From the print edition
Out on my balcony, I sipped a freshly delivered cup of local coffee and watched as hummingbirds battled over a flower. Ducks glided around in the pond below as the sun set behind them into the Nicoya Gulf. At Hotel Belmar, a chalet near the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve known for its fine dining and Euro-Costa Rican flair, this is just another evening.
Built in 1985, Belmar is constructed almost entirely of finished wood paneling, floors and ceilings. Some of the lumber in the hotel came from trees that are now protected, such as the almond flooring in older of the two chalets. Recent renovations use teak and cedar, giving the rooms a wonderful scent.
Inspiration for the hotel’s European architecture came from time that owner Pedro Belmar’s parents, who founded the hotel, spent in Austria. Among the area’s earliest hotel operators, the Tico-Chilean couple helped pioneer tourism in the Monteverde community, which was established by Quakers escaping the United States draft in 1950.
Pedro Belmar, the son of the hotel founders, said he hopes to make the hotel into an attraction not only for guests, but for everybody who visits the Monteverde area. Several times a week, the Belmar holds nature talks on various topics with local guides and scientists. There is also a space being designed as an art gallery for the shows of local and national artists. Over at the restaurant, non-guests can also enjoy Belmar’s first-class service.
A select, constantly changing menu includes both lunch and dinner. Earlier this month, the chef was offering a surf and turf special with tenderloin, cod and prawns that were cooked, spiced and set upon a bed of creamed mashed potatoes. Other tropical inspirations include the berry-marinated steak and the macadamia nut-crusted sea bass: two very rich dishes.
The sea bass came on a bed of sautéed spinach and new potatoes that balanced the flavor of the buttery, wine-drenched fish. The appetizers, such as the black bean, Azteca or the creamed tomato soups, are delicious and could make an entire meal with a side salad.
Even in the low season, numerous servers tend the restaurant, making drinks, brewing coffee and pouring wine.
And if you’re able to sleep off your evening meal, a hearty morning buffet of self-designed omelets, gallo pinto, breakfast meats, plantain, eggs, whole grain bread, granola, fruit and more is included.
There is a self-guided walking trail behind the hotel that meanders through an area the owners have chosen to leave undeveloped. This small reserve is a haven of rich biodiversity where flora and fauna have been left to their own devices. As I explored this streamside trail, two morpho butterflies floated about in the mottled sunlight, diving among the trees and their heavy vines and moss. Belmar sits the head of the trail Cerro Amigos, which offers a challenging 3 kilometers that feature views of the rain forest and distant Arenal Volcano.
The property’s frog pond provides habitat for amphibians as well as the resident ducks. Amphibian populations have declined dramatically in Monteverde and much of the research in area reserves is dedicated to comprehending these declines. One of the bigger mysteries has been the disappearance of the golden toad. Barely two inches long and a brilliant yellow-orange hue, this guy hasn’t been seen since 1989.
The owners and staff of Belmar aim for their guests to spend time in nature but return to all the comforts of the chalet. The Sunset Room is truly a gem, for it has the highest and most spectacular view of the hotel and surrounding area. The bed, balcony and Jacuzzi of this suite look out over miles and miles of cloud rain forest to the Nicoya Gulf and its scattering of dramatic isles.
“This is a beautiful, healthful and restful place,” Belmar said. “We help you care for the mind, body and spirit.”
The time to soak up all this relaxation may be now. The dirt road to Monteverde is narrow and the passing semi trucks and buses make for a white-knuckle experience. That is because the original Quaker founders have fought to keep it that way to limit the number of visitors. But globalization is powerful, and that battle will someday end with pavement and increased traffic.
Sustainable development plans have been drawn up by various organizations and community leaders who hope that growth comes responsibly.
The Sunset Room costs $269 and the more basic Peninsula Rooms are $139 in the low season. For more information, visit www.hotelbelmar.net.