Editor’s Note: The first thing I want to say here is that I owe the fabulous people at Panamonte Inn in Boquete, Panama a serious apology – particularly to Charlie and Yolanda.
When I returned from Panama just over a year ago I was hit with some major and totally unexpected troubles that literally took the rest of 2013 to resolve. I’ve mentioned that before. Anyway, as a result, I let drop many of the Panama articles I wanted to write and so I am way overdue with this review of the hotel that they requested I do.
I am sincerely sorry.
That said, my guilty feelings held no influence over my review below.
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The only reason I ever came to know about the Panamonte Inn was because a Cuban émigré married a Panamanian girl and they went on a honeymoon sometime in the 1960s.
In 1967 my friend Maria Elena’s parents honeymooned at the Panamonte Inn and have returned regularly ever since. When I mentioned to her that I really wanted to get to Boquete on my trip to Panama she insisted that we stay at the Panamonte Inn. She was actually stunned that I’d never heard of it.
Its not the kind of place I would have looked up anyway. Luxury? I don’t do that very well. But I’m so glad she insisted.
When Maria Elena and I arrived on a surprisingly chilly afternoon the scent of wood-burning stove wafted around the bougainvillea and pines and out over the town. I had to pull on my fleece. It was a rather dramatic shift from the humid costal jungle we had been driving through all day to get from hot Panama City to David where we turned to climb into the high country.
I walked into the reception area of the Panamonte Inn and had a fresh, frothy glass of naranjilla juice shoved into my hand. It was cold and like a mix of lime and rhubarb. Everyone there was smiling.
Historic Small Luxury Hotel
The Panamonte Inn has been around over 100 years.
The Boquete Valley attracted Europeans from the canal zone and the malaria and yellow-feve-ridden Panama City for its cool fresh air and lack of disease. It didn’t take too long before the valley was a prosperous agricultural area.
It was a Texan named Wright who first opened the hotel in the village. He was known for welcoming travelers with a cold rum and guava cocktail.
Over the years the Panamonte Inn has seen its fair share of notables. President T. Roosevelt stayed here as did Charles Lindbergh, Admiral Byrd (he wrote his book about his Antarctic explorations here), Audrey Hepburn, Richard Nixon, Sean Connery….and ME!
The Panamonte Inn is now owned by award-winning Executive Chef Charlie Collins who grew up on the rather famous Finca Lerida in the surrounding hills. The Boquete area itself is now increasinly known for its national park and the countless nature and adventure opportunities to be had.
Unfortunately Charlie was not able to be there during our visit but he put us in the able hands of the lovely Yolanda. Yolanda is one of those people who is not only a good host but a joy to hang out with. Smart and fun, Yolanda is the one who really made our stay at the Panamonte Inn fabulous.
I always feel spoiled when I’m at a place like the Panamonte Inn. I’m just not used to luxury – especially when I travel – and I forever have the feeling of…good lord I just don’t deserve this! Yes. Its THAT nice of a place.
Flowers, Birds and Coffee
The inn is surrounded and draped in dozens and dozens of species of flowers. Inside the property is landscaped with some impressive and extensive gardens and because it is Boquete the bird life is astounding.
The rooms are quite large and luxurious. There are two beds in each with a walk-in dressing room and massive bathroom with oversized soft robes with a great tub with one of those shower heads that is massive and sumps warm water on you like a tropical rainstorm. Love that. Each room has its own terrace area with chairs and table. The terraces mostly face into the garden area which creates not only a nice way to watch the birds but also to get to know the other people staying at the hotel.
The bar area is the best part. It is a large, open area with the feel of a living room. There are two fireplaces, one in a more inside area and one outside under a covered porch type area. It’s the kind of space that has that indoor-outdoor feel all at the same time.
You can eat at the bar or the restaurant but Maria Elena and I thought the bar area was much more comfortable….not to mention sitting out near the fireplace in the misty evenings sipping whiskey was quite a treat.
Another key attraction for me is that the Panamonte Inn is walking distance to town. Seriously easy walking distance down a street lined in flowers and fruit trees.
I have to mention the coffee too.
Coffee in Boquete is pretty serious business since this is the valley where THE BEST coffee in the world is produced (Maria Elena and I also visited a coffee farm run by a friend of hers that I will write about in the near future) so you’re not going to get a bad cup anywhere. The coffee at the Panamonte Inn is, like the food, sourced locally and is stunning.
Breakfast on the veranda is fresh squeezed orange juice, eggs from a nearby farmer, French toast made with bread baked right there and plates of fresh tropical fruit.
The Food of Charlie Collins
On the second night Maria Elena and I got a special treat. Charlie and Yolanda wanted us to have a taste of just about every incredible little thing that could possibly come out of their kitchen. While the wind blew the mist known in Boquete as neblina down from the cloud forest in the mountains we huddled up near the fireplace where the staff had laid out a beautiful table setting for the two of us and Yolanda as well. She was to be our guide, walking us through this dinner.
This is where I was roundly impressed. Before he set to preparing the food, the chefs (Itzel del Cid and Nery Pitti) came out and showed us the actual raw food, explaining in detail what each item was and where it came from. The fact that every single vegetable we were served that night came from local sources (and most of it organic) blew me away.
The first thing out were tastes of tiny tortillas de maiz con tasajo y huevo frito de codorniz, a wrap of corn meal and cheese filled with yucca and marinated beef followed that up with quail eggs fried on corn tortillas and a beef jerky that was soft and smoky with a slight tomato flavor. Then a salad made entirely of flowers. Then there was a sancocho of young corn on the cob. The soup was clean and crisp and yet heavy on the cilantro and not over salted like many sancochos I had in Panama. Fabulous! It went on like this for …. I don’t know how long… Toston de platano verde con langostinos al ajillo….toasted green plantains with garlic shrimp…on and on….Each plate was very small and perfectly paired with the right wine for the dish.
But honest to God I could not keep track of how many different dishes we tried out!
By far my favorite was the local-caught trout with fresh mushrooms and thyme. The vegetables on the side were coated with olive oil and herbs grilled to perfection.
“It is important for the hotel that we benefit the community,” Yolanda told us. “So we attempt to buy everything from local producers. To make money is obviously important but we’ve been here for over 100 years and are integral to this town and region. We look at the community, the staff and the suppliers as clients also.”
Sourcing local is easy to do in the Boquete area. For those of you who have been to the Boquete area you have seen the way the fertile volcanic soil is just bursting with green. It is the perfect place for fruits and vegetables and coffee; the best coffee in the world. The diversity of the landscape allows for an extremely wide-range of produce to be grown. That delectable trout came from one of the many rivers sourced up in the cloud forest. The beef is raised on the slopes of the volcano, slopes so green it reminded me of Switzerland’s Emmental.
The birds and the coffee alone make the Panamonte perfect for me never mind all the other great stuff!
I’d like to note that Charlie Collins also runs a cooking school in Boquete. Yolanda took us to see the space but sadly, as I mentioned, Charlie was not around. I would love to get back there and take one of his classes.
If you get a chance, take one of the classes. A guy who can design a menu like we enjoyed….thats a guy I want to learn from.
Check it out: The Panamonte Inn
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