Notebook 2014

February 19th, 2014
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Luxury Camping 

at Altos del María

Camping is not what it used to be. No more the rugged pleasures of struggling with tent pegs, guy ropes, mud and bugs. At Altos del Maria in the mountains, an hour and a half west of Panama City, a novel style of holiday has been established called Luxury Camping.

The tent you sleep in is a tent in name only. It has en suite bathroom, hot water, mini bar, Wi Fi, arm chairs and a terrace with a panoramic view over the distant Pacific Ocean and the massive peaks of the cordillera. For a camp fire, the five tents on the camping ground share a barbecue area, or you may prefer to dine in the restaurant or take advantage of room service in your tent. There is air conditioning, too, but that is naturally provided by the ambient temperature which at several thousand feet above sea level oscillates between 17 – 24 degrees Centigrade.

Love and luxury in the mountains.

The point of all this is that, apart from the undoubted luxury, you are situated among the most rugged and beautiful natural surroundings that Latin America can offer.

Ecological trails passing rivers and waterfalls lead to the top of the Divide, where at over 3000 feet, there is a simultaneous view of both the Pacific and the Caribbean. Altos del Maria is also a birding destination. The Audubon Society has identified about 276 species in the area. It is also an extreme sport destination, offering mountain biking and rappelling down vertical mountain clefts.

The decor of the five tents at Luxury Camping is themed for the elements: air, fire, earth, water and the most powerful element of all…. Love.

La Isleta Resort–big offering on a little island

La Isleta, “the little island” on the coast of Chiriqui province, covers only about 70 hectares but it’s tourism offering is big in terms of variety.

Master of this domain is artist Roberto Castrellón Castrellón whose ancestors were some of the first settlers in the region after the Spanish conquest. Down the years, the Castrellon family, originally from the province of Pontevedra, Spain, have been dedicated to cattle and agriculture but Roberto has broken the mold and launched into the hospitality industry.

Firstly, we must tell you about La Isleta’s restaurant. If you are driving to or from Chiriqui’s capital city, David, on the Pan American Highway, you will pass La Isleta Restaurant at Guabala, close to the customs inspection post. Or rather — don’t pass it. Stop and sample some of the surprisingly good fare on the menu offered by the versatile Roberto, a self-trained chef extraordinaire. You may also be lucky enough to encounter co-chef Arturo Españó who often emerges from the kitchen to regale customers with a song, in his rich, melodious tenor.

Sr. Roberto Castrellón Castrellón.

The menu contains surprises, for example a vegetarian ceviche of home-grown hearts of palm prepared with fresh peppers and herbs. The house special is tasajo, shredded beef from La Isleta’s herd of grass-fed Andaluzian cattle. Other signature dishes include patacones (twice-fried plantains) stuffed with re-fried beans and cheese. The desserts of pastry chef Arturo (e.g. bread pudding with passion fruit sauce or guava cheesecake) are legendary.

The full name of this tourism haven is La Isleta Agro Resort, Restaurant & Marina. The scope implied is no idle boast. Farm tours, bird watching and horseback tours offer memorable experiences.

La Isleta, strictly speaking, is not an island but a promontory with the open ocean on one side and an inlet separating it from the mainland shoreline. This sheltered body of water is ideal for kayaking and as a departure point for fishing expeditions. Accommodations are provided by a charming bed and breakfast where the well-decorated rooms are miniature museums containing precious family objects such as antique furniture from the early part of the last century, old lamps, objets d’art, books and paintings.

So whether you are in the market for a meal, a fishing trip or any part of an Eco and Agro holiday, check out Roberto Castrellón Castrellón’s La Isleta.

The American Trade Hotel and Hall

A gracious addition to the Old Quarter.

The latest restoration project in Casco Antiguo, Panama City’s Old Quarter, is reputed to be the most ambitious yet. It is the American Trade Hotel and Hall which takes its name from the historic building dating from 1917 which used to house a department store and the First National City Bank of New York (later Citibank) which helped to finance the Canal. Five stories high, it was considered to be the city’s first “skyscraper”, with an elevator, no less.

Now it is a 50 room hotel with a rooftop pool and gymnasium, retaining its elegance from a bygone era. An outstanding feature is its library with books from former times, especially volumes about pioneers of world exploration.

Next to the hotel is The Hall, a building designed in art deco style with a magnificent conference hall and ballroom and a rooftop terrace.

Los Molinos Boutique Hotel– amid gardens and lakes.

Hacienda Los Molinos–Boutique Hotel and gated community

This is the story of how a boutique hotel was born and how it helped to spawn the most successful real estate project in the highlands of the Chiriqui province.

It started as a cattle ranch on the slopes of El Baru, the mighty dormant volcano and bordering a spectacular canyon with the Cochea River winding through it, 110 meters below.

Developers bought the farm, Hacienda Los Molinos, to promote as a residential community. They realized that potential real estate buyers should experience what it would be like to live there before making a decision so they built a house for the use of prospective clients. They sold their first phase 100 percent, launched a second phase which is now over 50 percent subscribed and a third phase is planned. Los Molinos is now an exclusive gated community with beautiful gardens and lakes.

A residence of the gated community of Hacienda Los Molinos seen from the luxurious Boutique Hotel.

Convinced from the beginning that the guest house was the secret of their success, they began offering more lodging services, catering to every need of their guests, and finally decided they might as well build a hotel…. and they called it La Casa del Risco, which means “The House on the Canyon”.

That was eight years ago and it is now called Los Molinos Boutique Hotel. The original six rooms with restaurant and bar are now augmented with 13 villas with 35 rooms, an event room for social and corporate events with capacity for 200 people, a private restaurant section with a cellar and a fireplace, a clubhouse including a spa, gym, a VIP lounge with a media room for home theater, tennis courts, a swimming pool and a jacuzzi.

A view of the spectacular canyon.

The views, probably wasted on the cows, are not only of the canyon, a rare natural attraction, but up to the summit of El Baru and down to the Gulf of Chiriqui and the vast Pacific… not to mention the sunrise and sunset.

Guests driven by adventure can descend the canyon to a waterfall through the abundant forest and take an invigorating swim in the river, an experience to remember forever.

Panorama of the entrance of Hacienda Los Molinos dominated by the massive Volcan Baru.

Contact information:

Tel: (507) 730 8313

lacasadelrisco@losmolinos.com.pa

www. lacasadelrisco.com

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