From the print edition
Vestiges of the past pop up everywhere at Hacienda Tayutic.
Ornate dishes that hang on the walls date five generations back. Two swords used as a centerpiece were handed down to owner Federico Ortuño from a great grandfather who owned a farm in Guanacaste. The sofas arrived via another great grandfather, Gaspar Ortuño, who came to Costa Rica from Spain and helped found the Central Bank of Costa Rica. An armoire gifted by two great aunts who were nuns has been transformed into a liquor bar.
“I’m an antique hunter,” Ortuño said matter-of-factly.
He seems to have inherited those skills from his parents, who left their own exquisite touches on the Turrialba plantation east of San José, in a village called Sitio de Mata. Ortuño’s idiosyncrasies coupled with the hotel’s wonderful mountain setting make for a soothing stay at Tayutic.
Ortuño and his brother Felipe began turning his family’s home into a quaint luxury hotel with just six cozy rooms in the mid-2000s. Even as the Tayutic plantation maintains its primary purpose as an organic sugar mill, the home always seemed destined to be a guesthouse. Newlyweds have weddings at an old Roman Catholic church reconstructed in the hacienda’s backyard. Both the sanctuary’s stained-glass windows and the piano were picked up by Ortuño’s family members after previous owners discarded them. The stained-glass came from another church. The piano once entertained guests at a San José bordello.
Beyond the charming artifacts is a stunning view of the town below. Lights flicker in the city of Turrialba, forests grow up around the mountain, and in the distance, the Turrialba Volcano fumes. The landscape looks magnificent at all angles, whether it’s from the swimming pool, the splendid wood patio or the chapel, where non-Roman Catholic weddings are performed.
Decades ago, the Ortuños constructed their home in a distinctive British colonial style with airy spaces that keep the inside of the building fresh. The roof is held in place by an intricate spire that Ortuño’s father collected after it fell off a truck into the middle of the highway.
The place fits together like a 3-D jigsaw puzzle, and almost every piece has its puzzle, which contains its own engrossing backstory. The origin of the house itself includes its own tale. The Ortuños grew coffee in San José until the Irazú Volcano erupted and killed their crops. Looking for a new place to start up the business, the family learned about land in the hills of Turrialba. They began producing both sugarcane and coffee.
In 1992, Felipe Ortuño jumped on the organic food trend beginning in the United States. With some guidance from Germans interested in exporting the product, the sugar mill began producing granulated organic brown sugar. The Ortuños export 2 million kilos of organic sugar a year now. Tours of the mill became popular with cruise ship travelers over the years, long before one tourist suggested: “Why don’t you have a place where we can stay?”
Hotel guests now receive meals served with organic ingredients grown at the hacienda, such as coffee, macadamia nuts and herbs and spices. The Tayutic staff includes community members who have worked at the hacienda for almost 40 years.
Ortuño returned two months ago after a four-year stint as Costa Rica’s ambassador to Italy. His work there included paying off a $15 million debt Costa Rica owed to the Italians. After the deed was finished, the Italian government rewarded Ortuño with the highest decoration a non-military foreigner can receive. But after so much time away from home, Ortuño is pleased to be back at the hacienda.
He appreciates the uncomplicated calm. No massive debts to repay. Just plants to water. Sugar candies to sample. Guests to check in on. “I really love this job,” Ortuño said. “I feel proud.”n
From April 15-Dec. 20, the regular rate (which includes breakfast) is $295 per night, plus tax. The all-inclusive rate is $355. Hacienda Tayutic is located 53 kilometers from San José, about a two-hour drive. From the capital, drive to Turrialba town towards Limón, and pass over Reventazón River.
On the road that leads to La Suiza, turn left. Drive five minutes and after the Boveda Cemetery, take a right. That road leads up to Sitio de Mata town. Drive 2.5 kilometers on the dirt road, and turn right at the sign: “Tayutic: The Hacienda Experience.” For more info or reservations, visit www.tayutic.com.