International hospitality from Iceland to Bosnia
Where to stay
On the site of a former cattle ranch, the large, ski chalet-style hotel El Establo has 155 spacious wood-and-stone rooms, each with a balcony or terrace. It’s possible to see all the way to the coast on a clear day, and the heated hilltop pool is ideal for a sunset dip (from £140).
Nosara: Best for beaches
The road to Nosara is a bouncy one. A shaded, dirt lane crawls between rice plantations and herds of Brahman cows before it takes up its course alongside the gleaming Pacific. Here, an endless expanse of white sand and body-temperature water is fringed by sea grape trees and capped on either end by a rocky point. ‘It’s a simple life,’ says Nosara native Juan, nicknamed ‘Surfo’ locally to differentiate him from all the other men named Juan. With his sun-bleached hair and deep tan, he looks like an extra in a Californian surf flick. ‘You can run around without shoes or a shirt. It’s very informal.’
There are countless seaside communities in Costa Rica, but few that have retained their character like Nosara, which sits in the middle of the Nicoya peninsula’s long, craggy coast. Though the area has grown more popular in the past couple of decades, strong development laws keep Nosara decidedly low-key: construction isn’t allowed along the shoreline, which means that the sand is backed by vegetation, not blocky resort hotels. The few businesses are independent and scattered around the forest – like Juan’s surf shop and school, which lies on a narrow, tree-lined lane about 100 metres from the beach.
Juan is a surf addict who has taught people of all ages how to ride boards – from three-year-old tots to their grandparents. ‘This beach isn’t just for one type of person. It’s for everybody.’ He points out how the long beach break makes it ideal for all beachgoers, providing three different kinds of wave. Upfront – popular with scampering children, local mutts and paddling grown-ups clutching cocktails – a set of baby breakers spill out onto the sand. In the middle, novice surfers and boogie boarders attempt to catch their first rides. Out in the deep water, advanced surfers bob around on the swell, lying in wait for the perfect curl.
Other nearby beaches offer different incentives to explore. A few miles to the north is Ostional, a protected nesting site for olive ridley sea turtles, which arrive in their hundreds every full moon. Immediately to the south is Playa Garza, a wide bay with gentle waves, where local fishermen can still be found on the beach tending to their nets.
Even further south along the coast are the adjacent beaches of Carrillo and Sámara, both lined with swaying palms. The latter bustles with village life, including some excellent beachside grills. Still, it can be difficult to peel away from Nosara’s perfect warm waters and glistening white sands fringed with green forest. ‘This is as a beach should be,’ Surfo says. ‘It’s a place where you can always feel the nature all around you.’
Surf lessons and board rentals can be found at surfocostarica.com (lessons from £30).
Where to Eat
Giardino Tropicale, on the main road in Nosara, offers an Italian-inspired menu of brick-oven-cooked pizzas, pasta dishes and salads, plus a daily selection of seafood (pizzas from £6).
Where to stay
Located off the main road, the dramatic 35-room inn L’Ac qua Viva Resort & Spa takes its design cues from the soaring lines of Balinese architecture. Decorative touches include wood floors, bamboo doors, roomy sandstone bathrooms and bright textiles (from £130).