We descended one treacherous road only to climb another to reach our third stop in Costa Rica, Rio Celeste Hideaway. This road was more of a nail-biter, though, and J-M quit the Hazzard County accent in order to concentrate. Our “Costa Rican GPS” we rented with the 4×4 would give us our directions: Turn right at unpaved road; Turn left at unpaved road; Dangerous bridge ahead; Turn right at unpaved road… “Unpaved road” doesn’t even begin to describe the conditions, which we would term as “impassable.” The GPS was mocking us.
In some places, cement tire tracks have been poured, because the incline is so steep, your vehicle would surely slide, along with the loose stones, back down the hill you were trying to ascend. J-M kept the vehicle in first, at 10-15 km/h, for most of the drive. We stopped chatting. Only necessary words were spoken. You can imagine how difficult this was on me.
We climbed so high on this mountain, J-M started to question the GPS. We passed a small hotel or two. J-M would ask, “That wasn’t the Hideaway?”
“No, the GPS says ‘continue on unpaved road.’ Why would the GPS make up a location?” I asked back.
But then again, I don’t have much experience with a GPS and have heard stories of people driving into swamps and off cliffs because they trusted their GPS too much. I’ve always thought these gadgets incapacitate us to figure things out on our own. What happened to reading a good old map? (To which someone could rightfully argue, what happened to navigating the good old stars?) Were we going to leave the road clear off the summit just because a machine told us to?
Just as our doubts were beginning to overcome us, out of the mist arose the Rio Celeste. A grander site I have never seen. Because of the contrast between treacherous drive and exclusive resort, we believed we’d happened upon heaven. Maybe we did veer off the road?
We were met by an attendant, Juan Carlo, who gave us a fresh, cool, scented face cloth and a pineapple smoothie. Any tension, any discomfort we may have amassed on the ride there was erased with small kindnesses. It’s like they were anticipating our arrival. Like Saint Peter at the pearly gates.
Juan Carlo couldn’t speak much English. This gave us our first bit of comic relief. He spoke in Spanish and we told him we didn’t. Juan Carlo sighed and said, “I no speak good English.”
He paused to think and then said, “May… I… You… Help?”
“Si,” we replied.
He gave us a tour of the grounds, which involved a lot of gesturing, but the place spoke for itself.
The main building at Rio Celeste is a spectacular pavilion with no outside walls. Its open concept discloses its secret; that is, Rio Celeste has discovered paradise. The building has a tiled floor, large, dark wooden support beams, and cane ceiling right through the grand foyer to the dining room in the back. There is a brilliant interruption in the middle of the room, a fern garden and koi pond open to the sky above. So whether sun or rain, it shines or pours into the room.
On an aside, this is the first koi pond that hasn’t irritated me. It’s clean and the fish aren’t overpopulated or overfed; they have more than enough space to swim around for the guests’ enjoyment and theirs. Otherwise, I’m not a fan of the koi pond. You?
The grounds have impeccably manicured gardens, where the indigenous plants of the Costa Rican rainforest have been tamed and cultivated to graduate from brilliant flowery hedges that line the stone walkways, to dramatic ferns, opening up to the tall, natural wild trees that cocoon us from reality.
Juan Carlo also showed us the spa, a games/TV room, three separate dining areas (main formal dining room, bar and pool bar) pool and hot tubs. The pool was expertly designed and inviting to weary travellers.
Juan Carlo loaded our luggage into an electric golf cart and took us on a short drive down a stone path to our casita, a small bungalow tucked away in beautiful gardens meant to seclude you from the world.
The main feature within each casita is the gorgeous, wooden, four-poster, king-sized bed. But there were other inviting features, such as the outdoor sitting area protected from the rain, the tropical decor, the gigantic bathroom with his and hers sinks and Jacuzzi tub. But take a look at that outdoor shower! Shielded from view by the stone wall and tropical plants, but open to the sky, well this looks very freeing.
