Arenas del Mar
If one phrase describes Arenas del Mar it's 'sustainable luxury'. Costa Rica already has a fine reputation for this sort of thing, but Arenas walks the 5* walk with admirably carbon neutral footprints.
There are 38 rooms in total, including two suites, set in 11 acres of pristine rainforest on a hillside with direct access to two lovely beaches. To give you a sense of proximity, Manuel Antonio National Park begins at the end of the longer beach but the local wildlife is no respecter of boundaries, so guests will sometimes see sloths in the restaurant and monkeys monkeying around (as is their wont) in the trees outside the rooms.
The rooms themselves are on the minimalist side but comfortable and with large terraces that are mostly overlooking the ocean. Top tip - we will request (although no guarantees) rooms in buildings six and seven, which have the best position within easy reach of the main areas and Espadilla Beach.
While there is a restaurant serving light lunches on Playitas (small beach), where you eat with the sand between your toes, the main El Mirador restaurant is by the reception and the hotel pool and overlooks Espadilla Beach and Manuel Antonio National Park at the far end. This is the spot for excellent a la carte breakfasts with fresh fruit and delicious coffee. Come evening, enjoy a cocktail (the Tico Sours, made with guara cacique, a local sugarcane, are delicious) at the neighbouring bar before a very good dinner of fresh seafood and other local specialities.
The rates at the hotel include two specific activities, namely a tour of the sustainable tourism initiatives (from solar power to biodiversity conservation) at the hotel, and a tortilla cooking lessons, but the lovely staff can also arrange tours into the National Park, canopy tours, waterfall treks, kayaking and surfing lessons. Slightly less energetic guests can enjoy a massage in treatment rooms by the pool or down by the beach.
Why We Love It
For more experienced surfers the hotel has boards to borrow down at beautiful Espadilla Beach which has a great beach break. Alternatively, for beginners, surf lessons are available.
Sitting in the mountains of Perez Zeledon inland from the Central Pacific Coast, Alta Gracia is a new luxury spa hotel that opened in June 2015.
Set in 850 acres of lush vegetation and lovely gardens, the hacienda-style hotel has 50 standalone 'casita' bungalows with leather and wood interiors, well-appointed bathrooms, fireplaces and terraces offering wonderful views over the surrounding hill country.
There are plenty of places for guests to eat and drink at Alta Gracia, including El Bistro, the hotel's breakfast restaurant and all day café; Ambar, the main restaurant for dinners; El Grill for lighter lunches and snacks by the riding area and finally the underground La Bodeguita for subterranean servings of tapas. In the unlikely event none of these appeal, the hotel can also arrange in casita dining. For a leisurely drink, La Cava is a well-stocked wine cellar while the hotel's Casa Grande is home to La Cantina pub-style bar complete with billiards table, and La Bodega del Centro for nightcaps.
Alta Gracia also has the stated aim of becoming one of the finest wellness retreats in Central America, and the Manantial Spa has six indoor treatment rooms, four thatched treatment areas in the grounds, a pool with unbeatable panoramic views and a spa menu with the emphasis on delectable massages. There is also a sauna, a steam room, fitness centre and beauty salon. Guests can also relax in La Biblioteca, a cosy corner to read a book or watch a film in the Casa Grande.
One of the main attractions at Alta Gracia is the equestrian element, with 28 stables on site housing a range of horses to cater for all levels of expertise (or otherwise) that guests can try out in the riding rings and ride along the designated trails around the property that are also perfect for mountain biking. Away from Alta Gracia itself, the beaches and National Parks of the Central Pacific Coast are under an hour away, and the Perez Zeledon region around the hotel is also worth exploration.
Why We Love It
Because in a small country this is a lovely little spot off the beaten track that's perfect for a few days of R&R.
Kura Design Villas
Owned by a cool young Costa Rican couple, Kura Design Villas luxury hotel is tucked away in dense rainforest a couple of miles inland from the Central Pacific Coast, but on a mountain slope meaning exceptional views out over the ocean.
There are no mere rooms here - it's a choice from six immaculate Junior Suite Villas, Infinity Villas and Suite Villas (two of each), all of which are open plan and with design features such as mood lighting and a big terrace from which to savour the views.
The restaurant is a very intimate affair, with just a few tables besides the pool, which is lit up at night. Breakfast is excellent (try the delicious banana bread), while there is high quality sushi and sandwiches for lunch and excellent experimental cuisine for supper with the emphasis on seafood.
There is a small spa with a double treatment room, bath and huge shower, and as the hotel is spot on for honeymooners, the superb staff can make the spa area completely private and romantic for couples, with champagne on ice and other nice touches.
While there's a strong temptation to laze the days away in the immaculate pool area, away from the hotel itself the super-helpful team can arrange whale watching trips, diving, snorkelling, surfing and rainforest canopy tours as well. There are also several glorious beaches within easy reach of the hotel.
Why We Love It
The high design look might not be to everyone's taste but the villas are extremely comfortable and the staff are outstanding - they know your name immediately, the chef will prepare something off menu, the barman mixes fab cocktails - the service is basically incredibly thoughtful and welcoming. This is also a perfect place for honeymooners.