Costa RicaCosta Rica

Day 8: A Gallop on the Magnificent Galope

Destination: Arenal

Lake Arenal viewI woke revitalized and a little later than usual as I had no early morning tour. Sitting on my terrace enjoying a steaming cup of coffee, I watched the inn's 20 beautiful horses wander freely on pastures overlooking Arenal Lake.

The sky was gray and misty, the perfect sort of weather for nesting inside and reading a book, or catching up on emails with in-room wireless. But this trip was not about lounging indoors; today I would once again indulge in one of my favorite activities and ride one of La Mansion Inn's sturdy criollo horses (a well-tempered breed with Spanish and Peruvian bloodlines, common in Costa Rica).

Gallope the horseI love European breakfasts. They tease my tastebuds with a variety of warm, homemade breads served with butter, jellies and a plate of cheeses. Presented with a silver platter of fresh fruits, I ate like a queen. Completely satisfied with this alone, I was then handed a menu and could order anything from huevos rancheros to cinnamon French toast. I opted for the garlic cheese grits, one of my grandfather's lowcountry specialties and a longtime favorite of mine. The attentive staff brought me an entire carafe of fresh coffee to compliment my scrumptious meal.

La Mansion Inn offers its guests several tours in the area, and are distinguished for their healthy and well-maintained horses. I met my guide, Miguel, for a two-hour ride along the hills above the inn. He introduced me to Galope (gallop), my beautiful steed for the day. Standing at least 16 hands, this massive horse was well-muscled and one of the largest and healthiest I had ever ridden in Costa Rica.

Riding the horse GallopeMiguel was a man of few words, but when I asked if we could run a little, his eyes lit up. Galope lived up to his name and took off with great speed, seemingly reading my mind. His gait was smooth, and I trusted him completely. He did not require a bridle and bit, only a harness, and stopped with a gentle tug. We climbed a ridge overlooking the lake, past green pastures and docile cows.

I could have ridden all day, but a storm rolled in so we began our descent to the inn. Galope carried me with sure-footed steps downhill. I dried off in time to visit nearby Toad Hall, a local art gallery and cafe famous for its melt-in-your-mouth brownies.

Evening jacuzzi at ArenalNamed Toad Hall after The Wind in the Willows by its original British owners, the restaurant serves up tasty meals, using organic ingredients and fresh garden greens. I talked with the down-to-earth owner, Dave, over a spicy vegetarian burrito before perusing the art gallery. In addition to indigenous art works, the gallery sold folk-art, pottery, paintings and jewelry, all crafted by local artists.

Toad Hall was as laid-back and funky as its name, and is an ideal stop for breakfast or lunch. I was too full for a brownie, but would stop by the next day without fail.

Arenal hotel groundsI retreated to my cozy chalet at La Mansion Inn for a late afternoon soak in their 12-person Jacuzzi overlooking the lake. I had it all to myself since all the other guests were out on tours for the day. The sunset was spectacular and cast a warm, crimson light over the water.

Before joining me for dinner, Godfried showed me some of the inn's other cottages, including the honeymoon suite, equipped with antique furniture, a fireplace and indoor Jacuzzi. I was already impressed with my own luxury cottage, but this was purely decadent.

Arenal hotel dining roomI feasted on tender filet mignon and fresh greens topped with walnuts and strawberries. Our conversation topics included typical food in his native Belgium (mussels, seafood and lots of vegetables), our mutual love for Costa Rica and respective battles with leaf-cutter ants. His sincerity and charm struck me as the ideal combination for a successful hotelier.

La Mansion's cozy bar and pool table were all but empty, most of the guests tired after a long day of adventure. It was late, and I had an early fishing trip the next morning. I said goodnight to Godfried and promised I'd catch him a large rainbow bass.

Day 8: A Gallop on the Magnificent Galope in Pictures

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