|By Dominique Farrell, The Tico Times, San
Jose, Costa RicaMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Oct. 28, 2011--What's old is new again. The luxury boutique hotel Grand Tara, once the Tara Resort Hotel and more recently the White House Costa Rica Hotel, has reopened under new management. The neoclassical plantation-style mansion offers spectacular valley and mountain views in the hills of San Antonio de Escazu, west of the capital.
K Hotels International, the property's new owners and owners of the Beacon Escazu hotel in Escazu Centro, have completed renovations to the Grand Tara's interior.
"The majority of the renovations have been changes to bedding, amenities, Internet, plumbing and electrical systems," said Grand Tara's general manager, Ludwing Diaz.
The three-story, 23-room hotel is adorned with ornate white pillars, a spacious balcony and floor-to-ceiling windows. Inside, hardwood floors, natural wood accents and a winding staircase give the hotel an elegant appeal.
The spacious, stylishly appointed guest rooms feature king or queen-size beds and old-fashioned charm, but with modern amenities such as mini fridges, flat-screen televisions and wireless Internet. Rooms differ in size, but all have views of either the Central Valley or the mountains. A few rooms contain immense walk-in closets.
For families or groups, the hotel has nine suites that each contain a large living area, fully equipped kitchen and a varying number of bedrooms.
The aptly named Grand View Restaurant, headed by executive chef Randall Mendoza, whips up inventive international fare and is open to the public for breakfast, lunch and dinner, although reservations are recommended. The restaurant offers "prime rib Fridays" and a Sunday brunch buffet, and the bar promotes a two-for-one happy hour Monday through Friday from 5 to 7:30 p.m.
The Grand Tara offers plenty of places to unwind from a day of business negotiations or sightseeing. Guests can lounge by the pool or Jacuzzi, enjoy a cocktail on the veranda or take in the view on the terrace. The on-site spa offers a variety of treatments, including massages, facials, manicures and pedicures. Cosmetic surgery can also be scheduled after a personal consultation with the on-site doctor.
Part of the hotel's allure is its unique history. Diaz said the building was built in 1978 under the direction of an Austrian baron, as a mansion for Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi of Iran and his family. But the shah never saw his house. On Feb. 11, 1979, the Islamic Revolution overthrew him, and he died a year later in exile in Egypt.
Diaz said the Austrian baron used the mansion as a summer home until 1989, when U.S. businessman Richard Shambley and his wife, Barbara, acquired the property. The Shambleys opened it as the Tara Resort Hotel, Spa and Conference Center. Shambley named the property Tara because of its resemblance to the plantation in the 1939 film "Gone with the Wind." Diaz said Shambley was a film buff who dressed in Civil War-era clothing and named all the rooms after characters from the film.
The Shambleys lost the property in 2004, after which Canadian businessman Regis Moreau bought the hotel and changed the name to White House Costa Rica Hotel, Spa and Casino, and renamed the rooms after former U.S. presidents. Moreau focused on the casino, Diaz said, which attracted a gambling crowd and affected the hotel's former family image. The business went into decline at the end of 2010.
The new owners plan to return to the hotel's original concept as a place for weddings, families and international and business travelers.
"The owners decided to revert back to the name Grand Tara in order to be as good or even better than the Tara in the past," Diaz said.
"The casino will reopen for private professional poker tournaments only," Diaz explained. "The owners do not want it to be a source of problems like in the past."
Instead, the hotel will focus on events such as miniature golf tournaments, art exhibitions and wine tastings. The Grand Tara will also host a Christmas party and Thanksgiving celebration. A barbecue area by the pool can be rented for private functions.
Neighbor Peter Gorinsky's private orchid collection is available for guests to enjoy free of charge. And the Grand Tara will also devote a corner of the hotel to his orchids.
Diaz said he is beginning to see positive results. In addition to a number of glowing online reviews of both the hotel and restaurant, a few weddings and functions have been booked at the hotel.
The Grand Tara is 300 meters west and 800 meters south of the San Antonio de Escazu church, or 600 meters south of the cemetery. Room rates range $149-$569, including breakfast. Special offers and packages are available on the hotel's website at www.grandtaracostarica.com, or call 2288-6362 or email frontdesk@grandtaracosta rica.com for information.
(c)2011 The Tico Times (San JosÃ©, CRI)
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