San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Bed and Breakfast in the Lake Country Oozes Ambience, Tranquillity

THE windy lake country is a kind ofboondocks breather from the tourist circuit:a handful of bed and breakfasts oozeambience and offer vacationers a reprievefrom the tourist-town hubbub. Villa Decaryranks among the senior lodgings on theshores of Lake Arenal, in north-centralCosta Rica, on a pastoral fringe of the beatenpath to the famously high-strung ArenalVolcano.Now, on the eve of its 10th anniversary,owners Jeff Crandall and Bill Hemmer arelooking to sell the hotel and retire “rightnext door,” Hemmer said.The villa is notched into a sloping formercoffee plantation overlooking the lake,where views of nature’s beauty through thefloor-to-ceiling windows in its five roomsbatter city folk into a contented lull.Three kitchen-equipped bungalowsafford the same view over the lake and thepalm groves on the property’s seven acres.The wood-trimmed and -furnishedrooms are lit by locally crafted woodenlamps and ceramic lamps made by Chorotegaindigenous artists, and the beds are coveredwith kaleidoscopic Guatemalan fabrics.THE town of Nuevo Arenal has beenspared the explosion of cabinas and souvenir-shop development of nearby touristdestinations, but is still on the cusp of theaction that draws the crowds.The volcano and array of hot-springresorts are less than an hour away by car,but the lake is its own funhouse. Guestscan latch onto fishing cruises or learn towindsurf. There are also horseback rides,forays into the Venado Caverns, two protectedparks, mountain biking and birdwatching.However, the breakfast alone would beenough to attract planeloads of wanderingfoodies.The morning meal is served personallyby Crandall and Hemmer, in a dining roomencased in windows. Affable and soft-spoken,the two serve as default conversationalliaisons between guests at their tables,and as touchstones for day planning fromamong the smorgasbord of activities.They serve fresh fruit decorated with aSan Juan flower, heaps of mini-pancakesand waffles with toppings of crushedblackberries, papaya, pineapple, gingerand lime and crushed macadamia nuts, aswell as juice and coffee.CRANDALL and Hemmer are expertsin botany and bird spotting, both scuttlingto their reference books for the Latinnames at the first sign of interest from aguest.Crandall is the bird specialist. He says140 species of birds can be found on theproperty.“That’s what’s unique about living in aplace like Costa Rica… the wonderfulworld of nature,” he said. “And there are somany worlds, even on a property like this –the birds, the butterflies, the flowers… always something new.”Hemmer is the gardener, proud ownerof “one of the finest palm tree collectionsin Costa Rica.”“Here, I can grow just about everything,including that giant pigafetta palm,”he said, pointing out a palm that, to theuntrained eye, looked about the same as allthe others.His handiwork is evident on groundstrimmed with retaining walls of volcanicrock and threaded through with a hikingtrail, where guests have the chance to seeCrandall’s birds and other animals, such aspoison dart frogs and howler monkeys.Rooms range from $75 for a single to$129 for a family-sized bungalow. Formore information or to make reservations,call 383-3012, fax 694-4330 or

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