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Review of Hotel Villa Dolce,
Alajuela (San Jose), Costa Rica
A cheerful pool awaits at the center of the Hotel Villa Dolce.
The Hotel Villa Dolce (yes, that’s Italian, not Spanish) is located less than 10 minutes from the Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO) in Alajuela, Costa Rica, commonly called the "San Jose Airport." Though we could not see the hotel from the street, once we passed through the green gate at the driveway we found ourselves in a cheerful little world of brightly colored apartments and mini apartments surrounding a swimming pool. The main hotel building is in fact a restored Costa Rican farm house, and the owners--fluent in Italian, Spanish, and English--have operated the hotel for two generations.
The character alone made this a favorable alternative to the multi-national chains found near the airport, and with complimentary daily breakfast, swimming pool, and shuttle to and from the airport, the hotel offers an excellent value for guests as they begin or end their journeys in Costa Rica. For us, having a good separation of space for our three generations traveling together and our own kitchen at the end of a long journey together were also big factors in choosing the Hotel Villa Dolce. And with a 4:30 check-in time at SJO, its proximity to the airport was beyond helpful.
Hotel Villa Dolce offers standard rooms sleeping up to 4, “mini apartments” with 1 bed and bath plus living room and kitchen, and villas sleeping up to 6 with 2 beds and 2 baths plus a living room and full kitchen. Apartments do not have air-conditioning, but we found the louvered glass windows with screens throughout ours and ceiling fan to be perfectly adequate during our stay.
For our group of six, we opted for the 2-bedroom / 2-story villa with a double bed on the ground level in which we planned to stay with our 2-yr-old sleeping in his travel bed. We were at once surprised by how much space we had in the apartment. Little did we know that we would in fact have a king-size bed in our room, with a twin bed as well (could be arranged as 3 twins), and we still had plenty of room to move about and place our toddler’s travel cot. The upstairs bedroom was even larger, comprising of the entire upstairs level with its own bright bathroom. Three individual twin beds were made up to the delight of our older children and their grandmother who got the entire bedroom and second bathroom to themselves. Both bedrooms offered large closet storage space as well, which was helpful with organizing our gear and stowing suitcases.
Our full kitchen included a refrigerator, microwave, oven/range, and breakfast nook which seated four. It was stocked with dishes and silverware, and a variety of mixing bowls and the like. I realized that with a full breakfast being served to guests each morning, most guests eating lunches out during sightseeing, and pizza dinners in the restaurant 6 nights a week, the kitchens here don’t realistically see much actual cooking. But when I asked the owners about an additional pan or two to help make dinner for my family, they were promptly provided. However, returning late and exhausted from sightseeing at Poas Volcano National Park (approx 45 minutes from the hotel) and La Paz Waterfall Gardens, we all had to laugh when they saw us arrive in the restaurant the next night instead. (You’ll never hear me complain about getting out of cooking!)
Most guests with babies and toddlers may want to steer clear of the 2-story apartments as the tiled staircase may pose some challenges and safety risks for their tots. A 2-bedroom apartment on one level is also available (sleeping 5), so just be sure to clarify which you want when you make your reservation. While the long staircase, which is impossible to block off, was at first a big attraction to all of our kids (with that exciting huge, “3 Bears” bedroom at the top!), we were glad that eventually, with enough toys and art supplies on the lower level, our toddler eventually shifted his focus to the lower level.
The complimentary breakfast is cooked up fresh by the owners themselves, who serve the eggs, tropical fruit, and toast along with helpful tips for your day’s outings to the popular attractions in the area. Breakfast is served from 6:30 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. Guests with earlier morning departures may request a breakfast-to-go packed up to take along to the airport—just one more way you begin to feel like family staying at this hotel.
As mentioned above, the restaurant serves authentic hand-tossed pizzas 6 nights a week (closed Thursdays, but you can ask about other options), and I admit that after eating our way across Costa Rica for two weeks, some pizza and a delicious big green salad were exactly what I was craving. With the owners on hand to visit about our days' adventures and their knowledge of the area, and their charming mini schnauzers amusing my daughters in the adjacent lobby as I slowly... enjoyed... my meal... the hotel was definitely a nice place to end our travels in Costa Rica. (You can see them with the owner, Jessica, below.)
Swimming pool - The swimming pool is open to guests from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. at night. Fronted by Mayan statues and backed by a row of palm trees, it makes a pretty focal point as you enter the hotel or look out from the restaurant. With a shaded table and chairs, it also makes a nice spot for sipping the morning coffee provided in the restaurant. Only two lounge chairs are currently at the pool, however, so if you want to spend a morning at leisure before heading to your next stop, be sure to grab them early.
Massage - Massage and select spa services are also available at the hotel, perfect for working out those knots after a long flight or polishing the toes before heading to Costa Rican beaches. To be added in November 2011: foot and hand reflexology, plus hot stone reflexology treatment as well.
Free WiFi - Free wireless internet access is available in the lobby area, beside the restaurant, and a computer is available to guests there as well. Although the WiFi doesn’t reach most of the apartments, we were able to get access in our living room.
Laundry - Laundry is available on request and is charged by the load.
Airport shuttle - Since we had to be to the airport by 4:30 a.m. (yikes!), the owners were very helpful in booking a taxi for us with a reliable driver they use frequently for guests–who was also able to accommodate all six of us in his minivan. The driver can be booked through the hotel 24 hours a day for airport runs or sightseeing, with very reasonable rates.
Zoo Ave is one of the best and most "accessible" animal sightseeing experiences you can enjoy with young children in Costa Rica, and is a must-see for families during your stay. The lovely animal sanctuary is located just 10 minutes from the hotel.
The Doka Coffee Estate with its fun and informative tours is also just about 15 minutes away, and Poas Volcano National Park with nearby La Paz Waterfall Gardens (another highly recommended experience for tourists with young children) is a 45-minute drive from the hotel.
You can plan your own independent outings, or let the hotel arrange a group tour for you if you prefer.
Guests staying a minimum of 3 consecutive nights will also receive discounts on tours - ask for details on the sights and activities that interest you most.
On our first approach to the hotel, we had trouble finding the entrance to the hotel. Just watch closely for the yellow sign with its arrow pointing to the gated entrance, buzz for entry, and proceed down the drive.
Although it's close to the airport and near a busy highway, we only occasionally heard airplanes. The sounds of traffic were there in the background, but birds in the trees managed to out-sing them, and we had no problems sleeping with open windows through the night.
The owners are fluent in Italian, Spanish, and English.
Rates are based on room type and occupancy, with 1 child 3 or younger staying free per room.
Payments are accepted in US Dollars, Costa Rican Colones, or by credit card with 7% surcharge.
Check in 2 p.m., check out 11 a.m.
Did we enjoy our stay at Hotel Villa Dolce? Yes. Would we recommend it to a friend? Yes. Would we stay there again? Yes.
All photos, video, and content (c) 2012 by Shelly Rivoli.
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