Travel writer Janice Nieder continues her journey traveling across Costa Rica. Read on for travel tips and advice, plus a surprise or two in Part 4 on Stark Insider

Hotel Belmar: an oldie but still bestie

Although the family-run Hotel Belmar was one of the very first hotels to open in Monteverde back in 1985, the property is anything but tired and run-down. Like J. Lo it just keeps improving with age.

Glorious veggie garden

Two-thirds of the hotel’s verdant nine-acres is unspoiled cloud forest, home to many endangered species, a waterfall and natural spring lake. The rest makes up Belmar’s two Swiss-style chalets with an impressive vegetable and herb garden, making it easy for guests to experience what the family refers to as “The Art of Nature”.

A view at every turn

Last year they unveiled their new luxury offering, the appealing Nicoya Suites. I was lucky enough to stay there and, trust me they really had had to drag me out of this glorious mountain retreat. Designed by Diego van der Laat, a rising star in Central American architecture, I was enthralled by the open, king-sized bedroom surrounded by floor to ceiling windows showcasing dramatic views (on a clear day) all the way to the Gulf of Nicoya.

WATCH: Inside a Suite at Hotel Belmar

Cloudforest shower

It was hard not to hole up here since with room service I could order breakfast in bed or dinner on my wooden deck, or hell, I could even dine in the buff soaking in my outdoor Jacuzzi while watching the sunset. Bonus points for the spa style bathroom, with its immersive cloud forest shower, petite indoor garden, and the generous amenities including plush duvets, robe, slippers, coffee maker and handmade organic soap.

Glorious veggie garden

The new chalet is right behind the organic restaurant garden, based on the Biointensive method, which consists of growing as much organic food as possible in a reduced amount of space creating an environment that naturally protects plants from pests and moisture and nutrient loss. It must work because the garden was bursting with kale, arugula, radish, lettuce, green pepper, tomato, herbs, lavender, sunflower seeds, etc.

The new chalet is right behind the organic restaurant garden, based on the Biointensive method, which consists of growing as much organic food as possible in a reduced amount of space creating an environment that naturally protects plants from pests and moisture and nutrient loss.

At the original chalet next door, aka The Wellness Center, you’ll find a juice bar, where they whip up healthy smoothies made from freshly squeezed fruit and veggie juices, a tearoom with house blended chai and fair trade organic coffee, a boutique, yoga studio, and spa services.

Jungle hot tub

Another recent addition is  the hotel’s microbrewery, a pet project of son, Pedro. Pop in for a mini-tour and tasting of their citrusy Aurorae Pale Ale, an American-style Dos Mares IPA and the Nubosa Stout, with a hint of molasses, all made from pure cloud forest spring water.

For  a no-duh great lunch choose a beer
to go with their tasty burgers !

Since the majority of food served at Hotel Belmar’s Celajes (sunset clouds) Restaurant and Bar comes from either their garden or nearby organic working ranch and coffee farm, you’ll be dining on some of the tastiest and freshest farm to table food in the region. The healthy inventive menu is a refined ode to the regional food. The lively Happy Hour features craft cocktails, made with from house infused liquors, artistically garnished with just-picked flowers and herbs, with eco-friendly stalks of bamboo replacing plastic straws

Yummy banana pancakes

High marks for the flavorful beef carpaccio, shrimp ceviche, grilled fish, house baked bread and seasonal garden salads. If you normally skip breakfast, rethink that since you’d miss out on their organic coffee, homemade cheese, free-range eggs and bacon, all straight from their ranch.

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After breakfast ask the friendly concierge to arrange a visit to the Belmar farm, Finca Madre Tierra, the first carbon neutral farm in the country. It’s just one of the many reasons that the Belmar Hotel has achieved a Level 5 Certificate for Sustainable Tourism-the maximum level granted by the Costa Rica tourist board!

Gorgeous trail horses

The tour, which you can do on foot or by horseback, was absolutely fascinating, providing an up-close, intimate look at where your breakfast comes from. Freicer Vindas, our fab guide who is passionate about sustainability, patiently answered all my questions while squiring us around the property so we could watch the workers (or try our hand at) hand-milking the cows, feeding the animals: cows, pigs, goats, chickens and one huge pet pig who makes good use of the restaurant leftovers.

Time to milk the cows

We saw where the coffee is harvested and visited the cheese house where they smoke the cheese and bacon in a recycled molasses container using rice husks for fuel.

Sampling the homemade cheese and coffee

One thing I learned is that squeezing the sugar cane is a lot harder than it looks.

Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve: Costa Rica’s famed endangered quetzal habitat

Giovanni searching for a quetzal

The concierge can easily arrange your visit to the Monteverde Reserve which was created in 1972 to protect the endangered cloud forest habitat from logging. While you can walk through this well-maintained park on your own, good luck with spying one of the elusive, jewel-like quetzal birds without a guide. We scored with Giovanni Bello Carranza, a revered professional guide here for almost 40 years, who knows literally everything about the park. His bird calls could fake out even the savviest quetzal hidden among the towering strangler fig trees, which I would never have found myself, nor would I have been able to get a photo of it without his help.

Phew- he found me a quetzal!

He also shared a wealth of Jeopardy-like info, such as “Why is a banana a plant and not a tree?” as he pointed out a wealth of reptiles and amphibians hiding among the 2,500 plant species.

It’s not all fun and games as a luxury travel writer!Sometimes you really have to work to earn your keep like when I was called into duty to help grind the sugarcane during my fun-filled tour of Hotel Belmar’s working farm which supplies their delicious restaurant with organic cheese, beef, chicken and now, my freshly pressed sugarcane juice. See video below…

Travel writer Janice Nieder’s adventure across Costa Rica continues in Part 5…

Janice Nieder
Janice Nieder could be the love child of Indiana Jones and Julia Child. Previously a specialty food consultant in NYC, Janice is currently a San Francisco-based culinary tourism writer who has wined & dined her way through 80 countries. To keep things in balance, Janice also enjoys writing about her Girlfriend Getaways which include spa visits, soft-core adventure, cultural events, shopping, boutique hotels, and chef interviews.