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First known by its Huetar Indian name, Cubujuquí !!

Just 11 km/6.8 miles northwest of San José is the pretty city of Heredia (hair-REY-dia), nicknamed the City of Flowers.

Founded in 1706, Costa Rica’s fourth-largest city was first known by its Huetar Indian name, Cubujuquí, but that was soon changed to Heredia in honor of a Guatemalan president, Fernadez de Heredia. There are good road signs into town from the highway next to the airport.

The town’s central park is filled with trees and is a great place to stroll or sit on a bench and watch people go by. To the east of it is the impressive Church of the Immaculate Conception, which took 30 years to build (1767-1797). The wait was worth it – its massive towers and walls proved stronger than the earthquakes that have rocked the country since it was built. It has stained glass from Europe and church bells from Cuzco, Peru.

Nearby is another imposing fixture, El Fortín, a brick fort with peepholes built backwards. Good thing it never saw action.

The Casa de Cultura, just north of the park, is the 1843 home of expresident Alfredo Gonzalez. It re-creates the life and home of a coffee baron, the life of peasants during that time, and it also presents local art shows. Another architecturally interesting building here is the 1915 neoclassical, post office (correo).

Heredia doesn’t have a thriving flower market as its nickname suggests, but does have a wonderful fruit and vegetable mercado. It also boasts a number of Spanish-language schools and the National University, a rival to UCR.

Outside of Heredia, the coffee town of San Rafael de Heredia boasts a contemporary gothic-style church (built in 1962), inspired by Notre Dame cathedral, with spires visible from far away.

A bit farther on is Monte de la Cruz Park, a privately-owned preserve with hiking trails and sweeping vistas.

On the way from Heredia to the historic town of Barva, you’ll find the Coffee Britt showroom, office and store. Tours of the roasting plant are offered. There’s a good cafeteria and gift shop that are open to the public without taking the tour. What delicious coffee! Open 9-4 daily. Most visitors arrive with organized tours originating in San José.

San José de la Montaña is an idyllic little village full of 18th-century wooden houses. Originally, it was established as a health resort and people came here to breathe the fresh mountain air. Nine km/5.6 miles beyond that you can improve your health by tackling some of the littleknown hikes from Sacramento, a village gateway to the Barva Volcano, now a part of Braulio Carrillo National Park.

Take the “San José de la Montaña / Sacramento” bus from behind the market in Heredia. Hike to the peak and then down into the lake of the forested volcano. Let the ranger station know you’re hiking. La Paz Waterfalls, near Vara Blanca, are easily accessible from Heredia, as is the Poás Volcano Hotels in Heredia : Hotel Chalet El Tirol offers a Swiss experience in a misty cloud forest above the city, near Monte de la Cruz Recreation Area. The ride uphill through a cool, heavily scented evergreen forest is exhilarating – and it seems perfectly natural to encounter the chalet’s alpine cottages and restaurant at 1,800 meters/5,900 feet above sea level. The vine-covered chalets are cute; some have a slight musty smell, but are charming nonetheless.

One of the best features is the French restaurant. It was awarded the Châine des Rotisseurs from the French Gourmet Society and is open daily at noon. Hiking trails lead into the cloud forest and guided tours are available.

The best accommodation in the area may be the Finca Rosa Blanca north of town, hot tub, freeform pool). The “White Rose Farm” is a very special, luxury country inn with gorgeous, individually themed rooms. The main house is a contemporary pueblo design, with curved walls covered by original artwork.

For the ultimate in sensuality, check out the fantastic, waterfall-themed bathroom in the master suite. Dinner is by reservation in their intimate dining room, and breakfast is included. Seven units in the main house and two private villas, all with superb views of the countryside.

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