There is an internet connection in the games room, but you do not have access in your casita. You have to leave your room, meaning you have to have a reason, to go online. Although this arrangement is probably out of necessity, given the remote location, they should never, ever change that. That makes it a getaway.
The first morning there, once again, we had hummingbirds as guests, but also… a fuzzy white bunny in our garden? Planted?
Speaking of “wild life,” we didn’t get to see the much-discussed howler monkeys, but we heard them at every place we stayed. When I heard the noise on our first morning, it sounded like a cross between a long, drawn out pig’s grunt and the cry of a very sick dog. It had an eerie, unearthly quality to it. J-M said (and would continue to say throughout our trip) it’s the fabled El Chupacabra, Latin America’s Bigfoot. That’s what we named our new pet bunny.
We were fortunate to run into the owner of the hotel, and his model-gorgeous son, who happened to be at Rio Celeste for a quick check in. The owner was born Columbian but lives in Miami. Rio Celeste is the second hotel he’s built in Costa Rica, the other one being near the popular Arenal volcano. His other hotel, Nayara, is rated #1 hotel in Central and South America and #6 in the world by Travel & Leisure’s World’s Best Awards. You can imagine then, that he has certain standards which have also been implemented at Rio Celeste, the newer hotel. But where is everyone?
During our time there we saw Juan Carlo give the tour to very few others and at dinner there were only three or four tables full, including ours. It is meant to be a boutique hotel meant to have a lower occupancy and higher service. There are 26 casitas, so you can estimate that full occupancy would be somewhere between 50-60 people. Perhaps it’s the time of year; this is not peak tourist season. Even so, they continued to do everything well, from keeping the place well-maintained and -staffed. We were honoured to be among those who knew about this best-kept secret.
Expectations play a large part in one’s enjoyment of a place. Even so, I believe that most people would find Rio Celeste pure luxury, despite its obstacles. We literally spent most of our time in a cloud (which we shall bequeath, Cloud 9). It rained hard for two of the three days we were there, but we didn’t mind. J-M entitled this portion of our trip “Like, Major Relaxation Dude.” We spent a lot of time in the hot tub in the rain, we read, we got massages at the spa, we napped, we talked, we dined. We loved that we were “trapped,” forced to stop and look at each other. Our time spent with each other became part of the wonder of the place.
At one point I’d wondered if we’d overdosed on the luxury of relaxation, when our lips could barely speak and our feet could barely walk. Through our inactivity, we discovered that there is a distinct line between relaxation and boredom; the difference is that one doesn’t want to escape relaxation. We wanted to stay. We still want to be there.
Our expectations were open. I mean, come on, J-M purchased these accommodations on Groupon! I was embarrassed to admit it to the owner when he asked us how we found out about the place. I wanted to tell him, it deserves more than we paid for.
I had to tell my friend, Sarah, about this place. Sarah has an amazing design and lifestyle blog, The Curated House. (You’ll want to bookmark that link in your favourites.) She calls herself a “detailista” and believes “details are a love language.” Sarah draws your attention to the features and peculiarities in art, furniture, clothing and food (among other things), to help you savour and experience beauty. I wrote to her while at Rio Celeste, how I wouldn’t have believed it till I experienced it, that it’s the details make you feel cared for: where nature is fostered and cultivated, where design elements are manipulated to accommodate the surroundings (not vice versa), and the staff is intuitive. I wanted to let her know that details are a cross-cultural love language. She responded, “I love knowing your soul is being nurtured by the thoughtfulness and beauty in the details.” This soul-nurturing stuff for sure.
If you’re up for that kind of stuff, of course.
Who wouldn’t be, you wonder? Well, when we flipped through the big, thick leather-bound guest book brimming over with page-long accolades from previous guests, we stumbled upon this short, angry note from poor Raymond from NYC. Who, because of a headache and bloatation? Other unimaginable pre-occupations? missed out on heaven.
“…unpaved roads and NO internet connection.” The horror.
Catch a glimpse of heaven below or visit their website, www.riocelestehideaway.com.