San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Quake-damaged Poás Volcano Lodge reborn

After suffering severe damage in the Poás earthquake of 2009, Poás Volcano Lodge in Vara Blanca has risen like a phoenix from the ashes, reinventing itself as an entirely new, dramatically modern lodge.

Owner Michael Cannon recalls that fateful day, Jan. 8, 2009: “We had 15 guests the night before and we were expecting 20 arrivals that day.” The magnitude-6.2 earthquake pretty much destroyed the 40-year-old stone lodge, famous for its huge fireplaces and cozy guest rooms. Fortunately, no one was hurt when the roof caved in, but the devastation was daunting. After the dust settled, Cannon and his four children – all partners in the lodge – made a collective family decision to rebuild and upgrade.

“The first task was to salvage and recycle all the usable wood and stone we still had,” Cannon says.

New building materials also came from an unexpected source: To rebuild the nearby road, government workers had to cut down seven massive highland oak trees on Cannon’s property. These trees are normally a protected species, but Cannon was able to salvage the felled trees and use them to great effect in the reconstruction.

From the massive arches of the front doors made from huge slabs of cedro amargo, to the walls and floors of the spacious new sitting rooms and the five new suites, the former stone lodge has been reincarnated in wood. The most spectacular oak feature is in the new sitting room: two massive oak tree trunks act as columns, rising from the floor to the high, angled ceiling. Stripped of their bark, the trunks have been altered only by some deft sculpting, fashioning small animals from the natural curves and bumps of the wood.

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The former stone lodge was rebuilt in mostly wood, incorporating stunning features like this natural-oak-trunk column in the sitting room. Courtesy of Poás Volcano Lodge.

No part of the oaks was wasted. Outside the airy new dining room, which has floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides, tall slabs of oak bark provide a picturesque, natural growing medium for a lush new bromeliad and fern garden. In the new suites, rough oak boards frame the headboards for the new queen- and king-size beds. Throughout the new building, panels of finished oak and original wood from the old lodge are inset into the smooth, polished-concrete floors.

The new master suites are beyond spacious. Three have private balconies with views to the west, of rolling green pastures and Poás Volcano. Two garden-view suites have private outdoor whirlpool tubs. The larger of the two is big enough for a family of four. The suites have all the requisite upscale touches: super-comfortable queen or king beds, vessel sinks, stylish bathroom fittings, luxuriously upholstered furniture and sumptuous drapes, cushions and bed coverings.

The original cypress-paneled garden rooms, lined up in the former stable wing, all survived the earthquake. They have been similarly upgraded, with new bed linens imported from Britain, handsome draperies and elegant cushions. The rooms are lovelier than ever, but just as cozy and comfortable, and one room has been made wheelchair-accessible. Like the suites in the main lodge, these smaller rooms all have electric kettles and French coffee presses, along with supplies of tea and coffee, a nice touch for guests who like to brew their own. 

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Poás Volcano Lodge owner Michael Cannon. Photo by Dorothy MacKinnon.

A perfect place for a sociable cup of tea or a refreshing fresh fruit drink is the bright new library, with windowed walls on two sides that bring the outside inside. A tiny but efficient woodstove warms up the comfortable sitting area, furnished with sofas and easy chairs and wood tables, generously sprinkled with magazines and books for rainy-day reads.

Along with colorful fabrics covering the furniture throughout the main reception rooms, more color and artistry are provided by Cannon’s personal collection of paintings, many of them large canvases painted by renowned Costa Rica-based nature artist Deirdre Hyde, a personal friend. A new wall of illuminated niches dramatically displays pottery and figurines collected in Cannon’s world travels, along with huge glass vases of red ginger flowers.

On the lower level of the lodge, a large new sitting room has sofas facing a stone fireplace, and a pool table. A separate media room doubles as a conference room, with a slightly moth-eaten, mounted bull’s head – a toreador’s trophy – overseeing all proceedings.

Candlelit dinners at the lodge start with an exotic salad or hearty soup, followed by a main course of meat, fish or chicken, along with a vegetarian option, finished off with a homemade dessert ($20 prix fixe). The cuisine is sophisticated típico, using as much locally raised produce and products as possible. Hearty English-style breakfasts feature fresh eggs, crisp bacon and toast made with the lodge’s homemade breads, topped with homemade strawberry jam. Or try the nutty granola made from an old Cannon family recipe, with fresh milk straight from the lodge’s dairy herd.

The main outdoor activities are bird-watching in the surrounding gardens – such highland species as sooty robins and black-and-yellow silky-flycatchers abound, and quetzals visit occasionally – or hiking around the 300-acre farm’s pastures and woodlands. Visitors can also take a tour of Cannon’s modern dairy farm, with the most up-to-date milking machinery imported from New Zealand.

Most visitors, though, will probably be content with relaxing in the lodge’s luxurious new rooms and lounges, soaking up garden and volcano views by day and basking in the warmth of the woodstoves and the glow of the soft lighting by night. Longtime manager Lily Arce and her obliging staff make sure guests have everything they need, and Cannon is a genial host, with a wealth of stories from 40 years of living in Costa Rica.

Poás Volcano Lodge is definitely back in business, providing a perfect mountain retreat, with even more style this time around.

Going There

Coming from Alajuela, Poás Volcano Lodge is 6 km east of Chubascos restaurant, on the road to Vara Blanca; coming north from Barva, it is less than 1 km west of Vara Blanca. Rates including breakfast but not tax are $95 for garden rooms in the stable block and $175 to $300 for master suites. For information and reservations, call 2482-2194 or visit Nonguests are welcome to visit for lunch, by reservation only.

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