Hacienda AltaGracia Costa Rica hotel review: A sprawling luxury mountain retreat


The sprawling luxury mountain retreat is set on 350 hectares of lush rainforest with 50 freestanding suites and casitas, meaning "little houses" in Spanish. There's nothing little or modest about them, however. The landscaped gardens are immaculate with several thatched pavilions draped in vivid bougainvillea where guests can flop in a hammock on the way to the indoor and outdoor pools or the biggest spa in Costa Rica. Horses also enjoy five-star treatment at the world-class equestrian centre with 28 boutique stables and a riding school.


Located in southern Costa Rica among the rolling hills and lush mountain tops of Perez Zeledon, the resort is close to the Cerro Chirripo National Park which is home to the country's highest mountain. Los Cusingos Biological Reserve, where US scientist and ornithologist, the late Dr Alexander Skutch, created a bird sanctuary is also nearby. The San Isidro del General region is often described as the country's least touristy with many pineapple, sugarcane, banana and coffee plantations. It's a nature lover's paradise where eagles soar and dainty hummingbirds flit from tree to tree – there are 52 species in this eco-friendly country that is home to 500,000 plant and animal species, 750,000 species of insects, 20,000 types of spiders and more than 10 per cent of the world's butterflies.


Perched on a hillside with stunning views of the valley, our one-bedroom premium casita is impressive, with a spacious bedroom and living area, chic bathroom, bespoke Spanish decor and a flower-decked terrace with panoramic views. It is a toss-up whether to sink into the comfy leather chairs fireside or head outdoors to soak up those views – but those vistas win. There's a butler's pantry with treats and drinks, good magazines and a bath that's ideal for soaking in after a long horse ride. I could have happily taken up permanent residence.


Dining is an adventure here. Start with a Rainforest martini at happy hour at La Cantina then head to the terrace with its romantic fire pit where a glorious blood red sunset streaks the skies most nights. Later, settle in at Ambar with its open kitchen, where chefs cook with fabulous produce from the San Isidro farmers market – the biggest in the country and the resort's own sustainable farm, La Huerta. It's ceviche for starters followed by smoked rack of lamb and a memorable finale of strawberry and chocolate. For breakfast on the terrace you can't beat  the typical Costa Rican dish, gallo pinto, which is rice and beans served with scrambled eggs, homemade tortilla, sweet plantain and local cheese.


Everything from white-water rafting, ultra-light flights, zip lining, forest hikes, meditation, tropical fruit tasting, spa treatments, garden walks and horse feeding are on offer but it's the two-hour ride on a four-year old chestnut accompanied by a caballista – a skilled horseman – that's unforgettable. We enjoy a traditional farmer's lunch of chicken, rice and black beans wrapped in banana leaves, and a sugar cane juice in the shade. The lush forest is dotted with Costa Rica's national Poro trees with their vivid orange blossoms, and the bird life is busy.

If you are lucky you may be able to catch a horse show at the indoor arena, El Picadero.


It is easy to fall under Costa Rica's spell at Hacienda AltaGracia where the popular local phrase "pura vida" – pure life – is very much a reality.


Hacienda AltaGracia San Jose, Perez Zeledon, Cajon, Santa Teresa, al lado de la Escuela de Santa Teresa, Santa Elena, Costa Rica. Priced from $685 a night with breakfast. Sansa Airlines operates a 35-minute flight from San Jose International Airport to San Isidro Airfield with a short ground transfer to the resort. See aubergeresorts.com/Altagracia and flysansa.com


Those aching muscles after a two-hour trail ride – it's been a long time between horse rides.



Befriending my trusty steed Pasco, having a coffee scrub and massage at the spa and those glorious crimson sunsets.

Sue Wallace was a guest of Auberge Resorts.