WHEN the taxi, after an arduous climbthrough the mountains, swung around acurve and the misty Orosi Valley openedup below, I couldn’t help but think: we’renot in Kansas anymore. Kansas, of course,being the grimy bustle of San José, and ourotherworldly destination being the HotelRío Perlas Spa and Resort, in the heart ofthe valley outside tiny Orosi, in theCartago province, east of San José.Although the hotel is only an hoursoutheast of the capital by car – and a 20-minute, ¢5,000 ($10.87) taxi ride from thecity of Cartago – its ample grounds, filledwith waterfalls, trout ponds and forest, feela million miles away. Because the hotel isoff most tourists’ beaten path, even at thepeak of the high season, it is a good weekendoption for frazzled city-dwellers insearch of an uncrowded, peaceful getaway.ROOMS range from $95 for a single($80 for Costa Rican citizens) to $242 forthe presidential suite ($230 for citizens).During the low season, from March 27 (theend of Holy Week) to Dec. 23, rates areslightly lower, beginning at $75 for a single.The rooms are in pretty white casitas(little houses) scattered throughout thegrounds; most of the standard rooms sharea wall with another, but the junior, masterand presidential suites stand alone. A smallvan traverses the paved roads connecting the buildings totransport guestsbetween their roomand the restaurant,spa or other areasof the resort, if theyso desire, althoughnothing is muchmore than a five-minutewalk away.Hidden awayfrom most of theother buildings, themaster suite ($220)features a widestone porch withinset Jacuzzi, rightnext to a waterfallrushing into thepond below. Inside,a living room withwet bar, high ceilingedbedroomand red tile floormake the suite a comfortable hideaway.All rooms offer a minibar, satellite TVand insanely comfortable beds; non-smokingand wheelchair-accessible rooms areavailable.WHAT to do when not lounginginside? The hotel’s literature boasts of itsworld-class spa, which, in theory, is opendaily from 8:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m. However,the facility was inexplicably closed for theentirety of our stay. So if manicures($16.95), pedicures ($22.60), hot-rocksmassages ($60) or treatment packages($50-80) are among your weekend plans,call ahead.The resort also features a hot-springpool with water warmed by Irazú Volcano,a mountain-water pool with swim-up bar,and a kiddies’ pool. For those interested inhiking, approximately 10 kilometers oftrails circle the resort’s man-made pondsand lead up into the mountains. The trailswere pleasant but muddy during our visit,and would probably be even more so duringthe rainy season, so again, it would bewise to call ahead to check trail conditionsif you plan to tackle the mountain during arainy-season stay.The hotel offers tours to various attractions,and is 15 km from Tapantí NationalPark, 57 km from Irazú Volcano and 30 kmfrom the Guayabo Archeological Reserve,so plenty of options are available for thoseeager to explore the area.THE resort’s tranquility extends to therestaurant, La Taberna del Capitán, wherethe service is rather languid. (Then again,if you were in a hurry, you probablywouldn’t be here.) Before your meal, youcan sip a drink in the attractive, wells-tockedbar, look out over the valley’sgreenery and red roofs, listen to smoothjazz and enjoy the eclectic decor in one ofthe dining rooms – Holiday Inn meetsCosta Rican rustic, or deep, well-chosencolors in the other.Stick to typical Costa Rican fare andseafood on the extensive, reasonablypriced menu. More ambitious offeringssuch as caprese salad ($4.50) and Frenchonion soup ($5) were disappointing, butthe rosemary grilled shrimp ($15) wasnothing short of delectable. Other temptingdishes include trout grilled in foil ($14)and filet mignon with mushroom sauce($15), and desserts include flan de coco($3.50) and chocolate mousse ($3.50).The breakfast prices are rather steep,but you won’t feel the pain unless you dropby for just a day at the spa, as breakfastcomes included with your room. The variousoptions include a continental breakfast($6), a full typical breakfast ($8.50) and anomelet made to order ($7.75).Across the way, the El RanchoSteakhouse, an Argentinean grill, is openoccasionally and can be rented for partiesor other functions, according to hotelmanager Juan Carlos González. The presidentialsuite can also be rented for meetings,and a unique feature makes theresort ideal for weddings: a chapel modeledafter the Iglesia de las Rosas (Churchof Roses) in Orosi.CONSTRUCTION is still under wayon additional cabins and Cartago’s firstlicensed casino, which will be locatednext to the main entrance and is set toopen in 2006, González said. Here’s hopingthe sound of slot machines and thevictorious whoops of successful gamblerswon’t mar the peace and quiet that, at theend of the day, are Hotel Río Perlas’ greatestattractions.As you drift off to sleep to the sound ofthe rushing mountain stream outside yourwindow, I’m sure you’ll agree.For more information or to make areservation, contact the hotel at 533-3341or visit www.hotelrioperlas.com.