Costa Rica is known for its exceptional nature, and secluded El Silencio Lodge & Spa, a Relais & Chateaux property, offers genteel luxury in the dense ecosystem of the Bajos del Toro cloud forest.
A 90-minute drive from capital city San José, the ever-present mist writhing through the Bajos del Toro cloud forest is both mysterious and romantic, and the drop in temperatures refreshing after the sticky heat of the lowlands below. A pastoral peace takes hold upon passing through the eco-lodge’s gate. Horses graze on a hilly pasture, well-fed streams dance all around, birdsong fills the air and the aroma of a gastronomic experience stir what will become an ever-present desire to eat.
As otherworldly as the environment might appear, it also feels like coming home, with warm staff ushering you into the lodge’s great room where there are plush leather sofas and crackling fireplaces to help you settle right in. Here, the mix of relaxation, indulgence and adventure is just right.
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Bucolic serenity with a sophisticated overlay of Costa Rican heritage. Hand-painted traditional arts decorate the walls and ceilings, and the cuisine – elevated dining – takes from the surrounding region.
Dotting the property are stand-alone, cosy casitas – 16 suites and eight villas. Even the entry-level suites are abundantly spacious, with large terraces, plush living and sleeping areas, and a spa-like bathroom. Each also features its own steaming outdoor Jacuzzi, which makes for a real treat after a chilly excursion on the surrounding forest trails. All wood, stone and earthy tones, privacy is a key feature, while oversized floor-to-ceiling windows and sliding-glass doors look out to the spectacularly verdant surroundings. Rooms don’t include televisions, but in a location as captivating as this, who needs one?
The Food + Drink
The epicurean experience Relais & Chateaux is so well known for starts immediately, with – in this case – a flavourful sugarcane, ginger and lemon juice made of ingredients plucked fresh from the property’s own 5,000 square foot organic garden. Fresh and local is the philosophy at this farm-to-table destination. Stroll the grounds to find free-range chickens laying eggs for huevos rancheros, and a trout pond where you can fish for your meal. Las Ventanas Restaurant is in the dining room, and advanced bookings are recommended to ensure you’ll have a table for dinner, where a mix of fine regional and international fare is served. Before or after dinner, kick back at Toro Bohemia Bar with bespoke cocktails featuring local flavours and garnishes, as well as a couple of home brews, on the menu.
But El Silencio’s twist on the typical happy hour is perhaps the most charming (and indulgent) touch of all. Every afternoon the kitchen takes advantage of the region’s cacao bean. Serving mugs of hot chocolate – the real deal, unadulterated of sugar and other additives – and warm cookies, hit the spot following a morning of hiking or other adventuring. If that’s not enough chocolate, the hotel can even arrange a trip to a nearby rainforest reserve to experience the art of bean-to-bar chocolate-making – with plenty of tastings along the way.
The Little Extras
An Escencia Spa boasts a full menu of services and experiences to pamper and revitalise with ingredients harvested directly from the on-site farm. Amid candles, a fresh breeze and birdsong, spa-goers will find relaxation close at hand. Treatment rooms are open-air, but the beds are warmed to keep guests cosy in the al fresco environment. Favourites such as hot stone and Thai massages are on the menu, but you’d be missing out to overlook treatments that make use of detoxifying local volcanic clay or another that uses chocolate as both a wrap and a hair treatment to exfoliate and restore.
An open-air shala next to a burbling creek and beneath the boughs of enormous trees is where the spirit is attended to through yoga classes, meditation sessions and sound healing. For something a little more enlivening, try the aerial yoga, where you can hang or be cradled by silken hammocks.
The To-Do List
There is no loss of things to do on this 500-acre private reserve. And luckily, you can offset all that eating with ample hiking, thanks to the many trails found around the property – which can be traversed on foot, mountain bike or horse. El Silencio also boasts three impressive on-site waterfalls. The best plan is to set off after breakfast on the waterfall trail, which leads to all three. The hike is fairly easy, but take your time to experience this wild forest, a micro-ecosystem that is unique from anything else you’ll find in Costa Rica.
Immersed in near-constant damp or mist – if not full-on rain – there is nowhere that greenery is not sprouting from. Plants are growing off of plants, growing off of yet more plants. Wooden railings along the trail are blanketed in a layer of soft moss, as are tree trunks, rocks and anything left exposed to the elements. It all feels larger than life, with trees looming sky-high, leaves on plants spanning a metre wide, and birds trilling alien tunes (the distinct song of a black-faced solitaire sounds almost digitised). It’s a wonder. And then you arrive at the falls, the tallest of which, La Promesa, dramatically plunges 1,680 metres into a crisp pool that is swimmable – if you don’t mind the chill.
Off the trails, there is also an adventure park with zip lines and rappelling for a more adrenaline-pumping thrill. Or take a seat in the hummingbird garden, where a large variety of the iridescent birds zip from colourful flower to flower. And in true Relais & Chateaux fashion, there are plenty of tasting opportunities; from rum to coffee to wine, and a traditional Tico cooking class. And that’s just on-site. El Silencio can also arrange off-site excursions to cultural experiences and nearby volcanoes, white-water rafting and Del Toro Waterfall, arguably Costa Rica’s most dramatic cascade.
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