they say, “Sustainability is good business.” For them, the increase in popularity of sustainable tourism in the country is not just reward for effort, but also simple evolution.
“Small, sustainable hotels are like cockroaches,” Glenn says. “We survive because we have the right DNA for what Costa Rica has to offer.”
Getting There, Rates, Info
Finca Rosa Blanca is one kilometer east and 800 meters north from Santa Bárbara de Heredia. At the light in Santa Bárbara, turn east and go one kilometer, then turn left at the Finca Rosa Blanca sign (in front of the Café Britt distribution center) and head north 800 meters. The hotel is on the right after passing the parking lot.
Double-occupancy rates are $290 for junior suites and $340 for the two master suites; a 25 percent discount is extended to nationals and residents. At El Tigre Vestido restaurant, a four-course gourmet dinner costs $35, while lunch items average about $12. A full breakfast is included in the room rate, or ranges from $3.50 to $9.50 à la carte. Menu prices don’t include 13 percent tax and 10 percent service charge. El Targua Spa treatments range from $40 to $130; nationals and residents receive 30 percent off. The sustainability tour is free for guests, while the coffee tour costs $25 per person. The inn also offers a variety of other tours and activities and rents horses from its stable.
For information and reservations, call 2269-9392, e-mail [email protected] or visit www.fincarosablanca.com.
The Certification for Sustainable Tourism program categorizes and certifies tourism companies according to the degree to which their operations comply with a model of sustainability. Four fundamental aspects are evaluated:
1. Physical-biological parameters: interaction between the company and its surrounding natural habitat.
2. Infrastructure and services: management policies and operational systems within the company and its infrastructure.
3. External clients: interaction of the company with its clients in terms of how much it allows and invites the client to be an active contributor to its sustainability policies.
4. Socioeconomic environment: interaction of the company with local communities and the population in general.
Companies may score up to five levels in each category. The final rating of “green leaves” corresponds to the lowest level achieved in any of the above evaluation areas. This is to encourage companies to advance toward a model of sustainability by giving the same degree of consideration and importance to each of the four areas evaluated.
For more information, visit www.turismosostenible.co.cr.