Winter got you down? Ready to escape to someplace warm, but still keep those new year’s resolutions? How about Costa Rica? With it’s beautiful beaches, lush mountain landscape and near-perfect climate, the popular Central American country is no stranger to visitors. The eco-obsessed, the adventurer travelers, and those looking to relax ... Costa Rica welcomes more than two million tourists a year, but you’ve never experienced it quite like this.
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Known for its "pura vida" lifestyle, Costa Rica is no stranger to wellness centers. No fewer than a dozen have opened in the last year alone. So, we decided to give one a try. For a decade, California native Diana Stobo — a wellness coach and raw foods advocate — dreamed of bringing the zen of Asia to the mountains of Costa Rica. That dream came to fruition when she opened The Retreat at Alto del Monte. Seven kilometers from the town of Atenas, The Retreat sits in the middle of a mountain with a natural balcony overlooking the Pacific Ocean in the distance. Upon their arrival, guests will immediately notice the stunning pool, but don’t miss the wildlife ... you may spot sloths, monkeys, iguanas, and an array of tropical birds.
From the welcome pipa to the daily smoothies and the flavorful dinners, the food is really the star of the show at The Retreat — a bold claim given the gorgeous surroundings. Manager Heather Hands and Stobo have designed a menu that makes guests feel great during their stay. The menu is largely vegetarian with the exception of local fish and farm-fresh eggs. Vegan choices and all raw options are featured on the menu and encouraged.
Stobo is a firm believer in the medicinal properties found in super foods and her menus feature foods that provide instant energy. A true farm to fork experience, kitchen staff wander the grounds ahead of each meal to gather fruits, vegetables, and greens — a favorite was lesser-known cranberry hibiscus leaves — from the property. It’s true, they have great ingredients to work with, but you’ll be blown away by the chefs’ magical, healthy creations. It’s impressive.
Stobo knows a raw-food diet isn’t for everyone and she acknowledges that guests aren’t likely to continuing eating as wonderfully healthy when they leave return home. But, Stobo, or someone from her staff, lead cooking demonstrations and classes to give tips and recipes to take with them. “Once you feel it, your body never forgets,” says Stobo. “Once your body really feels the food, it will remember it.” A former caterer and healthy lifestyle author, Stobo led a demonstration during our visit.
Our yummy afternoon snack: a simple and fresh zucchini hummus.
- 2 cups zucchinis, chopped
- 1/2 cup raw cashews, soaked for 30 minutes and drained
- 1/4 cup tahini
- 1/2 cup lime juice, freshly squeezed
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons cumin powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
Directions: blend until smooth.
The Retreat encourages guests to make healthy choices and exercise moderation, not necessarily elimination. So ... this doesn't have to be an alcohol-free getaway. The cocktails are also made in-house with fresh, healthy ingredients. And they’re delicious. One of our favorites was the Sandigarita, a watermelon margarita topped with a candied lime and dehydrated watermelon slice. Here’s the recipe, courtesy of Executive Chef Heather Hands:
The Sandigarita — Watermelon Margarita
- 1 oz. chili pepper-infused tequila (or straight tequila for less spice)
- 1/2 oz. Cointreau
- 1/2-1oz. lime juice — fresh squeezed
- 10 oz. watermelon juice — fresh pressed
Directions: combine ingredients in bar shaker, stir and pour over ice in salt rimmed glass. Or serve blended with ice.
Physical activity and movement is a key tenant to the program at The Retreat. Our days began with a “morning burst,” an uphill 1/2 mile hike to the property’s front gate. Seriously, you couldn’t ask for prettier surroundings, especially if you’re rising with the sun while on vacation.
Whether you’re looking to escape the stress of a job or that of your own making, daily (or twice-daily) yoga and/or pilates classes, coupled with meditation should do the trick. It did for us. And don’t fret if you’re a beginner, the instructors offer personal instruction and help you go at your own pace.
Costa Rica is an adventurer’s paradise. So, if you want to leave The Retreat (you may not), the staff can help book off-property excursions. Visit a nearby surf beach, a toucan rescue, a coffee plantation ... or zip line through the jungle. Here we are at Vista Los Sueños Rainforest Tours in Herradura, Costa Rica.
A tasty excursion option ... a visit to Sibú Chocolate. Prized cacao beans were once used as currency in the country and now, the health benefits of chocolate are not lost on the staff or the guests at The Retreat. The chocolate at Sibú is bean to bar, using only beans and sugar and fillings infused with only fresh ingredients. During a tour, owners Historian Julio Fernandez Amón, an historian, and George Soriano, a journalist, let guests taste their way through the history of chocolate.
Ahhhh ... no wellness retreat (or any vacation for that matter) is complete without an afternoon — or morning or evening — at the spa. Using raw botanical products, the signature package is head-to-toe bliss. It starts with a body scrub or body mask wrap and ends with a volcanic stone massage. The two-hour experience also includes an acupressure scalp treatment, a customized facial and a neck and upper shoulder tension massage. Honestly, every spa treatment should include a warm conditioner scalp massage. Just saying.
Missing from the lovely rooms are the trappings of less-peaceful lodgings: no television, radio, clock or telephone. Not missing are sweeping views and some of the most comfortable beds you’ll ever sleep in. It is important to Stobo that guests feel very taken care of while at The Retreat ... and she says bedding decisions were some of the most important. The quaint property only has nine rooms, sleeping between two and six in each.
You won’t want to leave, but when you do, you’ll feel rested, relaxed and healthy. Next time, we’re bringing our girlfriends. Pura vida, indeed!
For more information and to book a stay, visit theretreatcostarica.com.