If a visitor to Costa Rica were fortunate enough to stay in all of the luxury hotels across the country, that visitor would begin to notice certain trends: palapa-topped restaurants, infinity pools, furniture from Indonesian, towel animals. Originality isn’t always a trait here, yet, some hotels do manage to achieve it.
Villas Caletas and Zephyr Palace – neighboring hotels above Jacó both owned by an interior designer as well-traveled as he is scrupulous – are two of them.
Here is the difference between the hotels: Villas Caletas is the larger and less exclusive property, and yet it still features 45 high-end accommodations, each with its own unique design, along with access to two restaurants, a spa, two pool areas and a stunning Greek amphitheater.
Next door, Zephyr Palace is a mansion where celebrities and professional athletes hold lavish parties and retreat to distinct and extravagant theme quarters, along with a private pool and salon. This isn’t just grand luxury – it’s the life’s work of a man deeply committed to his personal vision, with cost as no object.
That man is Costa Rican Denis Roy, who in the late 1980s discovered the 395 acres on which he eventually erected his opuses. He purchased the land from cattle farmers and began both developing and reforesting the area, which led to the return of coatis, monkeys and hundreds of species of birds, including the scarlet macaw. Roy also planned for his hotel to serve as a museum, displaying the spoils of his travels and particularly those that relate to the era of European conquest.
He opted for tropical Victorian architecture with flourishes of Italian neoclassicism and French colonial design, and dubbed his broader concept “back from a journey.” In studying the furnishings, it’s impossible not wonder just how many passports Denis Roy has filled.
The reception area, where guests are greeted with welcome drinks and large windows looking over Jacó and Herradura Bay, showcases a reproduction of the Louvre’s famous tiger sculpture, as well as a British colonial bronze table and two hefty but finely engraved wooden reception desks from India. Just outside stands an encased puma skeleton, which was gifted to Roy by Costa Rica’s most famous taxidermist.
Wandering the property, guests encounter not only spectacular art, but also native trees identified with placards and a Zen garden. Up a meandering walkway, the saltwater infinity pool might look similar to what you’d find at other hotels, but it was actually the first one built in Costa Rica. Oh yeah, and it has a waterfall and a mangrove tree living in it.
Next door is the Greek Amphitheater and its adjacent restaurant, which offers three incredible meals a day. The menu offers a range of delicious breakfast choices that originated around Costa Rica and the rest of the world, and lunch and dinner plates offer classic burgers to duck breast to surf and turf. A variety of specialty cocktails, wines and smoothies are always available. A second and more formal dining establishment, called the Mirador Restaurant, offers an even more decadent menu at the top of the mountain.
There are 10 different levels of accommodation at Villas Caletas, the most basic of which is accessed by descending a private stairway lined with elaborate tapestries and stone fountains. The more upscale units, including villas and suites, offer features such as private dipping pools, private Jacuzzis, private terraces overlooking the Pacific and flat-screen TVs that pop out of the end of the bedframe.
It’s all very impressive, until one takes the tour of the suites next door in Zephyr Palace, named for the Greek god of the west wind. We entered the castle premises aboard a golf cart, and disembarked to wander its opulent corridors, replete with stone statues and dignified columns. The palace contains its own art gallery and discotheque, along with a private infinity pool, grand hall for events and seven theme suites – New World, Imperial, Oriental, Egyptian, African, Royal and Twentieth Years.
Seeing the photos on the Internet doesn’t do justice to the experience of entering these sumptuous abodes. In the Imperial Suite, majestic green wood paneling, centuries old, classical furnishings and elegant oil paintings transport guests to the glory days of the British Empire. Additionally, the suite contains its own gym, Turkish bath and Jacuzzi on the terrace, overlooking the ocean. All of the suites are ridiculously nice, and each in their own way.
In both the Zephyr Palace and Villas Caletas, guests are able to revisit the times of European conquest without sacrificing modern amenities; meanwhile, the staff treats them like mid-century monarchs, ensuring everyone is well fed, pampered and showered with unique surprises and delights at every turn. Thankfully, those surprises do not include a towel animal.
From San José, take the Caldera Highway west, following signs to Jacó. Before you arrive, a sign will indicate turning off to the right. Follow the pathway lined in potted cactuses up to the hotels.
Room rates start at $175 and reach over $400, depending on room type, season and length of stay, plus tax.
For information and reservations, call 2630-3000 or visit www.hotelvillacaletas.com.